Elsie, Baroness De T’Serclaes, Madonna of Pervyse

Written by Richard Hughes

For nearly half a century, between 1930 and 1978, there lived in Ashtead, Surrey Elsie Shapter, Baroness de T’Serclaes, whose heroics on the Western Front during the First World War made her at the time a near-legendary figure. With her colleague, Mairi Chisolm, she ran her own first aid post from the village of Pervyse, near Ypres, for much of the war. She also made frequent visits back to Britain to attend patriotic rallies and raise funds for the war effort. So admired were the two nurses that they were termed the ‘Madonnas of Pervyse’. Some years after the war friends of Elsie, somewhat concerned about her unsettled status at the time, secured for her a Haig home in Ashtead – these were properties made available for veterans of the war – and there she lived happily for the rest of her long life; she died at the age of 94 in 1978. During the war she met and married an aristocratic Belgian airman, the Baron Harold de T’Serclaes and hence she became the Baroness de T’Serclaes. The marriage was short-lived but there was no divorce so Elsie carried her title with pride for the rest of her life.

The Baroness was born into a middle-class family in 1884 but when still a very young child she was orphaned and then adopted by the Upcott family from Marlborough, Wiltshire; her adoptive father, Lewis, was a schoolmaster at Marlborough College. Her adoptive parents were loving and Elsie grew up in an affectionate home. But unlike her parents she was no academic and later pursued a career in midwifery and nursing; she also became one of the first female pioneers of motor-cycling. In 1906 she married Leslie Knocker and a year later gave birth to a son, Kenneth. The marriage was not a success and there was a divorce; so Elsie became a single mother.

Elsie volunteered for nursing duties when war broke out in August 1914. But she did not follow a traditional route. She joined a small, rather eccentric group termed the Flying Ambulance Corps which had been established by a London doctor and social activist, Dr. Hector Munro. The doctor was a pacifist but nevertheless anxious to assist in the war effort in a non-combatant way. He saw the need for a small specialist group who could swiftly move about the battlefield dealing with medical emergencies. There would be ambulances – but also motor-cycles, a particular attraction to Elsie. The unit was based at Ostend and so Elsie moved there in the early stages of the conflict. She soon met Mairi Chisolm, ten years younger than her, and they became close colleagues. Elsie soon became frustrated with the Flying Ambulance Corps for it seemed poorly administered and was lacking funds and equipment. It was, though, getting plenty of attention. The war correspondent, Philip Gibbs [who was knighted after the war and settled in Dorking] wrote: ‘They did not seem to me at first the type of women to be useful on the battlefield. I expected them to faint at the sight of blood and swoon at the bursting of a shell. Some of them were too pretty to play about on the field of war.’ This rather patronising view was soon shown to be inaccurate. But both Elsie and Mairi became frustrated. When a local doctor, Dr. van der Ghist, suggested that they might prefer to establish their own independent unit they jumped at the chance. So in October 1914 in a cellar in a modest property on the edge of the small village of Pervyse near Ypres the two nurses, with the help of the doctor, established their own medical centre; they soon became legends.

By the time Elsie and Mairi moved to Pervyse there had been considerable developments in the course of the war in Belgium. Germany had invaded Belgium as part of its Schlieffen Plan to remove France swiftly from the war so that forces could concentrate on the threat of Russia. Under the leadership of King Albert the Belgians had offered tougher resistance than expected, and the British had arrived to support them in their struggle. In due course the number and strength of the German invaders meant the Belgians had been forced back to the coast and the significant city of Ypres, briefly captured by the Germans but soon retaken, was an isolated British-controlled centre with Germans occupying large stretches of the surrounding terrain. Pervyse, close to Ypres and on the road to the crucial coast, found itself at the centre of military activity. In November 1914 King Albert made the decision to open the sluice gates of the Yser canal at Nieuwpoort and so flood much of the terrain between the town of Dikksemuide and the coast. This halted the German advance but it did mean that the warring factions were locked into a smaller terrain and much activity became based on the need to take control of the Belgian coast.

Each day from the base in Pervyse Elsie and Mairi went out onto the battlefield to deal with the injured. If possible these would be brought back to Pervyse for treatment; if injuries were serious the casualties would be transported back to the coast and where necessary returned to Britain. Sometimes the ‘Madonnas of Pervyse’ would take care of Germans found on the field of battle and serve them hot drinks. Elsie mentioned in her memoirs that from time to time there was an extraordinary camaraderie on the battlefield. “At all big holiday times like Christmas and Easter,” she wrote, “we would shout across greetings; friendly, facetious insults to the Germans, and they would reply in kind. To add to the fun the Germans would sometimes hoist placards on long poles with such phrases as ‘The British are bloody fools’. These would be riddled with bullets. Next might appear ‘the Germans are idiots’ and, of course, this sentiment would be heartily applauded and then would appear ‘Let’s all go home’ and there would of course be great applause and laughter and a general feeling of mateyness.” But these incidents did not hide the fact that Pervyse was a living hell on earth. Sometimes the village was evacuated and reluctantly Elsie and Mairi would retreat to the relative security of the coast. These occasions increased when the Germans introduced gas warfare into the conflict.

Elsie would regularly return to England to tell the story of her life at Pervyse or address large rallies to encourage support for the war effort. She sometimes took with her battlefield debris which would be sold to raise funds. Elsie rather relished these opportunities to appear in public – Mairi did not; because of this Elsie became a much more recognisable ‘Madonna of Pervyse’ than her more reclusive partner. It has to be said that Elsie did have a tendency to play down the importance of Mairi and it is noticeable how few references there are to her partner in her autobiography ‘Flanders and Other Fields’ published in 1964.

In November 1914 Elsie met the Baron Harold de T’Serclaes. He was an airman with the Belgian Aviation Unit who flew missions over the battlefield to obtain photographic evidence of German troop movements. He was a member of one of the most senior aristocratic families in Belgium. There was an immediate mutual attraction between he and Elsie and the courtship was swift. They married in January 1915. Elsie was 30 years of age and the Baron was 26. The significance of the Baron and the fame of Elsie is indicated by the fact that the King and Queen of the Belgians attended the wedding ceremony at La Panne, as did the commanding officer of the Belgian army, General Jacques. Clouds, though, were on the horizon; while the royal family might have attended the wedding the immediate family of the Baron did not; in addition, Elsie stated on the marriage certificate that she was a widow; she was not – she was a divorcee. The de T’Serclaes was a strictly Roman Catholic family; there was an immediate problem with the marriage.

As time went by the reputation of the medical unit at Pervyse grew and famous visitors were attracted to the village. The King and Queen of the Belgians were visitors; so too was Marie Curie; and the British Leader of the Opposition, Ramsay Macdonald, called in. In 1916 was published a book by Geraldine Mitton entitled ‘The Cellar House of Pervyse’ which sold in large numbers. Elsie was delighted with this positive publicity. She was less pleased with ‘Young Hilda At the War’ by Arthur Gleason. He was an American journalist who spent some time at Pervyse where his wife helped with chores around the medical unit. In his book he managed to place his wife at the centre of affairs and Elsie and Mairi were little more than secondary characters. Elsie’s view of this book can be imagined.

In 1917 there were huge developments in the war around Ypres. Field Marshal Douglas Haig proposed a new offensive to break the German line. The focus of this offensive would be a village close to Pervyse, Passchendaele. Elsie and Mairi were informed by the infantry commander, Sir Henry Rawlinson, they would need to leave Pervyse while preparations for the advance took place. Elsie strongly objected, making the obvious point that in a new offensive the services of the unit would be more needed than ever. Rawlinson then agreed that the withdrawal would be temporary and that once the offensive was underway the nurses could return to Pervyse.

Passchendaele, of course, became another military disaster and it was eventually impossible to maintain the unit at Pervyse. In March 1918 Elsie was seriously injured in a gas attack; she was sent at first to Boulogne and then back home to England. Her war was over. Mairi continued for a little longer but the unit was closed down in April 1918 and she too returned to England. There was a particularly poignant fatality as a consequence of Passchendaele. Elsie had a pet Airedale terrier called Shot who had remained close to her throughout the time at Pervyse. Shot too was gassed by the Germans. She wrote: ‘My little dog Shot who has been with us for three years came up and looked at me with wandering eyes. He licked my hand and then died. I don’t think I have ever felt I hated the enemy but ever since my dog was gassed I’ve wanted to, I’ve longed to, kill a German.’ [There are memorial statues of Elsie and Mairi together with Shot in the garden of the Ariane hotel in Ypres].

At the time of the Armistice in November 1918 Elsie, by now fully recovered, was keen to remain involved in matters connected with the military; Mairi was not so inclined and returned to Scotland where she led a quiet life until her death in 1981 at the age of 85. Elsie joined the new Women’s Royal Air Force and became an officer. She tired of this and made an imaginative and brave career change. She set up a company, the British Warriors Film Company, whose purpose was to make films about the war which would feature veterans of the conflict. The idea was to both keep in peoples’ memory the sacrifice made by so many and also, more practically, provide employment for discharged veterans. Despite the honourable intentions the idea met with firm opposition particularly from the influential Horatio Bottomley, politician and owner of the John Bull magazine. For no clear reason Bottomley took against Elsie and her project. He claimed she had no business experience and there was every likelihood investors would lose their money. It is true that a number of initiatives were established after the war to help war veterans re-establish themselves and many were ill thought-out and poorly managed. But Bottomley was hardly the man to take action here. It soon transpired that he had funded a lavish lifestyle through fraud, mainly the mis-use of funds raised through the War Bonds he had promoted during the war; he was jailed and spent his final years in penury and disgrace.

Elsie pursued a number of less than satisfactory projects after the failure of the film project; she was a commercial traveller, a hotel manager, a housekeeper for a wealthy businessman; in 1926 there was a brief return to the limelight when she opened a medical unit in Poplar during the General Strike. In 1930 a group of her friends, somewhat concerned by the restless nature of her life, lobbied for her to be provided with a Haig home; these were properties funded in memory of Earl Haig which were made available to veterans of the war. Elsie was thus provided with a cottage in Park Road, Ashtead, just off the High Street, which she named ‘Pervyse Cottage’. She lived there happily for the rest of her long life, dying in 1978 at the age of 94. She became fully involved in the community of Ashtead. During the Second World War she trained female ambulance drivers and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Elsie knew that in her busy life she had not paid enough attention to her son, Kenneth, who had been brought up by his adoptive grandparents while Elsie had been in Belgium. But Kenneth grew into a young man she could be proud of; he pursued a career in the RAF and at the outbreak of the Second World War was a Wing Commander. Sadly he was killed in 1941 when he was shot down over France while returning from a bombing mission. Elsie’s wartime marriage to the Baron de T’Serclaes was short-lived. After a brief period together in London they went their separate ways but there was no divorce. As a prominent Roman Catholic the Baron did not contemplate this. So Elsie proudly carried her title with her throughout her life. The politics of Baron de T’Serclaes took an ominous turn. He had a number of business interests in Germany which led him into supporting Belgian-German co-operation. When hostility between the two countries broke out again in the late 1930s the Baron became involved in collaboration activities against Belgian resistance. Indeed he performed services for the Gestapo. After the war he was sentenced to death for treason but the sentence was reduced to twenty years imprisonment. He never served the sentence for he escaped to Italy where he lived in secrecy for the rest of his life, dying sometime in the middle of the 1950s. Elsie rarely mentioned him and when asked would say he had died during the First World War. Elsie’s autobiography, ‘Flanders And Other Fields’ was published in 1964. At the end of her long life she admitted ‘Only in time of war have I found any real sense of purpose and happiness.’

Other reading:
Flanders and Other Fields, The Baroness de T’Serclaes, Harrap 1964
Elsie and Marie Go To War, Diane Atkinson, Random House 2000

The Impact of WW1 on the Lingfield and Dormansland Area in 1917

Research and text contributed by the RH7 History Group

During the period of WW1 radio was in its infancy and newspapers were one of the main means of reporting news and also communicating official information and instructions.  Both the Surrey Mirror and The East Grinstead Observer continued to be published weekly during the war.  The main theatres of the war and national events were covered but from the point view of the impact of the war on the local area the two publications are a rich source of information.  Reports of events in the RH7 area are usually brief, however the ‘snippets’ which were found give an insight into the life ‘on the home front’.

 

Food
Food problems were now serious.  The Surrey War Agricultural Committee was set up in January 1917.  Examples of many of the proposals put forward by the committee being put into action were found in the local press.  People were urged not to panic and to cultivate vacant land.

Ploughing up pasture to grow potatoes and wheat meant less pasture for cattle (milk and meat).  ‘We must not deny our children milk’.  It was reported that ‘unless the price of feeding stuffs can be brought down it will be necessary to contemplate a large reduction in the live-stock of the county.  Home-produced fertilizer was produced – sulphate of ammonia mixed with basic slag.  There is a record in the Colony archives of this being ordered from Stanford’s in Lingfield.

Help was given in the purchase of seed potatoes.  In March, Crowhurst Parish Council reported that they had received a letter from the County Agricultural Committee asking what quantity of seed potatoes would be required by parishioners.  A guaranteed price for wheat was introduced.  The County War Agricultural Committee reported that to maintain food supplies more tractors must be used.  However farmers were very conservative and sceptical.  Demonstrators were arranged to show how much quicker ploughing would be if tractors were used and training was provided.  Local farmer Mr Young stated that he heard that ladies could drive tractors.  By March, 16hp Mogul tractors were being important from the USA but the purchase of new or second-hand tractors from this country was advocated to reduce the need for important machines.  However, the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee commented: ‘I understand that the Ford works in USA will be able to turn out tractors at £50…this will revolutionise agriculture…it will knock the English workers off their trade.’

With so many men away, many women started o work on the land.  A separate Women’s War Agriculture Committee was established to ‘get down to each parish’ to organise work for women.  It was decided that the best system was for women working on the land to work in gangs.  There should be a gang leader who would assemble the team and keep the time sheets.  The Home Defence Army was to help during the spring sowing season, also German prisoners, Interned Aliens and Conscientious Objectors.  To add to the difficulties there were reports of swine fever at Newchapel and potato disease at Baldwins Hill ‘which has wrought much havoc’.

Because of the sugar shortage those able to grow their own fruit were allowed sugar in order to preserve their crop.  The local papers printed weekly Hints for Allotment Holders to encourage people to grow their own fruit and vegetables.  Lingfield Drainage Committee received a request from Mr W. Watts to rent a piece of land at the sewage works.  This was agreed at a rent 10/- (50p).  The land had to be used for food production and subletting was not allowed.

The shooting season for pheasants was extended to 1 March.  Rabbits were to be ‘dealt with’ in February, March and April.  Appeals were made to local hunts to keep the numbers of foxes as low as possible.

In response to the massive amount of shipping lost to German U-Boats the Government authorised the organisation of a National Kitchen, where healthy and nourishing food was cooked and served to the masses now that most men had been called up to the Front and women had taken their places in the workforce.  Food shortages became a serious problem and initially food prices were fixed, eg the price of a quarter loaf was fixed at 9d; butchers were limited to 2 1/2d profit per pound.  Finally, the Government introduced food rationing, starting with sugar.  This was in place by the end of November.  The situation was not helped by adverse weather conditions – an abnormal, long and snow-bound winter; a belated and hurried ploughing season followed by a drought in May and then a wet and stormy August.

Patriotism
There were several War Aims Meetings in Surrey villages.  Their purpose was to explain the government war aims.  The Lingfield meeting was held on 26 November in the Victoria Institute.  An example of a resolution passed at these meetings: ‘This meeting heartily approves of the nation’s inflexible determination to continue the struggle until the evil forced which originated the conflict are destroyed and to maintain the ideals of liberty and justice which are the common and sacred cause of the allies.’

Troops
Throughout the year news of many deaths and injuries continue to be reported in the papers – too many to be listed here.  Apart from the dreaded bad news families must have been eager for any information.  The troops were restricted in what they could say and the other censor was very rigorous.  A set of postcards sent home by Stanley Jenner to his mother, and passed down to his daughter, are a good example of such correspondence.  Although there was no real news the letters must have been a comfort that as long as the cards kept coming, families knew that their loved one was still alive.

On 3 March the local paper reported on a military round up at the Racecourse: ‘On Saturday last the Military made a raid on the Lingfield racecourse at the conclusion of the day’s racing.’  Likely looking men were held up and requested to produce papers proving their exemption from military service.  A cinematograph operator who attempted to get a picture of the event had to be protected by the police and narrowly escaped a rough handling by some members of the crowd.  Five men were eventually taken.

Labour Shortage
A letter to the Surrey Mirror asking ‘what about the children of women who work?  Will the older children miss school to look after their younger brothers and sisters?  I call upon all women up to 60 for this work of national importance,  It is time to consider the citizens of the future.’

There were many reports of women taking over their husband’s work.  For example, in July the licence of the Royal Oak, Dormansland, was transferred from Albert Leigh (who was serving with the Colours) to his wife, Beatrice Annie Leigh.

Daily Life
In the midst of so much bad news the Observer reported on two weddings which took place in Ligfield church, on 27 October.  Frances Nita Fuller married Ernest William Frost.  He was a Canadian soldier and was on leave.  Nora Sybil Wallers married Percy William White, ‘one of our brave fellows who was wounded at Gallipoli and has now been discharged.’

Miss Norah Burton, chauffeur of Red Cottage, Station Road, Dormansland, was summoned for not drawing her bedroom blinds at night.  She wrote that she got into bed, leaving a candle burning by her bedside.  She was fined £1.

A Drama in Dormansland
‘On August Bank Holiday, Mr Winston Churchill, Minister of Munitions, and his wife left their residence, Lullenden, in their motor, proceeding to London.  On reaching The Crossway, the residence of Mr Davey Walker, another motorist approached from the blind turning and struck Mr Churchill’s car full broadside with such violent force that the vehicle was thrown on its side.  Mr and Mrs Churchill were badly shaken but as soon as they could obtain another car they resumed their journey.

For information on the Lingfield and Dormansland covering the rest of the war years click the following links:

1914

1915

1916

1918

Dorothy Oakley

Research and text contributed by the RH7 History Group

Dorothy Oakley is the only woman [so far] found in [the RH7] villages who [is known] to have done war work, in her case, nursing. There are possibly others but unfortunately women’s records in many cases were not kept or were later subjected to a ‘sweeping clear out’ such as that in the 1930s.

She was born in Kensington in 1871. Her father was a Land Agent. In 1911 she was living by ‘private means’ in Glebe Cottage, Vicarage Road, Lingfield. She was unmarried.

In 1914 she became a member of the Lingfield Emergency Committee and the Chairman of the Hospital and Convalescence Sub-Committee. In January 1915 she announced her resignation as she was about to leave to nurse in Serbia as a VAD. When the Emergency Committee was wound down in 1919 there was acknowledgement of Dorothy’s war service in the Balkans.

In 1958 she lived at The Laurels, Dormansland, and died in The Larches Nursing Home, East Grinstead. She is buried in the Lower Churchyard of the parish church of St Peter and St Paul.

 

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.