A hundred years after Belgian soldiers were cared for at the French Convalescent Home in Brighton, the founder’s great-granddaughter remembers the great work of her ancestors. FLORA THOMPSON reports.

SOME of the first soldiers to be wounded in the First World War were brought to a unique hospital in Brighton.

Amid the conflict, the French Convalescent Home, built only 18 years previously, cared for sick and injured Belgian soldiers.

The De Courcel Road base’s respite care was appreciated so much that in 1920 the Army Council’s War Office in London sent a certificate thanking the establishment, acting as a permanent recognition.

This year, on the centenary of the war, Penelope Adamson, 80, from Bury, near Pulborough, recalled the work of her great-grandfather, Dr Achille Vintras, who founded the home.

On behalf of the French government, the rest home received patients from the French Hospital in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, which Dr Vintras previously opened, and which served as a home for elderly French nationals.

The foundation stone was laid by French ambassador Baron de Courcel. It was built in red brick donated by Belgium in the style of a chateau.

However, Mrs Adamson said: “Sadly the bricks were too soft for the salty wind coming into such an exposed site, and later the building was rendered.”

The second tower was erected in September 1904, with an addition to the east wing in July 1914.

Mrs Adamson said: “I’m very proud of the work of my ancestors and thought, with the celebrations surrounding the First World War, it would be good to remember it again.

“My grandfather was appointed the director of the home, and he lived there with his wife Hilda and his son Roland – who later became an air commodore.

“In 1914, the Government requisitioned the home and it became a military hospital. Soldiers were brought directly from the front, still in their muddy uniforms.

“They were nursed by French nuns and there are many photographs which have survived of the soldiers, and my father, then aged six, in the grounds, and pictures of the ward. We also have a notebook where Roland collected the details of veterans who wrote of their experiences in the trenches, where they were wounded and the battles they took part in. This is a most poignant and valuable document.”

Pages from the book show entries from a number of Sussex soldiers, including a Mr Clarke, from Seaford, a Mr J Smith, from Falmer, and a Mr Stewart and a Mr Edmonson, both of the Royal Sussex Regiment in Brighton.

In 1986 the building, near Brighton Marina, was registered as a care and nursing home for 38 residents with the Brighton Health Authority and social services. And it was run by religious sisters until 1987.

Now known as The French Apartments, the seafront sanatorium was at risk of being demolished when it was sold to developers Bovis in 1999 and residents were moved to other homes.

But, thanks to a campaign launched by The Argus at the time and to the relief of supporters, English Heritage made it a Grade II-listed building for its architectural and historical importance. It was converted into luxury flats in 2003.

The unusual, château-style French Renaissance Revival building is believed to be unique in the UK and demonstrated innovation in its use of double glazing.

Catherine Gennaro, manager of the French Convalescent Home at the time of the threat, fought for the listing and expressed her shock at the plans to knock it down.

In 1997, former lightweight boxer Tony Brazil, who suffered brain damage, was a resident at the home.

And Hove boxer Chris Eubank urged the home to stay open, adding: “We should respect our elders and do whatever we can to keep them from being disrupted and disturbed in this way.”

Gerald Lip, cartoon editor for the Express and the man who drew the French Convalescent Home for a series on historic buildings in The Argus, was furious over the plans.

Mr Lip, who lived in Palmeira Avenue, Hove, at the time, vowed to support The Argus campaign.