The War years (1939 - 1945)

  • A time of opportunity and knocks

    Then came the War. Always one to look for the positive, Dr Casson felt that, just as the Great War had precipitated the establishment of Occupational Therapy in Canada and the United States, this war might raise the importance of OT in Britain. She was right. Representatives of the Services and the Ministry of Health became regular visitors to Dorset House and the Allendale Curative Workshop, all showing particular interest in woodworking exercises, gardening and heavy basketry. Service men and women likewise came to dominate the Wartime patient list, as promotional ciné film for the School and OT (housed in the Archive) shows.

    Dr Casson was suddenly asked if Dorset House could train large numbers of Occupational Therapists to help staff hospitals all over Britain and on the Front itself. Although the spirit was willing, the body of Dorset House was weak. Bristol became the target for German bombers and the School was forced literally to go underground, with classes moving into the cellars. Finally, it became impossible for the School to carry on in its present location. Patients were dispersed and the ten remaining students were sent home and taught by correspondence whilst new premises were sought. Finances were at their lowest ebb -everything had been invested in expansion- and the School was on the verge of closing. At the eleventh hour, a temporary loan plus a generous gift from the Lord Mayor's Air Raid Distress Fund -coupled with the offer of new premises from the Ministry of Health- saved the day. The School was off to Bromsgrove.


    Dr Shepherd of Barnsley Hall Hospital, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire welcomed Dorset House students and staff to join his hospital, which had been created as part of the Wartime Emergency Medical Service (EMS). For a time, Dorset House was the only surviving School of Occupational Therapy in the UK and staff were aware that they played an important role promoting OT to a string of visitors and would-be champions.

    One major development at this time was the establishment of Auxiliary courses. The Ministry of Health was keen that the School should run training courses to ensure a rapid supply of workers for other hospitals. Some training was offered to established professionals (nurses, teachers, physiotherapists). Other candidates without qualifications were offered brief courses to enable them to act as Auxiliaries to better-qualified colleagues. Students entered every quarter for a six month programme. The programme was widely marketed (the Archive contains the text of a promotional piece from a 1943Woman's Own!) and over 200 candidates were trained in this way, with nearly 80 students (known as "up-graders") subsequently returning to complete the Diploma. Meanwhile, the full 30-month course continued in the background, and by 1945 over 200 long-term candidates had successfully completed the diploma.

    One of the highlights of the Bromsgrove years was the visit of the Princess Royal, who met with Dr Shepherd and the students. With the end of the War, so came the end of Dorset House at Bromsgrove. The EMS Hospital was to close and the expanded School had outgrown its old Bristol premises. Once again, Dorset House was on the move.