One hundred years ago

As we begin the third decade of the 21st century, time to look back to the same period last century. In 1920, 29 pupils of RMIG left the care of the school to make their way in the world. Their backgrounds and their subsequent lives represent a microcosm of the School’s history. Custom certainly never staled their infinite variety! Given the relative paucity of careers available to girls at the time – and the careers advice which continued for the next four decades to be largely ‘Do you want to be a nurse, a teacher or a secretary?’ – it is hardly surprising that only one of our 29 leavers initially opted for anything else. The one that was different Violet Bryant who went into accountancy. But then this was someone who had been Head Girl and Gold Medallist in 1920 so she clearly stood head and shoulders above her peers.

The School had, at that stage, only ever been in London, and eight of the girls were born locally. But there were also 4 girls whose birth was a long way from London. Gladys Chamberlin was born in South Africa as was Marion Gould (Durban & Johannesburg); Annie Hewer was born in Queensland, Australia and Lilian Peters in the British Honduras. So they had already travelled some distance to reach the School. Annie returned to Australia upon leaving school (after having worked at Australia House until then), married there and, we have to presume, died there otherwise she would now be 117 years old. Gladys, too, died overseas but in her case in France in 1953, apparently ‘suddenly’ whatever that might mean. It could have been on holiday rather than where she was living but the evidence either way is missing. We don’t know where Lilian died as we lose trace of her but she travelled to South America a few times so it might be a reasonable bet to assume it was abroad. Marion returned to South Africa after she left school but in 1932 changed career direction and trained as a nurse in Wallasey, Cheshire. In 1936 she was Silver medallist at the Victoria Central Hospital, Wallasey and she continued her life as SRN in UK, her final resting place being Kingston upon Thames in 1988. There were two English-born girls who died abroad: Mildred Boutwood, born in Leeds in 1903, took office work on first leaving school and then went to the USA. On a visit ‘home’ she was listed as assistant in broadcasting and she died in 1978 in Arizona. Sadie Mansfield was born in Long Eaton in Derbyshire. She became a teacher and then, upon marriage, she travelled with her husband, Kenneth Wallis, a Government analyst, to Port of Spain (Trinidad) and Guiana. She and her husband and two children had been en route to a new posting in Uganda when their ship was torpedoed and sunk by a U-Boat in December 1942. Sadie Wallis is one of the five girls commemorated on the stone tablet in the Chapel of those former pupils who died because of World War II.

Even within the UK-born girls, there were a couple who were born some distance from the School given that travel was then slower than today: Mary Garrett in Chepstow; Edith Taylor in Newcastle upon Tyne; Ivy Hunter in Portsmouth and Ethel Parsons, born in West Derby (Liverpool) but whose family then moved to Portsmouth. In Ethel’s case, she became a pupil after 1912 when her father was lost on the Titanic.

Overseas sojourners aside, of the 23 who continued to live in the UK, just 2 ended up north of the Watford Gap, regardless of where they started from. One was in Derbyshire and one in Staffordshire although both had started life in the South East. Six ended their days on the south coast – Hastings (x 2), Hove, St Leonards on Sea, Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight. Two went for coastal areas even further west – Ilfracombe and Exeter, whereas one went to the seaside on the eastern seaboard: ‘Sarfend’, land of the kiss-me-quick hats and bracing walks on the pier. Blandford Forum, roughly half way between either coastline in the south west, was where a former Essex girl ended up. In fact no UK girl ended her days where she had begun them although 2 were in the same vicinity: Uxbridge-Hillingdon and Hastings-St Leonards. Edith Taylor, who had travelled form Newcastle upon Tyne to join the School, worked as a teacher in Harrow. Unfortunately not a member of OMGA, we lose track of her and the name is not an uncommon one so trying to trace a death for her is impossible.

Dorothea Quiney, whose name was more unusual, disappeared from sight until a general internet search picked her up – in Hong Kong: specifically at St John’s Cathedral where she married Charles Pinel in 1929. Thereafter she can be traced until her demise in Hastings in 1998. Her husband was a prisoner of war of the Japanese for four years. Whether the Pinels had seen what was coming and got Dorothea away, back to UK, is an unknown factor but she was not interned by the Japanese. As anyone who has read A Town like Alice or watched Tenko will know, women were interned and, indeed, another of our pupils, Gertrude Jewel nee Craik, was detained for 3.5 years in civil Assembly Camp C in Yangzhou. She had left school in 1919 so was almost a contemporary of our 1920 leavers and they are certainly likely to have known her.

The careers advice, as previously indicated, was somewhat limited but one former pupil clearly decided to have a go at several of them: shorthand typist then nurse and then cook. She obtained a post as a shorthand typist in Southampton on leaving school (which must mean that she had learned those skills whilst still at school) and then, in 1928, she went to train as a nurse at Barts hospital. Perhaps she completed her training, perhaps she didn’t. We don’t know the answer to that, except that in 1939 she is a cook at the Trusty Servant Inn, New Forest, working for Mr & Mrs Leith the licensed victuallers. This country pub is still operating today offering both accommodation and a restaurant.

If you are passing through the new Forest, you could call in for a drink where Grace worked! Grace Russell had been born in Great Yarmouth where her father was the District Medical Officer. Unfortunately he died when Grace was just five months old. He was interred in Southampton, his coffin being transported there by train

A decided touch of pathos came in the form of the identification of the funeral wreaths:

Nine of the 29 girls did not marry – inasmuch as their death records are in their maiden names. One who did marry – Irene Davidson – was unfortunate to be a widow by the age of 22. We have already seen that Dorothea travelled eight thousand miles away to marry and Annie Hewer married in Australia albeit that was her home so it was where she might be expected to marry if anywhere.

Only one of these 1920 school leavers lived to see the 21st century – Norma Richings – although it should be pointed out that we lose trace of three of the leavers so they could also have made it to the next century. Two came close, meeting him with the scythe in 1998 and 1999. Marjorie Willcocks died in January 1999. She had worked for many years for the Royal Bank of Scotland and had been a regular returnee to Old Girls’ Days over the years. Dorothea Quiney was the other one – her third mention here. One girl, very sadly, hardly got started on her post-school life before she died: Marguerite Noyes Coe died when she was just 18. Her father also died in that year so it must have been a very difficult time for her mother. The school records do not give any further information about Marguerite’s demise and there are no hints in Matron’s records of a long-standing illness so we are none the wiser about what transpired to cause her death. One pupil for whom an early demise might not have been a surprise was Evelyn Denman. She arrived at the school on 29th April 1915 but was found to have a weak heart and medical advice was that she was not robust enough to be at the school. She was sent home on 4th May with a view to being out-educated. However, she returned to the school on 7th June and the medical officer admitted her. Despite her medically uncertain beginning, she lived until she was ninety!

Not all of the girls who left school in 1920 appeared in the whole school photo dated 1912/1913. Some, clearly, had not then joined the School.

But 18 of them did. Capturing their images from a larger photo results in rather fuzzy and out of focus images unfortunately but it gives a vague idea of their appearance.

I wonder if anyone will be writing in 2120 about the girls who left in 2020?