And then we went to war: Part Two

The remaining ten of the former pupils undertaking war work were all involved in nursing in some capacity.

Margaret Josephine Bailey is recorded in the 1911 census as a nurse and, as she left school in 1901, had probably been nursing for some time before the war began. During it, she was a ward sister at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Boscombe. Built in the 1880s, this hospital in Shelley Rd continued to serve the community. A question raised in parliament in 1965 notes that the accommodation falls short of the standard but that “in the long term, it is intended that the Royal Victoria Hospital should be replaced by a district general hospital.” It was certainly a long term solution – the hospital was not finally replaced until 1993! Margaret did not live to see it. Although she lived to be 85, the hospital, built at about the time she was born, lasted until its 11th decade.

Clara Whettam and Evelyn Underwood were also nurses before and during the war. Clara began her nurse training at Barts in 1905 and, as she was living in the nurses’ home there in 1912, one assumes that she continued to work there after qualifying. By 1914, she was nursing at the 1st London General Military hospital (St Gabriel’s) and in 1919, she was nursing in Weymouth.

St Gabriel’s is where Vera Brittain was based and of which she writes in Testament of Youth. It was in St Gabriel’s Park and had been requisitioned as the military extension to St Bartholomew’s – hence Clara’s placement there.
St Gabriel’s from

It had formerly been a Church of England training college for women teachers, to which purpose it returned in 1921. Brittain, writing of her duties there indicated that they

consisted chiefly in preparing dressing-trays and supporting limbs – a task which the orderlies seldom undertook because they were so upset by the butcher’s-shop appearance of the uncovered wounds. citing Testament of Youth

Evelyn Underwood, also recorded in the census as a nurse, was stationed at the County of London War hospital, Epsom in 1916, formerly the London County Asylum.

Epsom Hospital from
Epsom Hospital from

[In 1915 it became the] Horton (County of London) War Hospital, a general hospital for servicemen from all parts of the Empire wounded during WW1. King George V and Queen Mary visited in July 1916, by which time there were almost 2000 military patients.

The only former pupil known to be a member of the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) was Dorothy Mortimer Watson. She is the only pupil known to have died whilst on active service in WWI. As indicated in Part One of this series, Dorothy’s war service was not recorded in Massonica. In fact it appears not to have been recorded anywhere in school records. It would seem that when she left the School, she did not keep in touch. Whether this was a deliberate action or (more likely) because at the time there was no Old Masonic Girls’ Association (OMGA) – it did not form until 1912 – the end result is that the School was not made aware of Dorothy’s war work until her name was uncovered on a memorial from the old Harrogate Hospital.

Dorothy left school in 1904 and returned to her native Harrogate where, at some point later, she trained as a nurse. She joined the TFNS (established in 1908) in 1916. Standards for admission to the service were high. Women had to be between 25 and 35 years of age, British subjects, well-educated and having completed a three year nurse training in an approved hospital. TFNS nurses wore blue-grey capes, with red facings, and blue-grey cotton dresses and they wore the silver T badges on the lapels of their capes. They joked that the two lapel badges stood for Thoroughly Trained.

TFNS nurses
TFNS nurses

Dorothy was posted to Malta where she was based at St John’s Hospital. Although this had the facilities to be a surgical unit, the conditions at the battle front were so insanitary that the cases of dysentery, trench foot, enteric fever and malaria outnumbered battle wounds. St John’s became a medical hospital.

St John's Hospital from
St John’s Hospital from

It was while working here that Dorothy contracted measles and died of toxaemia in 1917. She is buried at Pieta and her death is recorded on the memorial at Harrogate, re-dedicated in the centenary year and re-hung in the district hospital that replaced the Harrogate Infirmary.

Dorothy Watson's grave in Pieta Cemetery
Dorothy Watson’s grave in Pieta Cemetery

Four former pupils joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment otherwise known as the VADs. The first of these, Fanny Clark Campbell, may even have met Dorothy Watson as they were at the same military hospital at the same time (Leeds). However, as a Staff Sister, Dorothy was of much higher rank than a VAD. From the etiquette rules supplied to VADs, we learn that

Members should stand to attention when the Medical Officer, Matron, Sister, or anyone in authority enters the ward or speaks to them. Correct titles should always be given, such as: ‘Sir,’ ‘Matron,’ ‘Sister,’ ‘Nurse,’ ‘Commandant,’ ‘Quartermaster,’ as the case may be.

So even if the VAD and the Staff Sister had actually met in Leeds in 1915, the gulf in rank between them would probably have precluded any conversation. Additionally, Fanny was ten years younger than Dorothy so their time at the School would not have coincided. It is unlikely that either knew of the other’s existence despite their geographical proximity.

The VADs were originally set up in 1909. The detachments were intended for home service only, to staff auxiliary hospitals and rest stations and they received no payment or salary for these duties

… women had to work towards gaining certificates in Home Nursing and First Aid within twelve months of joining, and they learned to bandage, to do simple dressings, and the basics of invalid cookery and hygiene. In some areas it was arranged for them to go into local hospitals for a few hours each week to gain an insight into ward work, and due to the low number of men being recruited in certain places, women could also gain experience in outdoor activities, stretcher duties, the transport of sick and wounded and improvisation with whatever came to hand.

When war came … much of the basic work was the responsibility of the VADs – they cleaned, scrubbed and dusted, set trays, cooked breakfasts; they lit fires and boiled up coppers full of washing.

Catherine Castle also served as a VAD in 1915 but in Thame.

A meeting held early in August decided on the establishment of a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) hospital, and the Old Grammar School (then derelict) was adapted for the purpose, being opened in October, when the necessary alterations in drainage, water supply etc had been completed

Group of VAD nurses
Group of VAD nurses

The Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich was where Lilla Scantlebury was a VAD in 1917. One of its designers was Florence Nightingale and it had been built as a facility for veterans of the Crimean War. Situated next to the Royal Artillery Barracks, Miss Nightingale said of it

no ward is in any sense a good ward in which the sick are not at all times supplied with pure air, light and a due temperature. These are the results to be obtained from hospital architecture.

Royal Herbert Hospital
Royal Herbert Hospital

Originally known as the Royal Herbert Pavilions, it was named after the War Secretary Sidney Herbert and continued as a military hospital for more than a century. By 1977, it was no longer required and seemed destined for demolition but a Grade II listing saved it and in 1990 it was bought by a developer with specialist experience in historical site restoration and re-developed into 228 luxury residential apartments.

Another VAD in 1915 was Emmeline (Lina) Sleeman although also in that year she married Sub-Lt Cecil Wegg-Prosser of the Royal Sussex regiment. Massonica records that the bride wore a white satin gown with an over tunic of old Limerick lace and a Limerick lace veil, gifts of her mother in law. She carried a bouquet of white carnations and white heather.

Sadly, Cecil was killed in action less than two years later.

The last of our recorded VADs was May Pickles. She left school in 1902 but returned as an assistant mistress in 1913, leaving in 1915. The next edition of Massonica says that she is engaged in Red Cross work at a Military Hospital in Reading but a year later, it records her as a VAD serving in a military hospital in Salonika. VADs embarking overseas received

a message from Katharine Furse, commandant-in-chief, British Red Cross Society women’s voluntary aid detachments

which included such sentiments as:

You are being sent to work for the Red Cross. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience, your humility, your determination to overcome all difficulties. Remember that the honour of the V.A.D. organisation depends on your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness of character, but also to maintain the most courteous relations with those whom you are helping in this great struggle.

Our last nurse is Effie Bellamy who had not only been a pupil at the school but returned to act as its nurse too. She is recorded as such in 1901. In 1907, she married and her daughter Lily was born in 1909. Presumably at some point the family moved to Sleaford where Effie continued to work as a nurse at the Auxiliary Hospital there, by 1917 becoming Superintendent and Charge Sister.

The patients at these hospitals generally did not have life-threatening injuries and needed time to convalesce. Servicemen preferred the auxiliary hospitals to the military hospitals as the discipline was not as strict, conditions were less crowded and the surroundings were more homely.

Nursing at an auxiliary hospital
Nursing at an auxiliary hospital

In 1918, Massonica recorded that Effie had been awarded the Royal Red Cross medal in October, the investiture by the King, George V, being on December 12th 1917 at Buckingham Palace. “This award was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1883 and was the first example of a British military order solely for women”   It can be given to any member of the nursing service, regardless of rank, and recipients are entitled to use the letters RRC after their names.

The badge is in the form of a cross, in gold with red enamel. The words ‘Faith, Hope, Charity’ are engraved on the arms of the cross with the date of institution, 1883. In the centre, in relief, is the royal effigy and on the reverse, the Royal Imperial Cypher and crown.

Royal Red Cross Medal
Royal Red Cross Medal

Whether as nurses, volunteers or carrying out work in war offices, the pupils of the Royal Masonic Institute for Girls (RMIG) served their country but this is not to suggest that those whose names have not been mentioned did otherwise. As indicated in Part One, these are only the names whose war work has been recorded. Information about other names and work is always welcome.

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