The influx of volunteers into Bexhill and the setting up of the training camp at Cooden in 1914, presented healthcare and hygiene challenges for the town. The local newspapers reported the efforts of the Town Council and its officers, and of individual citizens to deal with these emerging challenges. Dr Weston, Medical Officer of Health was one of several Bexhill doctors who were drafted into service to meet the medical needs of the Camp. Preventative healthcare was of equal importance.
In October 1914 Mr R. H. Gaby realised the need for bathing facilities for troops living in tents and improvised accommodation. Baths were loaned from “various persons” and geysers for hot water donated by the Gas and Water Company. The bath house was established behind 112 Station Road and charged 2d for bath, soap, towel, scrubbing brush and half-an-hour in a hot bath. The Bexhill Observer reported the opening of these facilities on 24th October 1914:
“HOT BATHS FOR THE SOUTHDOWNS.
Through the enterprise of Mr. R. H. Gaby, of the “Cabin”, Jameson Road, arrangements have been made by which the “Tommies” from the Camp at Cooden can enjoy the luxury of warm baths at a merely nominal cost. At the rear of 112, Station Road, premises have been let by Mr. J. Sharpe, of Hastings, and these have been fitted up for the use of bathers. Seven baths of a large size have been lent by various persons, and the Gas and Water Company have provided a geyser for heating the water. Electric light has been laid on, and all arrangements made for the luxury of warm baths under the most comfortable conditions.
It is proposed to make a charge of 2d for a bath, which will cover the use of soap, towel, scrubbing brush, and as much hot water as is necessary, and nobody can say, with all this, that they do not get their money’s worth. Half-an-hour is allowed for the use of the bath, tickets for admission to which can be obtained from Mr. Westbrook, Town Hall Square.
The baths, which will be put into operation by the middle of the week, will be available from 4.30 until 9 o’clock each evening, including Sundays. This is an innovation which is of an extremely useful kind, and should be largely patronised by the soldiers”.
This enterprise depended on donations of money to stay in operation every evening, and by November 1914 was reported as having thirty-five patrons on one evening.
The tented camp for the Southdowns at Cooden was supplemented at first with billets in private houses which were carefully inspected and vetted by the police for any signs of infection, especially tuberculosis. The Down School was then made available while the tents at Cooden were replaced with huts and the need for sanitation was addressed.
Bexhill had to work quickly to ensure that the camp did not create a health hazard for the volunteers or for the town. The toilet and cook house were connected to the town sewers; water supplies were laid on; refuse collection and an incinerator were established. The food supply was inspected by the Local Government Board Inspector. Hospital accommodation in Cooden and in Cantelupe Road was made available and was organised and staffed by the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments.