The Women Who Knew Talbot House

Steve Smith January 2020

You may know that Tubby tried to record the names of all those who passed through the door of Talbot House whilst it was open. The most successful attempt at achieving this was by persuading those who took communion there to sign a communicants’ slip. These slips were preserved, carefully stuffed into a couple of empty sandbags, and all was well until German shells started falling a little close to Talbot House and someone decided to shore up the defences with a sandbag…stuffed with communicants’ slips. It was never seen again, or so the story goes.

So only half of the names survived and amongst those many names were those of just eight women. Most sources agree that these eight were the only women to visit the Old House during the war and thus, the only women entitled to call themselves Foundation Members of Toc H. Having said that, in 1930 Tubby said there were six and a few months late a book on Talbot House said less than a dozen. Alison Macfie produced the eight names in her The Curious History of Toc H Women’s Association in 1956 but perhaps there were others? Nonetheless, it is Macfie’s list that forms the basis of this blog.

It takes a glimpse at the lives of those eight women but for some context, let us first understand the circumstances that allowed women to be so close to the front.

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Prior to World War I, the main military nursing organisation was the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS) formed in 1902 out of the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service. The British Red Cross Society and the Order of St Johns also enrolled nurses for the civilian Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). When the war began both these organisations saw a massive increase in membership although most of those joining the QAIMNS went into the Reserve as the army didn’t want to get left with a surfeit of regular nurses after the war. As a broad rule of thumb, qualified nurses joined the QAIMNSR whilst the VAD was a mix of civilians carrying out a multitude of tasks. Indeed, in the early days, the British Army wanted little to do with VADs and they either drove ambulances or worked in hospitals and casualty clearing stations (CCS) for the French and Belgian armies. As the war progressed, the VADs became more experienced and their contributions were much more appreciated by the military.

Additionally, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry were a charity formed in 1907. Generally favoured by a less gentile and more forthright woman, the FANYs sought to serve on the front-lines and rarely took no for an answer. Initially helping in hospitals they eventually found their niche as drivers near the front line ferrying wounded back to CCSs and hospitals. A fitting role for what had started as a cavalry unit! And for the even more spirited suffragettes, there were units such as Mabel St Clair Stobart’s Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy, and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals movement.

It was amongst these organisations that our women found their place in history.

By far the best known in Toc H circles is Alison Bland Scott Macfie, henceforth known as ABS, because it was she who established and for so long, led, the League of Women Helpers, the female counterparts of the original Toc H organisation.

Alison Macfie

Alison Macfie whilst at La Panne

ABS was born on Christmas Day of 1886 in New Ferry on the Wirral side of the Mersey. Her father, John William Scott Macfie, was a wealthy Liverpool based sugar refiner. The Macfie sugar dynasty began in Greenock but a branch opened in Liverpool in 1838 and was managed by John. The branch ended up on Temple Street, not 200 yards from where the famous Cavern Club would later open on Mathew Street. The Macfie’s sold out to Tate and Lyle in the 1920s, considerably increasing their fortune.

ABS’ mother, Helen Wahan was born in India to an army Major General and with her husband had nine children including ABS. The others included Marion, a well-known dog breeder and founder of the Norfolk Terrier Club; Robert, a renowned expert on Gypsy Lore; and John, a respected entomologist. By the time of the 1891 census the family were living in Rowton Hall, Rowton, Cheshire (Now a hotel).

Perhaps inspired by a Red Cross Society parade through Chester in September 1914, that November ABS joined the Society and began nursing at St John’s VAD hospital in Chester. This was otherwise known as the King’s Buildings hospital.

ABS VAD Card

ABS’ VAD card

However by 1916, ABS and her ‘cousin’ Annie Dorothea Macfie (See below) were nursing with the French Red Cross at a Belgian Red Cross Hospital at La Panne on the Belgian coast near the border with France. The Ocean Ambulance – its central building was the Hotel de l’Ocean – was established by Dr Antoine Depage, commander of the Belgian Red Cross, with the support of the Belgian royals. Depage had previously appointed Edith Cavell as head of his nurses’ training school, the Berkendael Medical Institute in Ixelles. Under his direction, the hospital was staffed by a mixture of British and Belgian nurses and Queen Elisabeth attended daily to help change dressings.

Hotel de l'Ocean Private collection of Mr. Philippe Dequinze, Sambrevill

Hotel de l’Ocean from the private collection of Mr. Philippe Dequinze, Sambrevill

In the spring of 1917, relief nurses were needed in Poperinghe – a Belgian town 10 km from the front line under allied control and used for billeting troops – and the cousins travelled to the annex of the Hospital Elizabeth that was built in the grounds of Chateau Couthove at Proven just outside the town. Whilst there ABS recounts that on the 8th April 1917 “we were taken by ambulance into Poperinghe on Easter morning and there deposited outside the big iron doors of Talbot House……” She doesn’t expand on who “we” were although one assumes it was her cousin given that both signed Communicants’ Slips at Easter 1917.

ABS mentions at least one further service at Talbot House albeit in the ‘barn’ which was in the property next door but it is possible she attended Talbot House quite regularly whilst stationed near Poperinge. She certainly became very close to Tubby Clayton, the padre who ran Talbot House.

We know from Tubby’s own words in a letter to his mother written on May Day 1917 that ABS and her cousin were asked to attend a garden party that day to give men from each unit in the neighbourhood the opportunity to meet them. It was still a rare sight for the men to see English ladies at the time. ABS later returned to La Panne and then London where she sent packages of books, cigarettes and knitted garments out to the house.

After the war ABS was working at the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases in Welbeck Street. She maintained contact with Tubby and on one occasion saved her hospital ration of sugar and took it to the team based at Red Lion Square with a view to reestablishing Talbot House in London. She was promptly nabbed by the Gen (Tubby’s batman, Arthur Pettifer) to put up a new lampshade and thus the work of the League of Women Helpers (LWH) probably began at that very moment.

ABS was, somewhat against her will, recruited to the first Executive of Toc H, which met on 15th November 1919, and thereafter found her life divided between her hospital duties and Toc H. The eight Foundation Women were to be the only ladies allowed to join Toc H until the men and women’s movements merged officially in 1971.

Soon afterwards Tubby acquired a job lot of ‘green curtains, army huts for the use of’ and they were delivered to ABS at the hospital where friends volunteered to cut and sew the curtains to size for Mark II, a hostel established in St George’s Square, Pimlico. Already Toc H was identifying a need for a band of volunteers to assist the men with a feminine touch. Yes, it all sounds rather sexist and a reinforcement of gender stereotypes now, but this was the early part of the 20th century and how things were despite the Suffrage Movement and the liberating aspects of the war. However, it would not be until 1922 that the women’s movement became formalised.

At a meeting on 4th July 1922 in Mrs Edward Horne’s drawing room, Tubby expounded the virtues of Women’s Auxiliary of the Church of Canada that he had encountered on his recent trip there. The formation of a new association was agreed and, though she sank herself deep into the sofa, ABS found herself on the committee once again. Of the other Foundation Women only Kate Luard joined ABS on the committee, the other members being largely wealthy and well-to-do women of Tubby’s acquaint, or wives of some of the senior men in Toc H.

ABS found the social work side of her new ‘hobby’ quite different to her nursing experience – so much so that she stop working in the hospital and went to work in a South London Settlement. Increasingly though she took a greater unpaid role in the work of the LWH in particular and Toc H in general. She lived in various properties on Tower Hill close to where Tubby had his ministry at All Hallows.

Maacfie at Tubby 60th Birthday 1945

Macfie at Tubby’s 60th birthday party

She travelled too and went on several tours of the dominions on behalf of the organisation starting in 1929. She was officially Founder Pilot of the LWH and used her skills and charm to entice new branches to spring up and new members to join. She was also a deeply religious woman and this was evident in her talks and passion for her work.

After Talbot House was reacquired for the Movement by Lord Wakefield in 1930, ABS was one of three Women Foundation members who travelled by car with Tubby to the House to begin the World Chain of Light in December 1930. The other two were probably her cousin Dorothea and Kate Luard.

On the 1939 register compiled at the beginning of the Second World War, ABS was shown at Crutched Friars doing Voluntary Social Work. She was also part of the Air Raid Precaution Casualty Services Unit. Then Tubby sent her to the Orkneys to become the Warden at The Pilgrim House aka Woodwick House, Evie where Toc H had established a rest home for sailors (and later other services too)

In the 1944 New Year’s Honours she became an Associate of the Royal Red Cross (ARRC), an honour awarded to a fully trained nurse of an officially recognised nursing service who has shown exceptional devotion and competence in the performance of nursing duties, over a continuous and long period.

From 1946 until shortly before her death she was back working and living at Crutched Friars House which was the HQ of the Toc H (Women’s Section) (as the LWH had become in 1943). She remained close to Tubby physically and emotionally appearing as a guest on his This Is Your Life appearance in 1958.

ABS with Tubby and Eamon on TIYL

Macfie appearing on Tubby’s This Is Your Life

Macfie wrote two books about the history of the LWH (Details at end of article)

In December 1962 ABS made what would be her last trip to Australia as she died on the 12th September 1963 at the Cottage Hospital in Swaffham, Norfolk. Her ashes are in an urn in the columbarium in the Crypt of All Hallows alongside Tubby and several other notable Toc H folk.

Alison House in Cromford, Derbyshire is named for her. It was a Toc H conference centre for many years but is now a private hotel

 

Now we look to her cousin Annie Dorothea Macfie – generally known as Dorotheawho was born to William Macfie and Mary Colvin on the 18th June 1884 in Clermiston, Edinburgh. In fact, despite their similar ages they were actually cousins once-removed;  Dorothea’s father was a brother of Alison’s grandfather Robert Andrew Macfie. William was also a sugar refiner and a fan of Sir Walter Scott erecting the well-known Clermiston Tower, in the Edinburgh suburb, in his honour.

Annie Dorothea Macfie

Annie Dorothea Macfie at La Panne

Despite belonging to a wealthy family, her childhood was marred by tragedies. When Dorothea was just nine her older brother Walter Scott Macfie was lost at sea, and two years later her mother died.

She was presumably quite close to her cousin because at the 1901 census we find sixteen year old Dorothea visiting ABS and her family at their home in Rowton, Cheshire.

Dorothea clearly liked to travel as on Valentine’s Day 1912 she was issued a passport to Rome, so it is little surprise that during the war she was prepared to go back to the continent. She volunteered through the British Committee of the French Red Cross who organised women to go to the French (and free Belgian) hospitals. Sadly their records do not survive though her medal card suggests she joined in February 1915. Presumably she did this alongside her cousin as they both ended up at La Panne and then in Poperinghe.

Communicant Slips

Communicants Roll slips for the Macfie cousins

After the war her love of travel continued with trips including India (1921), South Africa (1923), Canada (1925), Argentina (1927), Australia (1933), Karachi (Also 1933) and Tangiers (1936). These were mostly not only parts of the Dominion but also places where Toc H was being established though she never mentions Toc H on the manifests. Sometimes she is listed as a Domestic though!

On her return from India in 1921 her home address was given as Lexham Court Hotel in Kensington but by 1923 she appeared to be staying at her brother’s house Colonsay in Kingswear, Dartmouth. Lieutenant Colonel William Colvin Macfie lived in a stunning colonial villa overlooking the Dart. By the 1930s she was based at 7 Cromwell Road, Kensington where she remained for some years. William died in 1934 and she received £10,000 in his will, a considerable sum in those days. She got another £7,000 two years later when his wife Ethel died.

At the 1939 register she was still living at 7 Cromwell Road. Since there were many others listed with her of both sexes so it seems likely it was a hotel. Dorothea was listed as a VAD Quartermaster for the Chelsea Division so was doing her bit again.

Soon after the war she had moved into her own place at Thames Eyot, a beautiful complex of Art Deco apartments on the river at Twickenham. There was further travel to Canada (1951), South Africa (1952), the USA (1953) but after that she seemed to have to give up her adventures.

Dorothea died on the 28th November 1967 and is buried with her family Cramond Kirk Church burial ground in Lothian.

 

Our next Foundation Woman, Katherine Evelyn Luard, known always as Kate, was born to Bixby and Clara Bramston on the 29th June 1872. Bixby was vicar of Aveley in Essex and Kate’s early childhood was spent growing up in the vicarage. The tenth of thirteen children, she wouldn’t have been short of company. In 1895 the family moved up the county to the beautiful village of Birch near Colchester where Bixby was appointed Rector.

Kate trained as a nurse firstly at the East London Hospital for Children and Women then at King’s College Hospital, London working as a teacher and governess to find the fees. On the 31st March 1900 she signed up to the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service and spent her next two years in South Africa treating casualties of the Second Boer War. This must have been an incredibly eye-opening experience for a clergyman’s daughter from Essex! She resigned on the 19th August 1902

Once back in the UK we know she spent some time as a Night Superintendent at Charing Cross Hospital but by 1911 she had the more prestigious appointment of Matron at what was then the Maitland Sanatorium at Rotherfield Peppard west of Henley on Thames. The sanatorium was founded by Dr Esther Colebrook, a pioneer of tuberculosis treatment, in 1898. In 1914 Colebrook sold it to Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Councils and it became the Berks and Bucks County Sanatorium until absorbed by the NHS in 1948 and renamed the Peppard Sanatorium. Kate remained as Matron after the first takeover, at least until war came.

evelyn-luard-mar2014ed2

Kate Evelyn Luard

Two days after England declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914, Kate signed up to the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve and less than a week later she was on her way to France. In August 1914 there were just 516 nurses with the BEF in France (Compared to over 6000 come Armistice).

Kate was officially posted to No. 1 General Hospital at La Havre on the 9th September but actually spent the day in a hotel at La Baulle. According to her diary she received her orders on the 13th September and a few days later got a train to Le Mans. In October Kate was posted to an ambulance train ferrying wounded soldiers between the front and the ports for treatment and evacuation and since this put her under fire she was entitled to the 1914 Star.

After a spell with a Field Ambulance from Easter 1915, at the very end of May she received new orders and was to be moved to a base hospital. It turned out to be No.16 General Hospital at Treport where she met for the first time “the little portentous padre” (As described by Dorothea Crewdson in her diaries) who had arrived in the early summer fresh from his curacy in Portsea to become a military padre. This was, of course, Phillip ‘Tubby’ Clayton who had “been splendid in getting the church started and people to come to his services”. Tubby claimed she was his first Communicant in France though we must always bear in mind that Tubby never liked the facts to get in the way of a good story. However Kate may well have been glad of his solace in July because on the 13th, her brother Colonel Frank William Luard was killed at Gallipoli.

On the 17th October Kate was transferred to CCS No. 6 at Lillers in France where she remained for just over a year, relocating with the unit to Bruay in May 1916. Whilst at Lillers she was awarded the Royal Red Cross. Also during this period, in time for Christmas 1915, her diaries were published anonymously by Blackwood.

Kate was transferred to CCS No.32 on the 11th November 1916 whilst it was at St Venant and after a short spell in stationary hospitals in the early summer of 1917, Kate was relocated on the 25th July with CCS No.32 to Brandhoeke, an extremely perilous location between the garrison town at Poperinghe and the frontline at Ypres. Kate was Sister in Charge of the most important Advanced Abdominal centre on the Western Front and had 40 nurses and about 100 orderlies working under her. In her letters home, Kate described the centre herself:

This venture so close to the Line is of nature an experiment in life-saving, to reduce the mortality rate from abdominal and chest wounds. Hence this Advanced Abdominal Centre, to which all abdominal and chest wounds are taken from a large attacking area, instead of going on with the rest to the C.C.S.’s six miles back”

It was during her time at Brandhoeke that Kate acquainted herself with Talbot House and met up again with Tubby. She was only at CCS No. 32 for a few weeks before moving to CCS No. 37 but what an intense few weeks they were for her. CCS No. 37 was at Godewaersvelde (Or God Wears Velvet to the English troops). Kate spent Christmas 1917 at CCS No. 54 in Merville before re-joining No. 32 at Marchelepot in February 1918 for a short spell. Her last turn at a CCS was as Sister in Charge at No. 41 (Pernois) during which time she had a Bar added to her Royal Red Cross. At the end of the summer she was at No.47 General Hospital and by autumn at No. 10 General Hospital in Rouen which is where she was serving at Armistice.

After the German surrender, Kate clearly felt her duty was done and she resigned just over a fortnight later citing the need to care for her very poorly father. Her resignation was accepted and she was allowed to leave France immediately on compassionate grounds. Given that she had now served in two wars on different continents, received a prestigious medal and bar and was twice mentioned in dispatches, I think she had every right to feel she had done her bit.

Kate Luard Resignation Letter

Kate’s resignation letter

Kate nursed her father for a few short weeks until his death in January 1919 after which she returned to her role as Matron and the Berks and Bucks County Sanatorium but before long was given an appointment as Matron at the South London Hospital for Women. The announcement for this appointment also said that Kate had been Out-Patient Sister at the Evelina Hospital in Southwark and Registrar of the National Union of Trained Nurses!

Around 1925 Kate obtained a position as Matron at Bradfield College, a private boys’ school in Berkshire. It was whilst she was working here in 1930 that her book Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918 was first published.

In 1930 Tubby offered her some sort of position with Toc H but she refused saying she was too old, not religious enough, and with splendid candour – that she daren’t relinquish the salary she had at Bradfield.

Soon though, her health would get the better of her and she retired in December 1932 due to a bad back and went to live with two of her sisters in a house in Wickham Bishops in her native Essex.

Despite her health she still enjoyed travelling including a battlefield Pilgrimage with her brother (Edwin) Percy who assumed the living of Birch when his father died. Like Tubby, Edwin was formerly a Curate at Portsea though several years before Tubby.

In her retirement Kate gave talks on subjects as diverse as ‘midwifery’ and ‘gas’ to groups such as the Women’s Institute. One of her talks was entitled “From Mrs Gamp to hospitals of today” about the London Hospital. She was also on the Council of the Essex County Nurses Association.

However, it was as Commandant of the Essex 24 Women’s Detachment of the British Red Cross Society that she donated much of her time in the thirties. She retired from this role in 1939 but was made a Life President.

She died on the 16th Aug 1962 aged 90 and is buried in Wickham Bishop.

 

Now we look to Ethel Webb-Johnson who was born in the Potteries to the man who was the Medical Officer for Health for Stoke on Trent, Samuel Johnson, and his wife Julia Ann Webb. Ethel was born on the 8th September 1881 and baptised at St. Peter Ad Vincula a month later. By 1891 her father was in general practice and the family were living in Hill Street, Stoke.

In January 1897 Ethel started at Orme’s Girl’s School in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire matriculating to Newham College at the University of Cambridge in 1901. She graduated in 1904 with a BA in Mathematics. Her father died in 1899 and although the family would stay in Stoke at first, they would soon migrate in different directions. For Ethel, this would be the West Country as from 1904 she was Mathematical Mistress at Exeter Modern School.

However, an academic career was presumably not what Ethel was looking for as between 1907 and 1909 she was at the London Hospital qualifying as a nurse. By the time of the 1911 census, she was listed as a sick nurse at the hospital though she was with her mother at home in Wales on the night of the census. Ethel was mostly known as Webb-Johnson professionally. Her older brother Alfred changed his surname to Webb-Johnson by deed poll in 1915 so perhaps Ethel and her siblings did too.

MDV Allen and EW Johnson

Ethel Webb Johnson (left) with her friend Mary Dorothy Vernon Allen

As with many people, the arrival of war changed things for Ethel. On the 1st November 1914 she joined the Royal Red Cross Society and was posted to France. Since she went early in the war with the BEF she was later awarded the 1914 Star. She worked at the Belgian Red Cross Jeanne D’Arc hospital in Calais. Established by the Belgian doctor, Dr Depage, who also ran the earlier mentioned L’Ocean at La Panne, the typhoid wards were run by Dr Alice Hutchinson. Hutchinson had previously served in the Balkans and had been involved with the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy. It was one of three hospital units effectively run by the Scottish Women’s Hospitals movement (The others were at Chantilly, and a mobile unit in Serbia) and were mostly run by women. Unbelievably this caused issues in some quarters as many men believed it was a politically motivated gesture by Suffragettes! In fact Hutchinson reduced the death rate by enteric fever well below any other hospital in the area.

In general Red Cross volunteers (VADs) were treated as vastly inferior to military nurses. Since Ethel was trained she clearly felt she had more to offer as on the 28th March 1915 her application to join the QAIMNSR as a Staff Nurse was accepted. She left the Red Cross on the 9th April 1915.

Ethel travelled first to No. 13 General Hospital in Boulogne where she spent a year, renewing her position on the 28th February 1916, and then on the 8th April 1916 she was posted to No.10 CCS then at Remy Siding. Here she would have received many wounded men on the trains from the front-lines. Now incorporated into the huge Lijssenthoek cemetery this was an incredibly busy area. It was whilst at Remy that she visited Talbot House with her friend Dorothy Allen during Easter 1916.

After a brief spell at Abbeville and No. 47 CCS (Beuval) in October 1916 Ethel was back at No.10 but only for a few days before she was forced to take sick leave in England. On her return on the 27th November 1916 she was posted to No. 3 General Hospital at Le Treport where she a large, acute surgical ward.

After renewing again on the 30th Apr 1917, giving her address as “Cricklewood”, East Sheen, London which was the house where Ethel’s widowed mother was living with her son Captain Cecil Johnson.

The autumn of 1917 saw Ethel at No. 4 CCS (Lozinghem) and No. 6 Stationary hospital (Frevent) before she arrived at No. 48 CCS in Ytres on the 6th December 1917 remaining there over the winter.

She spent much of March 1918 on leave in England but on her return at the end of the month was posted to No. 24 General Hospital in Etaples. It was here in June that she contracted the flu and spent a week as a patient in her own hospital. Etaples has since been identified as the centre of the 1918 Spanish Flu endemic so this may well be what Ethel contracted. From the 22nd June 1918 she spent several weeks convalescing the nurses’ rest in La Touquet. On her return to duty she was moved around several CCS and Base Hospitals through the autumn and winter before finally settling for a while on 19th April 1919 at No. 6 Stationary Hospital in Atwerp. It was whilst she was here that, on the 3rd June 1919, Ethel was awarded the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class).

Ethel was demobbed officially from the 18th July but her records indicate she was allowed to leave early on the 11th July 1919. Her dispersal address was given as Ravelrig in Inverness which was the home of Miss Barron, a member of the family that owned and edited the Inverness Courier.

At the end of the month on the 31st July 1919 Ethel had her investiture at Buckingham Palace being given her RRC by the king himself.

Ethel was now giving her address as 14 Raymond Road in Wimbledon an address she would retain until her death despite being abroad much of the time. This address was also used by several of Ethel’s sisters at different times so we might assume it was a family home used as a poste restante by those siblings travelling.

And travel, Ethel did! In 1920 she was a Matron at the British Station Hospital in Bangalore and in 1923 she registered as a nurse in London (The register was only introduced in 1922).

However, in 1925 she returned to teaching and became Vice Principal at the Girls Collegiate School in St Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In 1927 she was promoted to Principal. During this period, in 1929, she returned to her previous teaching post at Exeter Modern School to give a talk at their annual speech day was presented with flowers and chocolates. She remained at the Girls Collegiate School until 1948.

Afterwards she volunteered at the Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables at Putney and died on the 23rd November 1960 ‘on the way to Putney Hospital’. She is buried in Hartshill Cemetery, Stoke.

We shouldn’t leave Ethel without mentioning the achievements of her siblings. It was an amazing family. The eldest child, Rosa Webb-Johnson was also a Red Cross VAD and ended up as Second in Command of the Worcestershire Detachment of the British Red Cross. She also founded her local Women’s Unionist Association and was President of the Welfare Clinic.

Next sibling along was Samuel Webb-Johnson who was better known as Cecil. A Captain in the RAMC during WWI, after the war he was a doctor in the Indian Medical Service at Dum Dum and later became an expert in diet for good health.

Alfred Edward Webb-Johnson was the most successful of all being admitted as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1906. During the war he was a Colonel in the Army Medical Service and was mentioned in despatches three times. He was awarded a DSO and made a CBE after the war. Alfred later became surgeon to Queen Mary for which he was knighted in 1936, given a baronetcy in 1945 and raised to the peerage in 1948.

Alice Mabel Webb-Johnson became a teacher teaching music

Younger sister Kathleen also a Red Cross VAD and in 1939 Secretary Guild Social Welfare

Norah Millicent Webb-Johnson was yet another VAD

Whilst Stanley avoided medicine he worked in law and was a legal adviser to the Indian government.

 

Our next nurse, Dorothy France, was born on that rare day of the 29th February, in her case in 1888, in Gateshead to George Thornton France and Harriet Lucy Stogdon, France’s second wife. Mr France managed a chemical works and was also a local magistrate. A large family, they lived next door to the Rectory of St James but George died in 1902 when Dorothy was only 14 and her mother appears to have moved to Norfolk shortly afterwards.

Certainly at the 1911 census the widow Harriet was living at North Hall Farm, Warham in North Norfolk (Although the following year she was shown living at the hall itself with a Mr Groom at the farm). However, at the census Dorothy was no longer living at home and her address was given as the Queen’s Hospital for Children in Glamis Road, Shadwell.

From 1913 to 1916 she was training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital becoming a member of the College of Nurses in August 1916. She was still working at St Bart’s when, on the 17th April 1917, she signed up as a staff nurse for the QAIMNSR. She was posted first to No. 40 Stationary Hospital at Harfleur on the 15th May 1917. In October she transferred to CCS No. 4 at Lozinghem where she remained until January when she returned to England on leave.

On her return to France she appeared to be quite transient spending time at Base hospitals in St Omer, and in Aire before settling for a while at Stationary Hospital No. 32 at Wimereux. Whilst here she was taken ill with a gastric complaint that led to her being granted sick leave until September. Her sick leave address was given as Northgate Hall in Warham, a slight variant but presumably the same place her mother was living.

Communicants Slips France and McAfferty

Dorothy France and Ella Maclaverty’s Communicants’ Roll slips

She returned to Wimereux on the 13th September 1917 and remained there for three months before joining CCS No.44 in Cologne. This was her last post before being demobbed on the 2nd April 1919. Her reports described her as an exceedingly good nurse. Her discharge address was Falcon House in Twyford, Norfolk.

Professionally we lose track of Dorothy for a while but she is still on the nursing register and continues to give a Norfolk address, latterly St Andrew’s Lodge in Hingham. This was also the address given for her mother on probate when she died in 1935 though her death actually occurred at Bears House, Hingham.

The following year Dorothy married – the only one of our eight ladies to do so – wedding Flight Lieutenant Christopher Musgrave at St Andrew’s church in Hingham.

During the war she appeared to relocate to the Metropolitan Convalescence Home Cooten, Bexhill where, since she is still on the Nursing Register, one presumes she was working.

Dorothy later returned to Norfolk and died at The Willows, Hingham on the 13th August 1965.

The first of the Women Foundation Members to leave us was Eva Rose Stapleton who was just 51 when she died in 1931. She had been dogged by poor health which made her achievements all the more remarkable.

Born to William Stapleton and Ann Hayden in Stratton on the outskirts of Bude in the first quarter of 1880, Eva would not be baptised until the 1st May 1887 alongside her brother John, born in 1878. Someone has written the 6th October 1880 alongside the Baptismal date in the register as if it were her date of birth. However this doesn’t tie up with Civil Registration of her birth in the January to March quarter of 1880. This won’t be the last time that the ‘facts’ about Rose’s life don’t quite add up.

She lived alongside the famous Bude canal and only a short distance from her uncle, Henry Stapleton, a shipwright and coxswain of the Bude lifeboat. Her own father was classed as a Mercantile Marine so the sea was clearly in the blood. Sadly Rose was only 15 when her father died in 1895. She attended Truro High School.

At the 1901 census, Rose is at her uncle’s house whilst her widowed mother is a few doors away living on her own. She would die in 1906 at the age of 63.

In 1908 Rose is collecting house to house for Stratton Cottage Hospital and by the 1911 census we start to see where Rose’s life is headed as she is recorded as a nurse at Royal Victoria Hospital in Bournemouth but in September that same year she starts her training at Bristol Infirmary. Rose completed her training in November 1915 and on the fifteenth of that month signed her forms to join the QAIMNSR. Her start date is on the 3rd December and on the 7th she joined her unit as a Staff Nurse. She was appointed to No. 2 General Hospital which was based at Le Havre for the duration of the war. In a piece he wrote when Rose died, Tubby says he met her at No. 16 General Hospital:

“Sister Rose Stapleton had proved my friend from the first days in France. When I reached 16 General Hospital at Le Treport she and Sister Luard were the first two who helped me. “

Tubby must be getting something mixed up here as he was at Le Treport in the summer of 1915 and Kate Luard was indeed there. However, Rose didn’t join the army until December 1915 and was still at Bristol Infirmary when Tubby was at No. 16 General Hospital.

Just to complicate matters, Alison Macfie says

“Rose Stapleton was probably the first nursing sister to enter Talbot House; her first visit being in 1915” and she “was at the Old House at Christmas time in 1915”.

Timewise this is feasible but Rose spent the first two years of her time in France at Le Havre, which is 150 miles from Pops! Unless she travelled there on a special mission, it seems unlikely she would have just gone all that way for a little R&R especially since she would have needed permits to get into Pops.

Regardless of the above, we do know that Rose worked in a surgical ward at No. 16 and that in May 1916 she took charge of an operating theatre, a role that required her to be a good administrator and manager as she would need to direct others in the theatre. Apart from a few short periods of leave in England, Rose seemed to be firmly fixed at Le Treport. She was there in October 1917 when she fractured her clavicle trying to adjust a light in the theatre.

In early 1918 after some leave she was finally relocated via Abbeville and No. 12 Stationary Hospital to No. 29 CCS at Grevillers and after a month to No. 14 General Hospital at Wimereux.

Towards the end of 1917 the army was facing a shortage medical officers and it was decided that some nursing sisters could be trained to provide anaesthetics during operations. Rose was chosen to be one of these trainees and did a course in May 1918 after which she started practicing her new skills at No. 7 Stationary Hospital in Boulogne and at the end of July went to No. 44 CCS in Berques. This is only about 15 miles from Poperinghe and is the closest she has been stationed so far. However she was only there for a month before being sent back to Wimereux to No. 32 Stationary Hospital in charge of a 70 bed ward. Although posted there for three months she actually only worked 35 days due to tonsillitis (initially diagnosed as diphtheria) and spent half of October into November on sick leave in England. On recovery, she returned to No. 32 for a three weeks before being posted to No. 32 CCS in Valenciennes on the 8th December 1918.

There was a further posting in February 1919 to No. 1 CCS in Mons and by now the end of her war must have been in sight. However, Rose clearly liked the life she was living for on the 3rd April 1919 she applied to join the regular QAIMNS though her application doesn’t appear to have succeeded.

Rose was now sent to Boulogne ready for demob but they must have changed their as she was sent to No. 10 Stationary Hospital at Remy Siding in May. For the first time she was stationed within walking distance of Talbot House but the house had closed the previous December!

In July she must have received the sad news that her Uncle Henry had died.

In October she was transferred to No. 24 General Hospital in Etaples but at the end of the month she was admitted to Woolwich Hospital (Probably the Royal Herbert Military Hospital) with gastro enteritis. Her address was listed as the Sisters’ Hostel in Boulogne but her nearest relative was given as Lady Osler (Friend) of 13 Norham Gardens, Oxford. This is Grace, a descendant of Paul Revere and the wife of William Osler who was known as one of Oxford’s greatest physicians and even the Father of Modern Medicine. Canadian born, he ran an open house at 13 Norham Gardens for medical students and their like. The connection between Rose and the Oslers is unclear. Sadly William Osler died in December 1919 during the Spanish influenza outbreak.

Rose’s own health was deteriorating and her sick leave kept getting extended. It seems likely that this was no longer just gastro enteritis and at some point she is diagnosed with Neurasthenics. Nowadays this obtuse neurotic disorder is believed to have been ‘shellshock’ or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) more often than not. In March 1920 her doctors actually stated that she had had a nervous breakdown made difficult by the fact she had no close living relatives.

She is discharged on the 18th September 1920 and her address is given as Rosewarne, Flexbury, Bude. Somewhat bluntly, a note is added to her records in 1921 that “if she applies to go back on the QAIMNS Reserve to tell her there are no vacancies”.

Rose clearly recovers as by 1921 she is on the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Registers as working at Selly Oak Hospital. Interestingly she is registered as Eva Rose Stapleton-Hayden tagging her mother’s maiden name on. She registered as a nurse on the 3rd February 1922 soon after the Register started. In the electoral register at this time her address is given as The Woodlands, Raddlebarn Road which is the nursing quarters for Selly Oak Hospital. She will later live at various addresses in the Selly Oak area. It would be around this time that Rose would get involved with Toc H Mark VI in Birmingham.

By the end of the decade it would seem that Rose’s health was impacting her life. She wrote a letter to the Joint Nursing and VAD Services Committee asking for help but all we know is they confirmed her QAIMNSR Service and Conduct but not whether help was applied.

In 1928 she was living back in Bude at the wonderfully named Cottage of Sweet Content so I assume she had retired from Selly Oak though according to Tubby it was 1929 when she left Birmingham to be a patient in the London Hospital. Her illness was incurable so she was moved the St Columbas Hospital (Home of Peace for the Dying) in Swiss Cottage where she died on the 5th July 1931. According to Tubby her ashes are in the Columbarium at All Hallows yet they do not appear in the lists All Hallows hold! Just another little mystery in this remarkable lady’s life.

 

Ella Jane Vincentia Maclaverty was born in Llangattock near Monmouth in 1880 to Alexander Maclaverty and Mary Eugenia TOMBS. She was baptised on the 11th July that same year. Her father had the living of Llangattock since 1875 and the family lived in the Manor. A wealthy family with connections to the Jamaican coffee trade, Ella’s siblings included Captain Colin Maclaverty who was prospecting in Nigeria when war broke out and landed in France as part of the Nigerian force. However he later joined the King’s (Shropshire Light Infantry) and died near Leuze Wood in September 1916, two days after his son was born.

Ella was a talented violinist but we know little else of her upbringing as at the 1901 census she remained living with her parents and had no profession whilst I have been unable to track her down at the 1911 census. It is with some surprise then, that late in the war, Ella decided to join the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. Surprising because the FANYs were somewhat at odds with the more genteel ladies of the Red Cross. It took them a long time to be accepted by the military as being of use and much of the rejection was due to their stubbornness and attitude. Originally intended to provide First Aid on the battlefields, early FANYs rode horses but by the time they arrived in Calais in 1914 they had switched to motor ambulances and, over the course of the war, they would move further away from their medical origins and specialise in driving and mechanics.

Whether or not Ella could already drive before she joined the FANYs is lost to time but we know that she signed up and started her service on the 18th July 1918 with the St Omer Convoy. This particular FANY convoy had been formed in January 1918 and had earned considerable respect during May with their heroic deeds. Then the Spanish influenza (Or Flanders Grippe as it was known locally) laid waste to the group. It is possible that Ella was posted there to help make up that deficiency.

There were 30 cars in the Convoy driven by a combination of FANYs and VADs, Ella was variously known as a driver or chauffeuse. She would have been there in August 1918 when King George V visited them.

As the war drew to a close, the St Omer Convoy provided cars at drivers at Hazebrouck and Poperinghe where parties of men were clearing the battlefields of unexploded bombs and shells. Dangerous work, the FANYs had a constant flow of casualties to get to the CCSs and hospitals. It is likely that it was during this time, the last six months of 1918 before the club shut down, that Ella visited Talbot House. The address given on her Communicant’s Slip is The Elms, Hereford which was the family home of her brother Colin’s widow, Geraldine Hewat.

Ella is another of those we lose track of a little after the war though she makes several trips to Jamaica. Although one one of the passenger manifests in 1923 her address is given as Chelston near Torquay, the following year it is listed as Breinton House in Hereford. This picturesque property on the banks of the Wye belongs to Major Dodgson, a nephew of Lewis Carroll and the second husband of Ella’s sister-in-law Geraldine. This suggests that Ella remained close to Geraldine after Colin was killed.

She is in West Sussex in the late 1920s because we learn that she is thrown into a ditch at Partridge Green when her car is hit by a van. She clearly wasn’t seriously hurt, or if she was the newspaper couldn’t be bothered to report it.

By 1936 Ella’s given address is Coleherne Road in the earls Court district of London.

Three years on and at the 1939 register we find her living on her own means at Battramsley Close, a large house in Boldre in the New Forest. The house owner and one of Ella’s cohabitants at the register is Dr Harold Des Voeux, a short, bearded man of French descent who was the first president of the Smoke Abatement Society and is credited with coining the word ‘smog’. His wife, some servants and some girls ‘in training’ are also on the register. One can only speculate on Ella’s reasons for being there.

Dr Des Voeux died in 1942 and in 1945 we find Ella living at the Vancouver hotel in Lancaster Gate though later that year she crops up at Sheffield Terrace in Kensington sharing with one Amy MacFarlam. By 1949 her address is Lowickswood in Tilford Farnham, sometimes shown as Lowicks Bungalow. She died in Haslemere Hospital in Surrey on the 3rd July 1956.

 

Our final lady is Mary Dorothy Vernon Allen to give her rarely used full name. She was born on the 2nd of November 1884 to Vernon Allen and Charlotte Wood-Moor and baptised a month later at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, London. The name she uses at different points of her life seems to vary considerably and she is sometimes known as Dorothy, sometimes as Mary, sometimes Dorothy Mary and occasionally Mary Dorothy! The use of Vernon doesn’t seem to happen until later in her life.

By 1901 the family had moved south to Petersfield though Dorothy was not listed on the household at the census. By1911 she was listed a nurse at Sussex County Hospital. She trained here between 1908 and 1911.

In November 1912 she travelled to the Balkans and became a nursing sister at a large base hospital run by the Austrian Mission in Sofia, Bulgaria. It is likely this was with a Red Cross VAD though I haven’t seen the evidence of this. It might also have been with the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps founded by Mabel St Clair Stobart after she became disillusioned with the FANY^s. They travelled to the Balkans under the auspices of the Red Cross. Either way, she remained in Sofia until February 1913 then spent March and April at a Russian Hospital in Cettinye, Montenegro. After the Siege of Scutari ended on 23rd April, she returned home via Trieste. Dorothy held a deep affection for the Bulgarian and Montenegrin people.

Dorothy enjoyed a brief period of peace but was back in action within days of the Great War commencing. Although her Red Cross card gives her joining date of the 1st November 1914, she was in fact one of the nurses sent to Brussels with the first Belgian Unit of the British Red Cross. Organised by Sir Frederick Treves, Commander of the British Red Cross and the King’s Surgeon, on the 13th August, a party consisting of 10 doctors, 10 dressers and 20 nurses left Charing Cross early on the 16th August and travelled by train to Folkestone, across the channel to Ostend, and then on to Brussels where they arrived that same evening.

On arrival they found they too few patients to be particularly busy and spent the first couple of days sight-seeing. However, things changed on the 20th August when the Germans entered Brussels.

Dorothy, in her letters and diaries that are now at the Imperial War Museum, wrote that she was one of many English nurses trapped in Belgium. She worked at the chateau in Perke treating German wounded and then at a Red Cross station caring for British soldiers being transported to Germany as prisoners.

On the 6th October, she and many other British nurses were taken by train to Copenhagen.

On her Overseas VAD card it mentions previous engagements at the Allied Forces Base Hospital, Boulogne and the Hospital Jeanne d’Arc in Calais. This may have been whilst she was still in the Red Cross or possibly later – it is not clear. What we do know is that she resigned from the Red Cross on the 9th April 1915 and her official termination date was the 1st May 1915.

After this she appears to join the QAIMNSR as a Sister though I have not been able to locate her records in the normally reliable WO 399 collection at the National Archives..

We know she visited Talbot House with her friend Ethel Webb Johnson at Easter 1916. She may well have met Ethel at the Hospital Jeanne d’Arc.

Dorothy had already been awarded the 1914 Star and in June 1919 she was in awarded Royal Rec Cross 2nd Class. She was invested by the King at Buckingham Palace on the 12th May 1920.

Dorothy helped Alison Macfie establish the League of Women Helpers and was heavily involved with All Hallows.

She first appeared on the Nursing Register on the 15th June 1923, shortly after it was introduced, and remained on it into the 1940s. Her address was normally that of her brother – Major (Later Lieutenant Colonel Moor-Allen – but in later years was given as 19 Earl’s Terrace, Kensington which is where she was at the time of the 1939 register. This listed her as a State Registered Nurse and in the Civil Nursing Reserve (Corporation of London). She was sharing the property with the widow, Mary A. Holt, and Mary’s companion/helper Irene Smart.

We know she travelled to Canada a few times in the twenties to visit relatives but otherwise records of her whereabouts after the first war are sketchy. There was a further trip to Canada in the 1950s and then we learn of her death on the 5th November 1980 in a nursing home in Grayshott, at the age of 96. She was the last of the women Foundation Members to die.

Allen Obit

 

So there they are – our eight amazing women. And just looking at their records shows how amazing they were. And yet these eight are highlighted simply by the fact they visited Talbot House and were Foundation Members of Toc H. There are thousands of other women whose stories are equally amazing and yet, largely untold. Let us remember with gratitude their courage and unstinting devotion to duty. And with that in my mind let us finish with this poem by Sapper W. Brindle written in 1919.

Sapper W Brindle 1919 (Use at end)

 

Bibliography

Diary of A Nursing Sister on the Western Front – (Anonymous – Actually Kate Luard)

Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918 (2014 edition edited by John and Caroline Stevens)

Dorothea’s War: The Diaries of a First World War Nurse. (Dorothea Crewdson)

A War Nurse’s Diary; Sketches From A Belgian Field Hospital. (Anonymous)

The Curious History of Toc H Women’s Association. (A.B.S. MacFie)

The Further History of Toc H Women’s Association. (A.B.S. MacFie)

6 thoughts on “The Women Who Knew Talbot House

  1. Very nice – well researched and beautifully illustrated. As a great nephew of Kate Luard I’m especially interested in the section on her — don’t think I’ve seen her letter requesting retirement before.

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    • Hi Tim. Thanks for the compliments. With regard to the letter, it wasn’t so much requesting retirement as turning down Tubby’s offer of a role at Toc H. It’s not clear what the role was as I only saw Kate’s reply. The original letter is now with Caroline but I can let you have a scan if you want.

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      • No, thanks for the offer but in fact I’ve already seen the one to Tubby, turning down the job offer. I was referring to the one to Matron, requesting permission to resign as a nurse and go home to look after her father.

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  2. Oh my mistake. That’s taken from her War Records (WO-399-5023) so all I have is the image that’s featured on the blog. The original is in the National Archives.

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