The Polytechnic and World War One: Rehabilitation
The Polytechnic owned holiday chalets in Lucerne, Switzerland which were used by the Polytechnic Touring Association. During the war these became hospitals for interned wounded members of the British and Imperial Armed Forces. Under the management of Mrs Isabelle Mitchell (1857-1949), wife of Robert Mitchell (1855-1933), Director of Education, the men were nursed back to health and given rehabilitation and training.
Robert Mitchell was appointed Director of Training for the Ministry of Pensions and helped to establish rehabilitation centres for disabled servicemen. The Polytechnic was one of these centres, where training was provided in subjects such as tailoring, photography, electrical and magneto repairs, motor repairs, commerce and architecture. These courses were running as early as 1917 and in 1917-1918, 751 men were trained, many of whom were amputees. Situations were obtained for the men after completion of training, for example many of the Architectural Drawing students went on to work in the Building Works Department at Woolwich Arsenal. By Jan 1919, 1,282 ex-servicemen had been trained, 826 of whom were back in employment.
This training did not just take place at 309 Regent Street. The Polytechnic designed and built workshops at Roehampton Hospital and Queen Mary’s Hospital in Brighton. The Poly also gave donations to the Hospital Saturday Fund.
Wounded soldiers were also provided with entertainment during their convalescence in the form of socials, fêtes and concerts. In June 1916, 300 soldiers were entertained at the Quintin Hogg Memorial Sports Ground at Chiswick.