Sunday, 26 May 2013

On This Day - May 26th 1940

I have copies here of many accounts by members of the military nursing services who were serving in France between the outbreak of war and mid-June 1940. The originals are held at The National Archives, ref. WO222/2143.  This one is the last part of a descriptive and atmospheric account by Sister Gretchen Leyland of No.6 Casualty Clearing Station. An experienced nurse, she trained at Guy's Hospital between 1930 and 1933.


Sunday 26th May 1940

A pump had been started for water and a dynamo to supply electric light in a wider part of the abri, where a Theatre for minor cases had been improvised. We had one or two dressing stations set up and were in a position to function as a C.C.S. in a small way.  I was sent to attend to twenty German prisoners who were in the former strong rooms. Pte. Sunderland gathered some equipment and came with me. In spite of the language difficulty we set two of the unwounded ones to the task of tidying up and cleaning the dishes with paper and we set about dressing the wounds of the others and prepared two for operation.  After a time Pte. Sunderland went off in search of food and water and I found it rather eerie to be alone with the German prisoners, except for the sentry outside, in a silence which was only broken by the sound of artillery coming nearer and nearer beyond the ridge behind the hospital.

The news came that the Sisters were to be evacuated along with the German prisoners and the last of the wounded.  In the morning one of the Nuns had asked me if the rumour was true that the British would not be able to hold back the Germans. This idea had not occurred to me and I had told her that of course they would be held back. Even now we assumed that we were being sent to work in a base hospital simply because a C.C.S. could not function very well in these conditions.  We left a unit that seemed to be downhearted at our going and made our last journey by ambulance through a desolation which included a field full of dead horses.

As we came into Dunkerque we saw a heavy roll of black smoke pouring across the sky. It was the ending of the burning Oil Dumps.  We realised that we were en-route for England but not that the whole of the B.E.F. was being evacuated, in spite of a continuous marching up of small companies of men beside the long queue of ambulances.  The hospital ship was crammed with twice the number it was meant to take and I renewed dressings which had not been touched since the field ambulance until 3.30 a.m. when I went up on deck.  My last memory, like my first of this period of the war, is of Calais, for I watched it now a high blaze, climbing into the air and shining far on the dark water.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Amy Frances Turner

I included a photograph with my last post of Amy Frances Turner, so I thought it would be worth writing a little about her wartime service - a little bit is all I have of course. She was born in York in 1883/84, the daughter of a printer's compositor, and trained as a nurse at Northampton General Hospital between 1906 and 1909.

Amy Turner became a member of the Territorial Force Nursing Service shortly after the outbreak of war and in December 1914 she was sent to the No.3 Southern General Hospital (TF), Oxford, to work as a Staff Nurse.  I was sent a wonderful set of images taken at the hospital, by Judy Burge who lives in Australia and whose grandmother Isobel Wace also worked at the same hospital and was the owner of the photos - they give a remarkable and varied view of life at the hospital during the first half of the Great War. Amy was promoted to the rank of Nursing Sister on 13th July 1917, and in September,1918, she went to France to join the staff of No.54 General Hospital, Wimereux. In February,1919, she was invalided back to the UK for some surgery, and after her convalescence was demobilised on the 6th May,1919. Her next-of-kin is given throughout her file as her married sister, a Mrs. Cawley who lived at 21 Harlech Avenue, Leeds.

After the war, like many other nurses, Amy Turner remained a demobilised member of the Territorial Army Nursing Service, prepared to re-join in the event of further hostilities. But for her that time didn't come, as a letter in her service file shows that she resigned the service just after the outbreak of the Second World War on 12th September, 1939. Surprisingly, her reason was her forthcoming marriage and subsequent move to Canada. Unfortunately there is no note in her file giving her married name or a later address, but it does show that it's never too late to start a new life! The caption on the photo from Judy reads 'Don't know this lady but someone may.' Hopefully someone will.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Women and the Great War Centenary

Amy Frances Turner (courtesy of Judy Burge)

I feel that by the time we reach August next year I might be all centenaried-out.  Already there is so much publicity, advance announcements of planned TV programmes, authors rushing to make sure they make the deadline with their latest books, and various institutions nationwide preparing their own events to mark the date.  Although so much emphasis seems to have fallen on 1914, the centenary commemorations, like the war, will go on for four years, and the fall-out for much longer. By the time we get to 1919 the whole caboodle will, I expect, simply be taken over by the 90th anniversary of the Second World War.  One of the main initiatives is in the hands of the Imperial War Museum who are hoping to gather a database of those who served, with the help of the general public - Lives of the First World War. Do sign up to receive latest news about the project and find out how you can contribute.

However ... I already have some doubts about the way in which the contribution of women will be represented. After all, many women belonged to civilian organisations that were not under military control, or were formed to give aid to military personnel other than those from Britain and the Commonwealth. They include munitions workers; members of War Hospital Supply Depots who produced almost all the dressings and surgical requisites used by the B.E.F.; the majority of VADs who worked in hospitals under control of the Joint War Committee; members of the French Red Cross, the Scottish Women's Hospital, the Serbian Relief Fund, Queen Mary's Needlework Guild, the YMCA and YWCA, and so many more - the list is a very long one. Hundreds of thousands of British women played an active part in the Great War, often on the Home Front, but are certainly not counted among the '8 Million' participants suggested by the IWM.

The IWM have been keepers of a 'Women's Work Collection' since 1919 when Priscilla, Lady Norman and Agnes Conway first began to gather photos, information and evidence of the contribution of women to the war. They hold thousands of photographs of women who either died during their war service, or were honoured for the part they played.  At present I'm indexing, just for my own information and pleasure, a thousand photos of women who were awarded the DBE, CBE, OBE, MBE, or the Medal of the Order of the British Empire during, or shortly after, the Great War. The range is vast, from titled ladies - aristocrats out of the very top drawer - right down to the most humble of munitions and factory workers. In this last category many were 'rewarded' after having been blinded or disabled during the course of their work, which probably took the place of any formal pension or disability benefit.

Part of the IWM's project is now up and running - it's called 'Faces of the First World War' and they are adding a new photo each day and inviting further comment or information. As of today there are 457 photos to view. Of those, just a single one is of a woman, a munitions worker who died as the result of TNT poisoning. I know that this omission isn't because they're short of wonderful photos of inspirational women - they're not. I know it isn't because they have ignored women over decades - they haven't. So why such a reluctance to put women in their proper place in relation to the Great War? Maybe it's because the person or team entrusted with this task are, like many others, only interested in Infantry, Artillery, guns, tactics, strategy - men's things.

The gap needs to be filled - it can't be that difficult. But if this is an example of things to come, women of the Great War, our women, will be poorly served.

Jane Croasdell

Monday, 6 May 2013

Ambulance Trains - Crossing London

I grew up in the London suburbs, just a couple of hundred yards from a railway station. It was an odd sort of station as which ever way you went - there were only two platforms - you ended up at Waterloo half an hour later - that's where the train stopped. If you wanted to go north, east or west you then crossed London by tube or bus and reached one of the other London terminus stations - Paddington, Liverpool Street, Kings Cross ... that was where all the trains started from, and of course stopped. It never occurred to me that it was, or had ever been possible to cross London by train, without stopping.  London was one big full stop.By 1988 I was living near Brighton, and the Thameslink line opened.  I thought it was a great innovation, the ability to go right through the heart of London without changing trains, though I admit to never having gone beyond Farringdon. It never occurred to me that the wheel hadn't just been discovered, only re-invented.

So when I started to get interested in ambulance trains, it puzzled me how these huge trains, longer than anything we see now, could get from Dover, going north, without making some long haul round the M25 of railway lines. I apologise if this sounds really naive and stupid but I grew up spending my life on trains, and believe me, they always stopped at Waterloo or Victoria. Since then I've learned a little bit about the mass of independent railway companies that owned track nationwide, and the tangle of different lines that criss-crossed London taking trains anywhere at all if the mood took them.  So, to get to the point.

During the Great War there were three main ways that an ambulance train could cross London on its way from Dover, depending on its stopping places and final destination. Briefly, they were:

The West route:  From Clapham Junction over the Thames at Battersea Railway Bridge (at that time called Cremorne Bridge), and then via Addison Road Station, now Kensington Olympia, and up via Willesden Junction and onwards north or westbound.

The Central route:  From Loughborough Junction in the south, across Blackfriars Bridge and then up through Farringdon, King’s Cross, and Snow Hill Tunnel - the current First Capital Connect (Thameslink) route.

The East route:  Up via New Cross and Surrey Docks in the south, crossing under the river via the Thames Tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping, then up the eastern side of Liverpool Street Station. The Thames Tunnel has had a long and chequered history, but today is used as part of tfl's London Overground services.

The Thames Tunnel in its original condition

So London has never been a full stop for trains, and even today you can travel long-distance north to south across London on at least two of the routes used during the Great War. The wheel is very old, and still going strong.


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Ambulance Trains - where did they actually go?

During the Great War many existing railway lines nationwide were taken over by the Government in an effort to make the best use of services for transport of goods, armaments, service personnel, civilian travellers and also for ambulance trains. The vast majority of casualties from abroad arrived in the United Kingdom at either Dover or Southampton and unless remaining in one of those two towns they were then transported onwards by train to all parts of the British mainland.

There were two hundred 'stopping stations' - railway stations that received  sick and wounded men and women for onward transfer to local hospitals by motor car or ambulance, and a list of these can be found in 'British Railways and the Great War.'*  In alphabetical order, and excluding Dover and Southampton themselves, they were:

Aberdeen; Addison Road (now Kensington Olympia); Aintree; Aldershot; Ampthill; Avonmouth; Axminster; Bangour; Basingstoke; Bath; Belmont; Bentley; Berrington; Berwick; Bexhill; Bickley; Birkenhead; Birmingham; Bletchley; Bournemouth; Boscombe; Bradford; Brentwood; Brighton; Bristol; Brockenhurst; Brocton; Bromley South; Brookwood; Bulford; Bury St. Edmunds

Cambridge; Cambuslang; Canterbury; Cardiff; Carlisle; Catford; Chatham; Chelmsford; Chelsea; Cheltenham; Chester; Chichester; Chislehurst; Christchurch; Clacton-on-Sea; Clandon; Clapham Junction; Colchester; Cosham; Court Sart; Coventry; Crewe; Cromer

Deal; Derby; Devizes; Devonport; Dewsbury; Dorchester; Dundee; Durham; Eastbourne; East Croydon; Eastleigh; Edmonton; Edinburgh; Egham; Epsom; Exeter; Farnborough; Faversham; Fawkham; Fovant Railhead; Fratton

Gillingham [Dorset]; Glasgow; Gloucester; Gosforth; Gosport; Grantham; Gravesend; Greenock; Greenwich; Guildford; Halesworth; Halifax; Hamworthy Junction; Harlow; Harrogate; Haywards Heath; Hereford; Herne Bay; High Barnet; Holmwood; Huddersfield

Ingham; Ingress Park Siding; Ipswich; Keighley; Kendal; Lancaster; Leeds; Leen Valley; Leicester; Leigh; Lichfield; Lincoln; Liphook; Liverpool; Lyme Regis; Lyminge; London Charing Cross; London Paddington; London Victoria; London Waterloo

Maidstone; Malmesbury; Manchester; Margate Sands; Mayfield; Minster Junction; Napsbury; Neath; Netley; New Barnet; Newbury Park; Newcastle-on-Tyne; Newcastle-under-Lyme; Newmarket; Newport; Newton Abbott; Northampton; Norwich Thorpe; Nottingham; Orpington; Oswestry; Oxford

Paignton; Paisley; Penrith; Perth; Plymouth; Poole; Portsmouth; Preston; Ramsgate; Reading; Rubery; Saffron Walden; Salisbury; Selly Oak; Sheffield; Sherbourne (sic); Shorncliffe; Shrewsbury; Sidcup; Sidmouth; Sittingbourne; Snaresbrook; Southall; Southend; Southport; Stafford; Stoke-on-Trent; Stourbridge; Stratford; Stratford-on-Avon; Strathpeffer; Sunderland

 Taplow; Templecombe; Tidworth; Tonbridge; Torquay; Torre; Walmer; Waltham Cross; Walton-on-Thames; Warminster; Warrington Arpley; Well Hall; West Croydon; West Gosforth; West Marina; Weymouth; Whalley; Whitchurch; Willesden; Wimborne; Winchester; Windemere; Windsor; Witley; Wrexham; York

Strathpeffer Station

The farthest north of these was Strathpeffer, a distance of approximately 625 miles away, and an estimated journey time (with a fair wind and bit of luck) of 20 hours and 33 minutes.  Thank goodness that Richard Beeching was only one year old when the Great War started and many years away from wielding his axe.

The Wounded at Dover by Sir John Lavery (Imperial War Museum)

*British Railways and the Great War, Edwin A. Pratt (Two volumes); Selwyn and Blount, 1921; now freely available online.