Epsom Grandstand War Hospital

Research and text by Nigel Fryatt

History of the Grandstand Hospital

At the meeting of the Grand Stand Association in Ely Place in London on 2nd December 1913, the committee passed a motion to accept the tender submitted by Messrs Copley Brothers of Epsom (Gibraltar House, High Street) to undertake the erection of the new Luncheon Annex at the back of Epsom Racecourse Grandstand, for the cost of £13,943. It was the lowest bid that the committee received[1]. The committee was chaired by H. M. Dorling. The contract was signed the following day. The Annex was completed in April 1914, to cater for the spring race meeting and the Derby in the first week of June 1914. On completion of the building, the Times Newspaper reported on 16th April that:

The building is about 180 feet long by 32 deep, and is fireproof throughout, with concrete reinforced floors on the armoured tubular flooring system. Water is obtained from a well below the building 360 feet deep, and there is an underground fire tank holding 36,000 gallons. There is electric lighting and hot-water heating throughout.[2]

The building runs parallel to the back of the Grand Stand and is connected via a bridge. It is designed by Charles Williams in a Renaissance style, in brick and cement. It is a four story construction which included public and private luncheon rooms, along with rooms for stewards, ambulance and doctors.

Appealing to the people of Epsom

As war was declared in August of 1914, the doctors of Epsom and Ewell convened a special meeting at the Public Hall in Epsom on Monday 10th August, to discuss a proposal for a hospital on the Downs for the returning wounded soldiers. There was a huge gathering and the hall was full, with hundreds of people unable to gain admission standing outside the venue. The meeting was chaired by Mr A. W. Aston, J.P[3]. He put the proposal to the meeting that the newly built Grand Stand Luncheon Annex should be converted into a hospital to cater for the returning wounded soldiers. Dr E. C. Daniel explained to the crowd that the idea originated with Dr Thornley, who had attended a meeting in London, which culminated in the formation of the Surrey Emergency Committee. Its purpose was to ensure that the efforts throughout the country did not overlap. Having set this up, the doctors looked around Epsom for a suitable premises to house the hospital. They approached Mr N. M. Dorling, chair of The Grand Stand Association, who readily offered the use of the (Epsom) Grand Stand for six months, which they gratefully accepted.

The problem now was equipping the building, and the purpose of the meeting at the Public Hall in Epsom was to raise funds for this. The Annex already housed 80 beds.  Dr Bailey Peacock had offered to reside there as Medical Officer. They also had an offer of a Matron to attend the hospital, who could possibly have been Miss Blainey, currently residing as Matron of the Epsom Nursing Home. In addition they would require six or seven nurses and several voluntary helpers. Other doctors offered to provide lectures and training. The adoption of the scheme outlined by Dr Daniel was then proposed by the Rev. E.W. Northey and seconded by Mr. E. B. Jay.[4] The motion was carried.

The War Office accepted the proposal that the Grandstand Annex be converted into a temporary military hospital. The patients will be transferred from the battlefield to a London hospital (affiliated to the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich) then to Epsom, stated the Epsom Advertiser on 18th September. It opened as a hospital on 21st September 1914 and received its first patients on 12th October 1914.

The hospital Annex was divided up into wards: Derby on the first floor, Oak and City on second floor, and Metropolitan on the third floor. There was also an Isolation Ward and a Day Room for treatment. The ground floor consisted of kitchens and storerooms. The nursing staff were housed in other racecourse buildings. With 65 beds in total[5], The Grand Stand Hospital had been designated as Class A Hospital, meaning it only accepted bedridden patients.

The Epsom Advertiser stated in its 19th October 1914 edition: Few buildings probably lend themselves better for adaptation as a hospital than the grand stand, and from a medical point of view, the rooms – the wards as they are now described – leave little to be desired. They have been admirably furnished, and everything is clean and tidy[6].

Heroes of Mons

At 4pm on 21st October 1914, five hours after King George V had reviewed the troops on the Downs, a large vehicle bearing a red cross on either side drew up to the Grandstand. It contained 4 patients who were shepherded to the wards by the Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD). A second ambulance drew up with a further six wounded soldiers. All the troops had leg and thigh injuries. Most of the men had received their wounds fighting at the battle of Mons.

The ten soldiers who first arrived in the ambulances were: Private A. Read, aged 28 of 1st [Battalion] Royal Scots [(The Royal Regiment)}; Driver F Densham, aged 23, Royal Field Artillery; Private R. Richardson, aged 20, 1st [Battalion, the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment)]; Corporal H. Brown, aged 30, 1st [Battalion,] Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry; Private G Harris, aged 28, 1st [Battalion, Royal] Lincolnshire [Regiment]; Private E Buckley, aged 36, 1st [Battalion, the] Middlesex [Regiment]; Private F Mulry, aged 19, 1st [Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment]; Private G Russell, aged 26, 1st [Battalion, the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment)]; ; Private W Simpson, aged 24, 1st [Battalion,] Coldstream Guards; Lance Corporal F Galliford, aged 29, 2nd [Battalion, Leinster Regiment].

It is interesting to note that Private R Richardson and Private G Russell are both credited to the 1st Royal East Kent Regiment in the Patients Admission Register (SCH3434/20/4) but this conflicts with the information published in the Epsom Advertiser of 16th October 1914 which states that these two privates were in 1st Royal West Kent regiment which fought at Mons. Was this a genuine mistake by the newspapers or some deliberate misinformation? The answer may never be known.

The newspaper went on to state that the hospital had been efficiently staffed, and Dr Bailey Peacock, a well-known Epsom resident, had been appointed Resident Medical Officer, and had all the qualifications for this responsible post; while the Matron was Miss Blainey of the Epsom Nursing home. There was also a staff of four fully trained sisters and four male orderlies, a London surgeon (Mr Edward Owen), assistant surgeon (Mr Andrew Macalister), fully qualified chemist (Mr Frost), honorary bacteriologist (Dr B Ridge) and medical visiting staff comprising Doctors Alexander, Braidwood, Coltart, Daniel, Ferguson, Ormerod, Ruyner, Reichardt, Fawnley and Williamson (Medical Officer of Health for Epsom district). The hospital was equipped with an X-Ray apparatus of which Mr J Ede had charge. There were also a number of voluntary nurses ready to give their services if called upon: while Mr A. Vardon was acting secretary to the Resident Medical Officer. The secretaries of the fund connected with the hospital were Mr Collyer Jones and Mr A.E Williams.[7]

The Hospital register though, is a chilling reminder of war. On page one, it recalls the deaths on 16th October 1914 of William Andrewartha, followed by Thomas Simms on 17th October; both men were privates in the Manchester Regiment. On page two it records the death of Edmond Buchanan of North Irish Horse on 23rd October 1914. No further deaths are reported in the register which must be a credit to the hospital staff.

Nursing staff outside Grandstand Hospital. Copyright Bourne Hall.

The Epsom Advertiser reports on 6th November 1914 that good progress was being made by the wounded soldiers and that several of the patients were now convalescent, some being able to walk out onto the Downs. Practically all the men were now out of danger. On the 20th November 1914, the Advertiser, reported that several of the soldiers had now been discharged and that there were currently 55 patients at the hospital, six of which were sent to Mrs Coleman’s Convalescence Home at Burgh Heath. Recitals and shows were arranged at the hospital. In November, Miss Gilander’s Concert Party from Purley performed, and the Tattenham Corner Fusiliers (2nd Battalion of the City of London Royal Fusiliers) visited the Grandstand War Hospital and entertained the wounded soldiers, those contributing to an enjoyable programme arranged by Colour Sergeant Whitehead. Gavin (clarinet solos), Colour Sergeant. Whitehead (comedian), Corporal Besley (songs). Lance-Corporal Tombs (songs), Private Party (mimic), Private Fox (songs), Privates Clapp and Goacher in a turn entitled “The Brothers Nuisance.” The stage manager was Sergeant Rose, and Colour Sergeant Anderson occupied the chair[8]. Mr George Furniss and Miss Vera Stredwick also gave a recital. These entertainments were much enjoyed and greatly appreciated by the soldiers, and were a good morale booster.

In late November, boots – especially size 6, 7 and 8 – were requested from the hospital. Other appeals were made for new-laid eggs. The people of Epsom and surrounding districts had been generous in supplying the boots along with additional clothing for the men. Other less appropriate gifts were received, such as pheasants from the King and game from Lord Rosebery. Queen Mary offered the hospital tobacco and cigarettes for Christmas. As the festivities approached the hospital committee asked for evergreens, flags, and British and Belgian ribbon for the Yule tide decorations.

On Christmas Day 1914, the Belgian soldiers sent a letter to the Matrons, Sisters and Nurses, Gentlemen Directors, Secretary and Doctors of the Epsom and Ewell War Hospital, in which they expressed their gratitude and thanks for their care:

Epsom Downs, December 25, 1914
 
Ladies, Gentlemen,
 
We undersigned Belgian soldiers in treatment at the Epsom & Ewell War Hospital take the respectful liberty to express to you our profound appreciation of the tender and devoted care that you have given us.

While our poor Fatherland is the scene of the most terrible tragedy that the world has ever contemplated and that we have been separated in the most brutal way from all those who are dear to us, we have found a new home where the cordiality that you show us relieves the pain that we feel in thinking about our country, which now suffers in the claws of the invader.
 
We shall as soldiers pay the debt of gratitude to which we have submitted. As soon as we are cured thanks to your care, we shall resume our arms to liberate our country, and assure the safety of the admirable Kingdom which grants us hospitality. The fact that we were fighting side by side with the heroes of the Britannic Empire will increase our strength a hundredfold.
 
We wish you all a Happy Christmas and hope that next year brings the realization of your dearest wishes and nothing less: the victory of the Allies. [9].

By mid-January the flow of wounded soldiers had increased to between 50 and 60 patients. Some of the Belgian soldiers had returned to the front line to fight again. The Downs at this time were covered in a foot of snow. In February the hospital expanded its role and started treating a number of soldiers from the Tattenham Corner Camp in the absence of a medical officer at the camp.

In January 1915 speculation was starting to grow about the longevity of the hospital. The Epsom Advertiser reported on 12th February 1916, that it is now an open secret in the town that there is some doubt as to the continuance of this valuable institution and not unnaturally one is anxious to know what is going to happen, especially those inhabitants who subscribe regularly towards its maintenance[10]. The paper goes on to say: Such being the state of affairs one is forced to inquire what has become of the patriotic spirit which prompted the Grand Stand Association six months ago to make the generous offer of the new building on the Downs for use as a War Hospital so that the scheme of the Epsom & Ewell doctors, who were promptly supported by the local public, could be carried into effect.

Other tensions were bubbling away in the background regarding the availability of the Grandstand during the spring race meeting. The lease for The Grandstand Hospital was due to end on 6th March 1915. In parliament, Mr Davidson Dalziel[11], Member of Parliament for Lambeth Brixton, enquired “whether certain buildings forming part of the outbuildings of the Epsom grand stand, and belonging to the Grand Stand Association, have for some months been used as a hospital for wounded soldiers; whether the officials of the Grand Stand Association have now given notice that, owing to the commencement of the spring racing season, the hospital must be closed and the numerous wounded patients removed elsewhere; and whether, in view of the convenient and healthy situation of this hospital, the Government intend to take any steps to secure a continued tenancy?”

Mr Harold Tennant [12], MP for Berwickshire replied: “The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. The arrangements were made by the Epsom War Hospital Committee, and I understand that the agreement entered into provided that the building should be vacated before the spring meeting. It is the case that the hospital is well situated, and it has done very good work. I am informed that the patients there can now be moved without danger to their health.”

Mr Davidson Dalziel replied: “Is the right honourable Gentleman aware that at the present time there are in that hospital forty-two wounded soldiers, some of them dangerously wounded, and that they would be removed from there to accommodate the spring meeting only with considerable risk?”

Mr Harold Tennant replied: “I am obliged to the honourable Gentleman for the information. I may say at once that it is not in accordance with the information which has reached me, but I will have investigations made.”

A flurry of letters followed to the Editor of the Times on the subject. Lord Portland felt that it should remain a hospital. Captain Greer, Senior Steward of the Jockey Club, writing in the Times on 26th February 1915, commented that: Lord Villiers, therefore, on behalf of the Stewards, interviewed Mr. Dorling (Chairman of The Grandstand Association) on Tuesday last previous to the meeting between the Grand Stand Association and the Hospital Committee and, having reminded him of the above facts, explained that the Stewards were most strongly of the opinion that, in any arrangement that were made at the meeting, the comfort and well-being of the wounded soldiers should be the first and only consideration. He received from Mr Dorling an assurance that he fully shared these views and that it was with the full intention of giving effect to them that he was about to meet the Hospital Committee[13].

H. M. Dorling followed up with a letter to the Editor of the Times, “It had become necessary to have a proper agreement drawn up between the association and the hospital committee, and it was mutually agreed that the committee should on March 25 vacate one floor of the building and another (the basement) on April 10, resuming possession on April 24 of the entire building … Meanwhile I beg to say that if it should be found that any discomfort or inconvenience to wounded soldiers should result from the agreement being carried out we certainly should not allow it to occur[14].” The Jockey Club suspended the Spring Meeting and the Derby.

In parallel with the arguments in the Times, the Grandstand Hospital’s Day Room was converted into a ward allowing up to 88 patients to be treated at one time. Alongside this, a decision was taken in February 1915 that Horton Asylum would become a war hospital, and during March and April of that year over 2,000 patients were transferred to the hospital.

In May 1915 Colonel Simpson, assistant director of the medical supplies for the district, visited the Grandstand Hospital and was very happy with what he saw.  All beds are occupied (88) and it is expected that the hospital will remain full for some time as the War Office regard it as a most healthy spot, reported The Epsom Advertiser.

In July 1915 the hospital was starting to receive patients from the Dardanelles[15] campaign. ANZAC[16] (Mediterranean Forces as the Patients Register states) troops started to arrive. This was increased by a further 15 ANZAC troops in the following month.

The presence of Horton Hospital accommodating over 2,500 patients spelt the end for the Epsom Grandstand Hospital. The Grandstand committee were concerned about funding and staff levels with the opening of the new facilities down the road. Horton continued as a military hospital until October 1919, when it was converted back to an asylum. Between April 1915 and October 1919, over 40,000 troops had passed through the hospital.

The Epsom Advertiser announced on 28th January 1916 that the Grandstand Hospital was to close. It went on to say: “after doing splendid service for the past 15 months, is to be closed at the end of February, owing to the fact that the medical staff are short-handed, two of them on foreign services, and the remainder being employed in other war work”. The Times Newspaper reported on 10th January that a sum of £250 had been voted to the Red Cross Society of the Grandstand hospital. The hospital closed on 29th February 1916; during its time, 672 patients had passed through its doors. Of these 599 were British, 36 were ANZAC, of which 17 were New Zealand troops and 19 Australian soldiers, 30 were Belgians, 6 Canadians, and 1 was French.

Coding for soldiers in the Epsom Grandstand Hospital Admission Book(SHC 6292/22/13)

The building was converted back to a luncheon annex, and was finally demolished in 2007 to make way for the current Duchess of Cornwall Stand.

[1] SHC Document 3434/9/6 Grand Stand Association Minutes Book 1907-1919. pg314
[2] The Times 16th April 1914:p11
[3] Mr A.W. Aston JP. Local dignitary in Epsom, also worked with Horton Hospital & President of Surrey Agricultural Society.
[4] Epsom Advertiser  18th August 1914:p8
[5] Epsom Advertiser 16th October 1914: p8
[6] Epsom Advertiser 19th October 1914:p8
[7] Epsom Advertiser 16th October 1914:pg8
[8] Epsom Advertiser 20th November 1914 pg 8
[9] Translation of document Z/358 SHC
[10] Epsom Advertiser 12th February 1916 p 8
[11] Davidson Alexander Dalziel, 1st Barron Dalzeil of Wooler (1852-1928) was a Conservative MP between 1910 and 1927. He was also a British Newspaper owner. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery.
[12] Harold John Tennant PC (Privy Council) (1865-1935) Scottish Liberal politician.
[13] The Times Fri 26th Feb 1915 pg5 Issue 40788
[14] The Times Fri 5th March 1915 Page 10 Issue 40794
[15] Dardanelles was a disastrous campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the Dardanelles straights
[16] ANZAC –Australia and New Zealand Army Corps

Bletchingley Women’s Institute (WI) in the Great War

Written by Linda Oliver, archivist of the Surrey Federation of WIs, using SHC ref 7610/2/1 (minute book).

Bletchingley WI was formed at a meeting in the village hall on 20 March 1917 and from the beginning, gardening was an important activity. At that first meeting Miss Bosanquet was asked to organise members to assist any Bletchingley women who needed help in the cultivation of their gardens. Over the next year she reported regularly on the work that was being done; sadly the minutes of the branch are very brief and no detail is given. The Annual Report for 1918 records that the WI’s allotment garden had been successful and that Miss Bosanquet and Mrs Ashley had also looked after the garden of Glenfield House.

In April 1917 a small sub-committee was formed to discuss the question of a Welfare Committee for the village, but no further mention of this idea occurs.

At the May meeting, Miss Hilliard gave a talk on War Savings and a Waste Paper collection was inaugurated, with sorting to be done at Church House, with local schoolboys being made responsible for house-to-house collections. The Annual Report for 1917-1918 records that £1-5s-1 ½d was raised by these collections for the District Nurses’ Fund.

In July 1917 Mrs Edwards Webb, a Surrey County Council Lecturer, gave a lecture and demonstration of fruit and vegetable bottling and jam making. She returned in May and July 1918 to give further demonstrations of fruit canning and pulping. The Annual Report for 1918 records the purchase of a fruit canner to assist in the preservation of the gooseberries and currants from the Glenfield House garden, but generally the fruit crop was poor that year and the canner was underused.

At the beginning of 1918 the District Council asked the WI Committee to consider the question of a communal kitchen. Mrs Wood was requested to discover if a suitable place could be found and the Committee was to make further enquiries from established National Kitchens. Subsequently they decided to canvass the village to discover how much support would be given to such a project. The canvassing was to be done by the War-Loan Collectors. Two parish councillors, Mr Tobilt[?] and Mr Ashdown, would attend the meeting to receive the reports and discuss the matter. It was found that public feeling was slightly in favour of the National Kitchen but no suitable place had been found. The Committee decided to write to the Parish Council expressing the willingness of the WI to manage the kitchen if a suitable place was found. Thereafter no mention is made in the minutes, but the minutes for 1919 are missing or may never have been taken as the WI had an uncertain few months.

(Glenfield House is/was at 29 High Street. Map in Bletchingley Village and Parish by Peter Gray (SHC Ref 7185/11/6) shows it between Melrose Cottage and The Cobbles, south side of the High Street facing the Old Market Place: ‘Glenfield House is the most imposing house on the High Street, dates from early 18th C, part of the Clayton estate’.)

The Mount family of Hatchford

Cobham Remembers

The first name recorded in the St Andrew’s Church Book of Remembrance is that of “Francis Mount, Captain, Royal Berkshire Regiment. Fell in action at the battle of Hulluch, 13th October 1915”. As with many of the names on our memorial there is a story to be discovered behind this brief entry.

The 1913 Kelly’s Directory entry for Cobham & Hatchford lists Poynters as the residence of Mrs Mount, with Francis Mount esq. recorded as lord of the manor. Originally owned by Thomas Page, a local landowner and partner in the 18th century firm of printers of maps and bibles, Page & Mount, Poynters passed into the Mount Family of Wasing Place, Aldermaston following the marriage in 1781 of Jenny Page, Thomas’ daughter, to William Mount.

Francis born in London in 1872 was the seventh of ten children of William and Marianne Mount and the house was given to him, the second eldest surviving son, following his marriage in 1910 to Gladys Mary Dillwyn-Llewelyn the daughter of Sir John Talbot Dillwyn-Llewelyn of Penllergaer, Swansea, Glamorgan.

Gladys’ father’s London house was in Cornwall Gardens, South Kensington and Francis had a house in Ennismore Gardens, Knightsbridge. He was a Church Warden at St Matthew’s Church, Hatchford and despite his privileged background had worked for years among the lads in the slums of Bethnal Green. Francis and Gladys quickly made their mark on the village with Downside Common being drained “by the generosity of Mr F Mount who married at Eastertide and received over 400 presents” (Cobham Parish Magazine (CPM) May 1910).

Gladys soon became involved in the life of the village as would have been expected of a lady of her class. As reported in the CPM of August 1910 “Mrs Mount invited local members of the Mother’s Union to Poynters to be addressed by the secretary of the London Diocesan branch. After tea the more adventurous ladies went out on a punt on the river. The vicar who got out to pull the craft across the shallows, fell backwards into the water, thus adding considerably to the enjoyment of the ladies”. By 1914 Gladys was President of the Mother’s Union and she hosted many meetings of that group at Poynters throughout the war years..

Their world was soon to change and the Hatchford & Downside Notes in the CPM (December 1914) printed a list of names of “Those who have responded to the call of their King and Country since the beginning of the War” including “F Mount (Lieut)”. He was then aged 42 and had at first been turned down for active service on medical grounds. But he persisted and joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and by June 1915 “nearly all our Hatchford and Downside soldiers of the new army, including Captain F Mount have now gone to the front” (CPM).

In October 1915 Francis Mount was reported “missing”. Lieutenant-Colonel F W Foley, Captain Mount’s Commanding Officer, wrote to Mrs Mount “It is with the greatest regret I write to tell you that poor Frank is missing and I fear there is little hope of his being alive …

Major Bayley and your husband led the attack in the most gallant manner. Unfortunately before they reached the trench, the Germans had retaken it and brought a very severe machine gun fire to bear on them.”

Captain Mount’s body was never found and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial in France as well as the memorial in St Andrew’s Church.

But life had to go on and both Mrs Mount and Elizabeth, Francis’ eldest sister who took up residence at Poynters, played an active role in the village. Mrs Mount’s support was mainly financial, her name appearing in almost all lists of donors to good causes. Elizabeth sat on many committees relating to Downside School, the District Nurse Fund, Hatchford & Downside Bed Fund, Cobham War Relief Fund and the Coal & Clothing Club. As a member of the Soldiers & Sailors Families Association she was supportive of the wives of those serving overseas and a number of her letters to help obtain medals for widows survive in the national archives. She was also active in helping provide parcels for the troops. In the CPM May 1915, Hatchford & Downside notes it was reported that “small acts of sympathy are appreciated while more solid gifts such as water boots and other clothing sent by Miss Mount as her own personal gifts have been acknowledged in letters of most touching gratitude”, and in August 1915 “From the offerings given on Easter Day we have sent out some 35 parcels, most of them costing 2/6d each, from the Church to our soldiers and sailors at the front. Miss Mount selected the gifts and together with Miss Chubb packed and despatched them. The children of the school and our energetic work party under Miss Mount’s supervision have made and despatched about 200 sandbags for which Capt. Mount appealed from the trenches and of which our soldiers are badly in need”.

Elizabeth died in 1953 and was buried at St Matthews Church, Hatchford. Gladys died in Reading in 1968.

Major (Quartermaster)Thomas Elson IVEY OBE(1866-1919) & his niece Ethel Ivey GEORGE (born 1897)

Surrey in the Great War Jenny Mukerji

Major (Quartermaster)Thomas Elson IVEY OBE(1866-1919)

Ethel Ivey GEORGE (born 1897)

Thomas Elson Ivey, an Army Major and Quartermaster buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery whose niece Ethel Ivey George was a VAD in Croydon, Surrey.

The major’s grave is in Brookwood Military Cemetery and has a CWGC memorial with the simple inscription:

Major & Quartermaster

T. IVEY OBE

Oxford & Bucks Light Inf.

23 October 1919.

The grave number is 184010 with the plot reference VI J 3.

Thomas was the eldest of the four children of Samuel IVEY (1838-1892) and his wife Caroline, nee ELSON who were married in Clifton, Bristol on 28 July 1861. Samuel was a grocer and a carpenter and was born in Stoke St Mary, Somerset. He moved to the St Paul’s area of Bristol and this is where his wife and all of his children were born.

Initially Thomas was a carpenter’s apprentice but he had probably enlisted in the Army by the time he married Amelia Louisa CONNELL in England in 1896. His regiment, 43rd Oxford Light Infantry were posted to Kinsale, Dublin and stayed in the Curragh until 1897. Thomas and Amelia’s daughter Muriel Elson IVEY was born in County Kildare in about 1898. The regiment also saw service in the South African (Boer) Wars and by 1902 they were in Chatham before being posted to Bombay, India and then to Poona. By 25 September 1903 Thomas had already been serving in the Oxfordshire Light Infantry as Quartermaster Sergeant and on that date he was gazetted with the honorary rank of Lieutenant. Next came a move to Umballa, India and their daughter Millie Laura was born in Lucknow on 2 March 1905.

In 1908 the regiment became the 43rd Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and after a short stay in Burma, moved to Wellington in India where Thomas, Amelia and Millie were listed in the 1911 Census. Their daughter Muriel was at school in Dorchester, Dorset at the time. On 22 September 1913 Thomas was promoted to the honorary rank of Captain in the 43rd Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

His service during the Great War saw him in the Middle East. He was with the British-Indian Army that was besieged at Kut al-Amara. For an account of this siege see:

History of the 43rd and 52nd (Oxford and Buckinghamshire) Light Infantry in the Great War Vol 1, the 43rd Light Infantry in Mesopotamia and North Russia” by J.E.H. Neville, Naval & Military Press Ltd., East Sussex, 2008.

In this book Hon. Captain & Quartermaster T. IVEY is included in a list of men who were brought to notice for gallant and distinguished service in the field from 5 October 1915 to 17 January 1916. He had already carried out a number of heroic deeds rescuing wounded comrades from encounters with the Turks. He was present at the capitulation of Kut al-Amara on 29 April 1916 which saw the surrender of over 13,000 British-Indian soldiers after 147 days, the worst surrender in the history of the British Army to that date. Thomas was one of these prisoners, but being an officer, he was treated with more respect, despite the accommodation being filthy. During the siege the men had to suffer flies, mosquitoes, heat and sickness as well as starvation. This took its toll on Thomas and being sick he was held back in Bagdad and later sent to Kastamuni.

Being nearly 50 years old at the time of the siege, Thomas’s health suffered and it must have remained poor. He died in Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank, London on 23 October 1919. His home was at Fairacres Road, Oxford.

His widow married Lt Col. (Quartermaster) Joseph FREEL DCM, OBE (c1863-1930) of the Durham Light Infantry at the Friary Church (St Joseph’s) Portishead on 3 June 1920.

Major Thomas Elson IVEY has a record held at the National Archives at Kew; WO339/5992.

Ethel Ivey Hotson GEORGE (born in 1897)

Ethel was the daughter of Arthur Athelton GEORGE (1865-?1947) and his wife Sarah Elson, nee IVEY (1862-1919). Sarah Elson was the sister of Major Thomas Elson IVEY (detailed above) and was born in Bristol. Sarah married Arthur in 1888 and they had four surviving children of which Ethel was the third. For all of the census returns from 1891 until 1911 the family used the surname of HOTSON, which was the surname of Arthur’s step-father.

Born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, Ethel was engaged by the British Red Cross Society as a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) on 1 June 1918, when aged 21. At first she was at the 5th North General Hospital in Leicester until 31 December 1918. Then came a move to the War Hospital in Croydon, Surrey until 15 February 1919 when she was transferred to the Military Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, she remained there from 2 February 1919 until 9 May. She was then transferred to Paddington on 6 June 1919 where she was still serving on 8 July 1919.

Throughout this period her address was that of her mother: Laburnum House, Leverington, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. Ethel’s elder brother, Ernest Frederick GEORGE (1889-1915) emigrated to Canada and enlisted in the 8th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment) in Quebec on 23 September 1914. He attained the rank of Lance-Corporal but was taken prisoner at the Battle of St Julien (part of the 2nd Battle of Ypres). He died on 26 April 1915 as a prisoner of war and was buried Roeselare Communal Cemetery in Belgium. See https://cgwp.uvic.ca/detail.php?pid=1245071 .

Her brother John Robert Hotson GEORGE (born in 1891) also served in the Great War and survived. Her sister was Florence Mabel Hotson GEORGE who was born in 1894.

(Edith) Maud MacBRIDE nee GONNE (1866-1953)

Surrey In the Great War Jenny Mukerji

(Edith) Maud MacBRIDE nee GONNE (1866-1953)

Born in Tongham, Surrey and imprisoned in May 1918 for her supposed involvement in a Pro-German Plot.

Known as Maud, Edith Maud GONNE was born in Tongham, Surrey on 21 December 1866, the elder daughter of Lt Col Thomas GONNE (1835-1886) of the 17th Lancers and his wife Edith Frith, nee COOK (c1844-1871). Her sister was Kathleen Mary (born in Ireland in about 1868) who married the future Major-General Thomas David PILCHER (c1858-1928) of the British Army at St Mary’s Graham Street, London on 18 December 1889 when he was a captain in the 5th Fusiliers. He went on to serve in West Africa, in the South African Wars (Boer Wars) and during the Great War as Colonel of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment.

Maud’s mother, who was born in East Peckham, came from a wealthy merchant family that manufactured silk, linen, woollen and cotton goods. She died of tuberculosis when Maud was still a child. The girls were then raised with the help of a French nanny. In the 1871 Census (2 April) their mother was still alive and she was living with Maud and Kathleen in Paddington at the home of Mrs Gonne’s aunt, Augusta TARLTON. However, once her mother died, Maud began to live a very cosmopolitan lifestyle and often acted as a hostess when her father entertained.

In the 1881 Census she was living in Torquay with her sister as a pupil at Miss Margaret WILSON’s school. After her father’s death at the Royal Barracks, Dublin on 30 November 1886, Maud inherited wealth and was able to enjoy an independent lifestyle. She was interested in the theatre and became an actress on the Irish stage. Being beautiful and flamboyant (and rich) she was never short of suitors. One of the most famous, yet unsuccessful (despite four proposals), was the Irish poet W.B. YEATS (1865-1939) whom she met in 1889 through the theatre. She was his muse for the heroine of his play Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1892).

Maud travelled widely and when in Paris in 1887 and recovering from an illness she met and fell in love with the married, right-wing nationalist, Lucien MILLEVOYE (1850-1918). The couple had two children: Georges (1889-1891) and daughter, Iseult (1894-1954). It was the death of Georges, aged two, that rekindled her interest in spiritualism. The BBC Website https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31064648 expands on her interest in this subject. Yet it was her father’s native Ireland that won her heart. She had spent time there as a child and after watching an unpleasant eviction in the 1880s, she had great sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. She became a speaker for the Land League and in 1900 she founded the nationalist group Daughters of Ireland to promote and preserve Irish culture.

During the South African Wars (Boer Wars) Maud helped to organise the Irish brigades that fought against the British army in South Africa. It was during a fund raising tour of the United States of America that she met the Irish revolutionary Major John MacBRIDE (1868-1916) who had fought against the British in South Africa (and against Maud’s brother-in-law, Major-General PILCHER). Maud married John MacBRIDE in Paris in 1903. The couple’s son Sean was born in Paris on 26 January 1904. He remained in Paris after his father’s execution for his part in the Easter 1916 Rising and later became an important Irish politician. He was the Irish minister for External Affairs from 1948 to 1951 and involved himself in Human Rights issues. He died in Ireland in 1988.

However, Maud and John MacBRIDE’s marriage was a stormy one and the couple separated in 1906. Because of his involvement in the Easter 1916 Rising in Dublin, John MacBRIDE was executed by the British on 5 May 1916 in Killmainham Goal, Dublin. Nevertheless, Maud continued to support the revolutionary cause and she was arrested in May 1918 in Dublin for revolutionary activities when it was assumed that she was involved in a Pro-German plot. She was never tried and having been imprisoned in England for six months, she was released due to her poor health. There was, however, a condition placed on her release: she was not to return to Ireland! Immediately she returned to Ireland and began to campaign on behalf of political prisoners in an effort to improve their conditions in gaol.

Maud not only continued to campaign for a Republic of Ireland, but also for women’s rights and universal suffrage. Her objections to the Treaty which divided the island of Ireland into the Republic and (the six counties that formed) Northern Ireland saw her in trouble again, this time in 1923 when she was imprisoned for 20 days by the Irish Free State forces for seditious activities.

Maud died on 27 April 1953 in Dublin and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. Her son, Sean and his wife, Catalina Bulfin MacBRIDE (1901-1976) were later buried in the same grave.

Here is a story with a very different perspective on Surrey in the Great War. Much has been written about Maud; some parts of it are contradictory. However, where Surrey, the place of her birth, is concerned, she appears to have been almost forgotten.

Irene May (Maydie) Swann, VAD nurse.

The Schwann family came from Germany in the early 1800s and married English families. Maydie was born in Westminster, London in 1897 to Henry Sigismund (a stockbroker) and Torfrida Lois Acantha Schwann (née Huddart, born in Ballarat, Australia, the daughter of a prominent ship-owner).  In 1903 the family moved to Hangerfield, Church Lane, Witley buying it from long rerm resident Lt. Col. H J Crawfurd.  Like many families with German names, Henry changed the family name to Swann during the war due to anti-German sentiment.  The Swann children were Maydie, Gerald, Edric, Hugh, Harry and Robert.

 

Maydie was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, finishing around 1914/15. She was well known locally for her work for the St. Nicholas Crippled Children’s Society, Farnham.  Later on in the war, she became a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, serving between 3rd July 1916 and 19th January 1919 at Hilders Military Hospital, Shottermill which catered mainly for Canadians and received a long service stripe.  After the war, Maydie continued her work for the St. Nicholas Crippled Children’s Society.  Maydie married H J Hayman Joyce (a captain in The Border Regiment at the time) on 6th May 1923 at All Saints Church, Witley.  They had three children, Jillian, Ann and John.  She died in Taunton, Somerset on 7th December 1977.

 

Maydie’s father Henry and brother Edric served in The Royal Navy, her brother Gerald joined The Royal Flying Corps and was killed in action on 18th October 1917; he is buried at Varennes in France (see their stories on this web-site).

 

The Swann’s chauffeur, George Mann died in 1919 whilst with the RASC, see his story on this web-site.

Noeline Baker

Born on Christmas Day 1878, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Noeline was one of five surviving children. Following the death of her father, along with her immediate family, she emigrated to England. There, she trained at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Her connection with Surrey began in 1905 when the family moved to Guildford. It was there that she became involved in the campaign for female suffrage.  This was at a time when a number of women campaigners were resorting to adopting illegal tactics as a way of attracting attention to the cause. Noeline joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), and was a founder member of its Guildford branch in 1910.

At the outbreak  of war in 1914, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) called an end to illegal tactics and encouraged women to participate in supporting the war effort on the Home Front.  Exhibiting a flair for organisation, Noeline was to play a key role in the direction of Surrey women towards the vital task of food production. The importance of enrolling women in this task was enhanced by a number of key events in the widening and deepening conflict of World War One.  Firstly, the introduction and extension of conscription into the armed forces for men from January 1916 exacerbated the labour shortage faced by farms at a time when demand was high.  A second factor was the decision by the German Imperial Government to introduce a policy of Unrestricted U boat Warfare on February 1 1917.  This meant that any ship in the Atlantic and seas around Britain was at risk of attack by German submarines.  The following day, the Women’s Land Army was created.  An organisation which required recruitment, mobilisation, training and relocation of women farm workers provided further opportunity for Noeline to deploy her skills.  She became the organising secretary of the Women’s Land Army for Surrey, a role which attracted the attention of the local press, especially as she became involved in a propaganda role on the Home Front, addressing rallies.

Noeline’s contribution to the war effort was judged of sufficient note for her to be awarded an MBE in 1920.  Having returned to her native New Zealand after the war, Noeline came back to England in 1939 and was briefly reappointed to her previous role as secretary to the Land Army for Surrey before returning once more to the country of her birth. There, she achieved further recognition for her work as a botanist. In New Zealand, she is remembered in perpetuity through the naming of the Noeline Glacier and Baker Saddle, both in the Southern Alps.

For further reading about her life and achievements, there is an excellent biography of her life and work written by Leah Taylor and published in the New Zealand Dictionary of Biography in 1998.

 

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography  There is a photograph of her, five years before her death.

Land Army    The Land Army, popularly known as the ‘Land Girls’, had 23000 members by the war’s end.  Disbanded in 1918, it reformed in 1939 and was a much larger organisation.  At the time, it was a significant boost to female emancipation; its members wore uniforms which included breeches which gave the wearer much greater freedom of movement.  Furthermore, it gave women an opportunity to live away on the farms where they were based.

Shields Daily News’ 25/08/1958: ‘Started land Girls, dies at 79.’

The Surrey Advertser, 29/10/1916: ‘SURREY’S LAND ARMY OF WOMEN.’  This is a reference to a rally of the Land Army in Surrey at Guildford of which Noeline was secretary.

Surrey Mirror, 18/10/1916:’ WOMEN AND THE LAND.’ A report on a meeting  of the Surrey Committee for Women’s Farm Labourers at the Theatre Royal, Guildford, which she attended as honorary Secretary.

 

 

Corisande Hart – VAD at Boulogne Railway Station

Corisande Hart was born in Clapton, London, in 1873 to Samuel H Hart, Leather Manufacturer, and Frances M Hart. She had five brothers and one sister. When she was around 6 years old the family moved to Mulgrave Road in Sutton, where they lived up to and throughout the First Word War.

Shortly after the start of WW1 Corisande, then aged 41, joined the Red Cross VAD as an Assistant Quartermaster, and was deployed at the No 1 VAD Unit at Boulogne Railway Station until June 1915. As such she would have been jointly responsible for the receipt, custody and issue of articles in the provision store where she was stationed. By 1918 she had become Detachment Commander of the Surrey 102 detachment, and was on the Committee of the Red Cross Hospital at Benfleet Hall in Sutton.

Nothing further is known of her life until her death in Eastbourne in Sussex, in 1955 aged 81.

In 1915 she was photographed by David Knights-Whittome, a photographer based in Sutton and Epsom.  To find out more about the projects by Sutton archives based on the Knights-Whittome collection see: Past on Glass/Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times.

 

The Surrey County Committee for the Prevention and Relief of War Distress

On 20 August 1914, under the authority of the Cabinet Committee and Local Government Board, Surrey established the County Committee for the Prevention and Relief of War Distress. The government, fearing a rise in unemployment triggered by the war, took steps to prevent and alleviate the suffering it may cause. They feared industry could fail from the lack of new capital, raw materials or simply a lack of manpower, which would have a knock-on effect for employment. The County Committee would coordinate Surrey’s response to this anticipated problem. Files held at the Surrey History Centre (SHC) document this response, and in doing so, provide an interesting insight into the role of civilians, especially women, on the home front.

The files show that the Local Government Board (LGB), which oversaw the public health and local government responsibilities of the Home Office, issued very detailed instructions on the role and responsibilities of the County Committees, right down to providing templates and documentation to support their establishment. At the county level, the County Committee was to ‘act as a distributing agency for the transmission of funds (derived from the Prince of Wales’ National Fund and the Lord Lieutenant’s County Fund)’ to areas within the county to supplement local efforts to address ‘distress arising in consequence of the War for which funds derived from other sources may be found to be insufficient’. Edward, Prince of Wales, had established a fund to relieve ‘industrial distress’, and within a week his appeals had raised £1 million. The Lord Lieutenant’s Fund was subsequently established to raise funds for Edward’s National Fund. Beneath the main County Committee were several sub-committees dealing with employment, distress relief, and female employment. This structure was frequently mirrored at the local level.

The LGB directed that committees were to be formed in all areas except the ‘autonomous areas’ of the boroughs of Guildford, Kingston, Reigate, Richmond and Wimbledon, and the Urban Districts of Barnes, Sutton and Woking. By 19 February 1915, some ‘100 Local Committees have been constituted in the County area’. These local committees were to be highly regulated.

For example, SHC file CC7/1/1 holds form C.W.D. 3: Appointment of Local Committees which contains documentation for the appointment of local committees: constitution, duties, resources and methods of work of the County Committee for the Prevention and Relief of War Distress. Furthermore, the Board was very clear about the role of the local committees in that ‘…the distribution of Relief arising from unemployment directly due to the War in their own areas… by endeavouring to induce employers to abstain from dismissing their employees, and by seeking to obtain employment for those who have lost employment solely through the War’.

The Local Government Board also called for cooperation across various agencies and sought to represent other organisations and committees in the county including: Board of Trade Labour Exchanges, representatives of Poor Law Guardians, the Clergy, other charitable and philanthropic agencies, representatives of the Trades Unions and Friendly Societies’. Many committees reflected local parish council or urban district council structures, and often were one and the same. In addition to these organisations and the predictable sprinkling of ‘gentry’, there were representatives from the business community. For example, Lingfield’s committee listed grocers, bakers, fishmongers, innkeepers, drapers, plumbers, and the local blacksmith amongst its members.

Interestingly, the Local Government Board also actively called for women ‘who have the time and possess the knowledge to deal with cases of distress’. While women were yet to get the vote, for some considerable time before the war they had been playing a key role in local public services and education, such as holding senior posts on local poor law and school boards. Now their involvement in the new distress committees was actively sought. Farnham and District Committee notes how women were well represented and that ‘…a sub-committee of ladies has been appointed to deal with the unemployment of women’. A flyer by the Godstone South Ward for a Public Meeting on Wednesday, September 2, 1914, announced that ‘Ladies are Cordially Invited to Attend’. On 26 August 1914, a letter to the County Council from Miss J.M. Ross of Redhill, Surrey, contains her thoughts on using women to gather the harvest ‘as they did before the invention of machines… [they] …could bind the sheaves where necessary… and do other light work’. In late 1914, the committees were asked to send the name and details of members (see SHC file CC7/1/1: Form C.W.D. 3: Appointment of Local Committees), and of the 90 committees from across the county that responded, of the 2,069 names provided, some 548 were women.

SHC file CC7/1/4 (Administrative file for the County Committee) includes memos from the Central Committee on Women’s Employment, which was established to rising female unemployment in late 1914. The committee invited women ‘whose experience and advice would be of special value in this connection’. Subsequently, a ‘Memorandum on Training and Instruction in connection with Schemes of Work for Women and Girls’ recommended, somewhat predictably for the age, ‘Specimen Schemes’ such as cooking and domestic economy, skilled trades (e.g. typists), and sick-room helps.

By 1915 the Committees were in their stride. Minutes of a County Committee meeting dated 19 February 1915 (SHC CC7/1/4) provides an excellent update on some of the trials and tribulations of the county and its local branches. It lists discussions around the lack of support to local professional classes, misallocation of funds, the difficulties of distributing gifts from the U.S. to children in the county, monitoring women’s employment, dealing with Belgian refugees. The plight of the professional classes was a recurrent problem. For example, one memo discusses a ‘…family of a race-horse trainer at Epsom arising from the stoppage of racing there…’.

In March 1915, it was becoming apparent that war was having a positive effect on unemployment; dropping for both males and females. The expected rise in unemployment in some industries caused by the war was offset by demand for workers in others.  Despite this the committee system continued to operate throughout the war, and by 1919, they were dealing with the distress caused by soldiers leaving the services and failing to find work or recover the businesses they had owned pre-enlistment.

By August 1920, the County Committee was responding to local committees informing them that they had disbanded ‘some months past’, but felt it not necessary to inform the local committees of this!

After the initial rush of 1914/1915, the files provide interesting insight into the types of issues the committee dealt with:

  • 19 October 1914: Belgian war refugees were approaching the local branches across the county. Guidance was given that ‘offers of hospitality’ should be made.
  • 21 November 1914: the Local Government Board asked the Committees to help distribute Christmas gifts sent by the children of the United States to children of soldiers killed-in-action, missing or serving abroad, and the children of Belgian refugees. After consultation within the county it was found that some 4,000 gifts would be required. However, a few days before Christmas, the Local Government Board informed Surrey that it could only provide 450 to 500 gifts, which would only cover those children of men from the county that had been killed in action. Some measure of the sacrifice Surrey had already made.
  • 22 June 1915: A series of memos describes a case of two brothers who left Canada, along with their families, to join the army in the UK. They were on the Lusitania when it was sunk.  One of the brothers, Basil Wickings-Smith, was killed causing the family hardship when they finally arrived in England. The wife of the dead man appealed for help. A representative of the Committee visited her and supported her application as her ‘nerve… is entirely broken’. She was awarded £5 (CC28/267(A))
  • 31 January 1916: High Clandon branch dealt with a case of a woman whose husband was killed in France. As he was killed in an accident she did not receive a war widow’s pension (CC28/267(A))
  • 3 December 1917: a claim was made for ‘Air-raid Injury’, including medical care and damage to clothing. George G. Straham from Egham died as a result of an air-raid in London. A Mr E.M. Newman from the county claimed for shock caused by an air-raid on London on 17 July 1917.

SURREY HISTORY CENTRE FILES ON THE SURREY COUNTY COMMITTEE FOR THE PREVENTION AND RELIEF OF WAR DISTRESS

CC7/1/1: Form C.W.D. 3: Appointment of Local Committee: list of local committees, constitution, duties, resources and methods of work of the County Committee for the Prevention and Relief of War Distress. Primarily contains documentation for the appointment of local committees.

CC7/1/2: ‘Correspondence File as to Appointment of Local Committees’, August 1914 to October 1914: deals with notifying Ramsey Nares, Honourable Secretary General Purposes Committee of the of the Surrey County Committee for the Prevention and Relief of War Distress.

CC7/1/3: administrative file for the County Committee, e.g. minutes, official paperwork. Very detailed guidance on roles and responsibilities across those supporting both servicemen’s families, and those affected by the war, including provision of children’s meals, unemployment.

For the military historian there are interesting breakdowns of the administrative support for regiments and corps, breakdown by unit of county reserve, territorial and yeomanry regiments. Furthermore, it contains further interesting information such as lists of the leadership of Surrey’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association,

CC7/1/4: Administrative file for the County Committee. Dated August 1914 to February 1915, but appears to go beyond that, well into 1915.

Includes: Central Committee on Women’s Employment: Memorandum on Training and Instruction in connection with Schemes of Work for Women and Girls temporarily unemployed owing to the War.  Specimen Schemes: Cooking and Domestic Economy; Skilled Trades; Sick-Room Helps.

CC7/1/5: ‘Surrey County Council Letter Book’: register for letters coming into the council and copies of correspondence sent out from 15 August 1914-21 February 1921. Administrative, concerning the establishment of committees, invites to attend, minutes, movements of cash etc. From June 1915, individuals appealing for relief and support takes up much of the correspondence.

CC28/267(A) – A series of four files relating to administration, guidance and minutes of County Committee meetings.  (C) file of the series deals with claims for relief and the responses from across the county.

For further information see: The Home Front in Surrey in the First World War, a Guide to Sources at Surrey History Centre, Part 7. Financing the War, relieving Hardship

A list of those who served on this and associated committees, and more information about them, can be found by clicking on Surrey County Committee for the Prevention and Relief of War Distress (the same information about these people can be found by searching for their name via the search box at the top of this webpage).

Margaret Bell – Headmistress of Sutton High School for Girls

Researched and written by Sue James for the Past on Glass/Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times projects at Sutton Archives.

Margaret Bell was born in Uppingham in Rutland, the eldest of six children of a local surgeon and physician. She attended a convent school in East Grinstead from where she progressed to the University of London where she gained a B.A., which was remarkable in itself as degrees had only been awarded to women at the university from 1880. In 1888 she was employed as a teacher and taught Mathematics at St Stephen’s High School in Clewer, Windsor until 1891.

In May 1891 Miss Bell was appointed as a Mathematics teacher at Sutton High School for Girls. Although her main subject was Maths, she was also described as “a capital tennis player” and was a keen participant in and director of, various dramatic productions. She was promoted to the position of second mistress in September 1894 and remained in this post until 1903 when the headmistress, Miss Duirs, fell critically ill with tuberculosis and had to leave school midway through the year, dying soon afterwards. Margaret was appointed as her successor in the October of the same year which engendered cheers from the students, an indication of her popularity. The fact that she, as a teacher at the school, was promoted internally was also considered remarkable at the time.

We know from the description of Miss Bell in her early years at the school that she was “tall and stately with golden hair coiled close to her head”. Her personality was described variously as “kind”, “reserved”, “sympathetic”, “dignified”; she was “a stern moral judge” whose pet hates included “slouching, slovenly manners, slang, shingling and (we fear) smoking in women”.  Her pupils were expected to walk in the corridors with their hands behind their back; a direction she once made to a member of staff who was swinging her arms on her way into school! Miss Bell was strict but she was not without a sense of fun.   In 1911 she opened a larger kindergarten at Fernwood, a house on the corner of Cheam Road and Robin Hood Lane and she was often to be seen stopping on her way to the Senior School so that she could talk to the young children. One of the boys remembered her playing games of ‘cat’s cradle’ with him. One of her staff referred to her as “a Victorian with an open mind” which sums her up quite well.

The Great War was probably the greatest challenge that Miss Bell faced in her 20 years as headmistress. When the students started the school year in 1914 the war had been going on for a month and the need for the population to raise funds was soon apparent.  As soon as the girls came back she organised them into great fund-raisers for over 40 different charities. In addition, they sent parcels to lonely soldiers and sailors, collected waste paper and silk worms for sale plus they dug up the school grounds to provide vegetables for the fleet. Miss Bell gained quite a reputation for knitting mufflers, hats and socks for the troops. She insisted that all the girls should learn to knit too and also that they should sew hospital bags as a response to the Lady Smith-Dorrien appeal to help wounded soldiers. Miss Bell instituted an element of inter-form competition in this which no doubt helped to achieve the total of nearly 3,000 bags by the end of the war.

During the war hundreds of large, local houses were taken over to be transformed into hospitals. There was one such hospital, Benfleet Hall, in Benhilton where many of the Old Girls of the school volunteered as VADs. In 1916 40 wounded soldiers were invited down to the school where they were given afternoon tea, played games such as ‘bumble puppy’ and sang a number of popular songs of the time. One Old Girl remarked: “Imagine Tommies smoking, or otherwise, filling up the gallery at the far end of the hall, and in a free and easy manner chorusing their favourite songs, unawed apparently by the air of educational sanctity which must hover over the place”.

In 1915 Miss Bell decided to stand for the Sutton Council and she was returned for South Ward, unopposed. She, plus two others, became the first women to serve on the Council. She wrote down her reasons for going into public life:  “Until a few months ago, I regarded myself as a most unsuitable person for municipal work. I have not come forward now without much consideration ; and I am quite certain, though I can never prove it, that had life continued for us on the old normal easy lines, I should not have been standing before you to-night as a councillor-elect of your next Urban District Council. But the 4th of last August changed, for all of us, the outlook of our lives. We have had to reconsider many things, and to decide whether we would remain in our own groove or whether we would take up other service. And this has meant much serious looking forward, and an attempt to realise what the aftermath of this awful war will be. We cannot fail to recognise that, in a few years’ time, there will be a great shortage of men of the age when men generally come forward to do public work. A time must come when the vast majority of Englishmen will be either old men who do not want the additional burden of public work, or young men who are too inexperienced to undertake it. And unless the women of England are ready to come forward to help with public work, much that is of vital importance to the welfare of the nation will be done either badly or not at all. And when the time comes it will not be sufficient that the women should be willing, they must also have been trained and have had experience in public work.”

As soon as the War was over, Miss Bell started to extend the school by adding new classrooms in order to meet the growing waiting list for places.  By 1923 she was suffering from ill-health and decided to retire at the early age of 58.  The school was devastated at her resignation as her tenure at the school had spanned over 30 years.  One student remarked that “she has been here for so many years that we cannot imagine the school without her.”  The Sutton Advertiser of Friday April 13th, 1923, included an account of a presentation which was made to Miss Bell at Sutton Public Hall. She is described as having “doubled the popularity of the school and (with) trebling its high reputation.” Having retired she travelled to Italy for many months over several years to indulge her love of art.  Her last visit to the school was in 1946 when delayed Jubilee celebrations were held for the school’s 160th birthday. She passed away in Etchingham in East Sussex on January 27th 1949; she was 83.

 

All research carried out of behalf of the HLF funded Past on Glass/Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times projects at Sutton Archives is the work of volunteer researchers and is unverified by the Sutton Archives team. All sources have been credited where possible.  If you notice any errors or discrepancies in this work, or can add to the research, please contact [email protected].