SSQs in Wartime Nissen Huts

Photographs of RAF Station Sick Quarters (SSQs) in wartime are extremely rare. These three photographs show the characteristics of an SSQ in a Nissen hut, such as were found on bases like RAF Bourn and RAF Gransden Lodge which had been built in wartime.

Above: The Red Cross symbols on the exterior of this SSQ have been placed to deter enemy attack. The extremely basic nature of the building can be seen despite the poor quality of the image. However, the article by LAC J E Teague (MTE Journal, June-July 1943) which accompanies the photograph tells us that the atmosphere inside the hut is:

bright and cheerful with the pale cream and green walls reflecting the daylight from the windows in the ends and sides of the hut. […] There are mats on the polished floors, small tables at the head of each bed (supplied by the Red Cross), table-games for up-patients and wicker chairs to sit in, a wireless set and a good supply of light reading matter, etc. […]

In fact, the only thing lacking is central heating, for with reliance resting on a barrack-room stove which is in the ward, [… it] tends to be chilly owing to the metal outer “walls”. […]

Brightness and cheerfulness in any SSQ breed a spirit of optimism, which the staff of this unit have succeed in capturing largely by their own efforts.

Above: This SSQ ward is likewise in a wartime Nissen hut. The hut has been divided down the middle; the ward is reserved for WAAFs. The text accompanying the photograph in the MTE Journal (April-May 1944, no author mentioned) says that the ward pictured “sets a standard”:

From a bare beginning two years ago, the creditable appearance it now has shows what can be done by good planning and constant attention. […] From the outside it looks very much like any other Nissen hut, but directly you step inside a remarkable transformation takes place.

There is also a photograph of the well-tended garden outside the hut.

A great deal of thought and effort went into making these tiny wards pleasant places to stay, regardless of the extreme tightness of the space. Rexford Welch, in the official history of the RAF’s Medical Services also makes this point clear:

“Curtains at the windows and colourful rugs added much to the comfort and appearance. Many had flower gardens and vegetable gardens, thanks to the activities of the staff.”     

S R Rexford-Welch, The Royal Air Force Medical Services, Volume II (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office), London, 1955