Sunday, 3 October 2021

Louise de Bettignies (15th July 1880 – 27 September 1918) French woman who became a British Secret Agent in WW1

With grateful thanks to Ciaran Conlan, an Irishman who has a love of WW1 and helps anyone who needs hel. Ciaran helps me a great deal with my research. 

WW1 Secret agent Louise de Bettignies was born in Saint Armand-les-Eaux in Northern France on 15th July 1880. Her parents were Henri-Maximilien de Bettignies, a porcelain manufacturer who was a Captain in the French National Guard, and his wife, Julienne-Marie Mabille de Poncheville.

During the First World War, Louise was recruited and worked as a secret agent for the British during WW1, using the code name Alice Dubois.  She was arrested by the Germans and condemned to death on 16th March 1916. 

Louise said “I am French.  I would never do anything against my country, my conscience and my honour”.  The sentence was commuted to hard labour for life and Louise was sent to Germany, where she died due to pleural abscesses poorly operated upon at St. Mary's Hospital in Cologne on 27th September 1918.

Monday, 2 August 2021

 Three nurses who lost their lives in the mysterious explosion aboard HMS “Natal on 30th December 1915 are remembered on the Chatham Memorial in Kent, UK:

Nursing Sister, CAROLINE MAUD EDWARDS,  Served aboard H.M.H.S. "Drina.", Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. Killed in destruction of H.M.S. "Natal" in Cromarty Firth, 30 December 1915. Grave Reference: 15.

Caroline Maud Edwards

Nursing Sister, ELIZA MILLICENT ELVENS, Served aboard H.M.H.S. "Drina.", Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. Killed in destruction of H.M.S. "Natal" in Cromarty Firth, 30 December 1915. Grave Reference: 15.

ROWLETT, Nursing Sister, OLIVE KATHLEEN. H.M.H.S. Served aboard HMHS "Drina.", Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. Killed in destruction of H.M.S. "Natal" in Cromarty Firth, 30 December 1915. Grave Reference: 15.

From the CWGC List of Female Casualties of the First World War; photos from the Imperial War Museum, London - the collection made by Agnes Conway - historian and archaeologist, who from 1917-1929 collected information concerning women's work in the First World War. Agnes was Chairman of the Women's Work Sub-Committee of the Imperial War Museum in London. Her father, Martin Conway, was first the honorary Director-General of the IWM.

HMS Natal was a Warrior-class armoured cruiser built for the British Royal Navy in the first decade of the 20th century. She escorted the royal yacht in 1911–1912 for the newly crowned King George V's trip to India to attend the Delhi Durbar. During the First World War, the ship was assigned to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet, but did not participate in any battles. Natal was sunk by a mysterious internal explosion near Cromarty on 30 December 1915 with the loss of at least 390 crewmen and civilians.

On 30 December 1915, Natal was lying in the Cromarty Firth with her squadron, under the command of Captain Eric Back. The captain was hosting a film party aboard and had invited the wives and children of his officers, one civilian friend and his family, and nurses from the nearby hospital ship "Drina" to attend. A total of seven women, one civilian male, and three children were in attendance that afternoon.

I am sure everyone knows about the wonderful work done by Agnes Conway in collecting photographs
of the women of WW1 so that they could be remembered. The i mages are available from the Imperial War Museum's website.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Edith Maud Drummond Hay R.R.C. 2nd Class 3.6.19 (1872 – 1960) – artist and WW1 volunteer

Edith Maud Drummond Hay was born on 28th February 1872 in Kinfauns in Perthshire, Scotland. Her parents were Henry Maurice Drummond Hay, a Colonel in the Army who was a Scottish naturalist and ornithologist, and his wife, Charlotte Elizabeth Richardson Hay.  On their marriage, Henry took the family name of Hay, adding it to his own surname.   Edith was one of four sisters and two brothers - Henry Maurice Drummond Hay, James Adam Gordon Richardson Drummond Hay Constance, Alice and Lucy. 

When Peter Drummond Hay and his family moved into his great aunt’s house in the Perthshire village of Glencarse back in the 1980s, he uncovered a treasure trove of wartime memories.

Edith was affectionately known in the family as ‘Aunt Tuck’. She left a fascinating legacy - a collection of illustrated diaries, including an album of her experiences as a volunteer with the British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) during the First World War, when she joined the Perth/38 Detachment.  

According to her Red Cross Record Card, Edith served in several hospitals, including some in France, and she was awarded the Royal Red Cross, Second Class in June 1919 for her war work.   Edith never married and died on 20th February 1960.   The Grant of Probate for Edith mentions the name David Charles Scott-Moncrieff, which makes me wonder if there is a link to the WW1 poet Charles Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff (1889 – 1930).

The family donated Edith’s WW1 album to the Red Cross in London, where it is at the Red Cross Museum.  The British Red Cross’s 2020 Calendar features some of Edith’s WW1 paintings.

The Royal Red Cross (RRC) is a military decoration awarded in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth for exceptional services in military nursing, established on 23 April 1883 by Queen Victoria, and first awarded to the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. A second and lower class, Associate, was added during in November 1915 during the First World War.

Sources:  British Red Cross 2020 Calendar, Find my Past

Photograph of Edith from

Professor Dame Ida Caroline Mann, Mrs Gye, DBE, MB, BS, PhD (Lond), MA (Oxon), MD (Hon) (WA), FRCS, FRACS, FRACO (1893 –1983)

With grateful thanks to Alison T. McCall, genealogist, for finding this information about Ida while helping me with research into her brother WW1 poet Arthur James Mann.

Ida was "a distinguished ophthalmologist ... equally well known for her pioneering research work on embryology and development of the eye, and on the influences of genetic and social factors on the incidence and severity of eye disease throughout the world". She was the first woman to be appointed as a surgeon to the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital - Moorfields. 

Ida Caroline Mann was born on 6 February 1893 in Kilburn, London, UK. Her parents were Frederick William Mann, post office clerk, and his wife Ellen, née Packham.  Ida’s brother was the poet, aviator and teacher Arthur James Mann (1884 – 1933).

Educated at Wycombe House School, Hampstead, London, Ida passed the Civil Service Girl Clerk's examination and took a job at the Post Office Savings Bank. She then applied to study medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women, the only medical school which was open to women at that time. She passed the matriculation examination in 1914, one of only eight women out of hundreds of passes, completed her studies, 'with no trouble and intense delight', and qualified Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MB, BS) in 1920.  

Ida gained experience during the First World War at Fulham Military Hospital, and became a demonstrator in physiology.  In 1917 she transferred to St Mary’s Hospital, where she studied embryology with Professor J. E. S. Frazer.  She graduated from the University of London (MB, BS, 1920; D.Sc., 1928) and, qualifying as a member in 1920 (fellow in 1927) of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, she was appointed ophthalmic house surgeon at St Mary’. 

In 1939, Ida visited Australia as the British Medical Association's representative at the 1st Annual General Meeting of the Ophthalmological Society of Australia (B.M.A.). She flew in an Imperial Airways Flying Boat, which took a week to fly at low altitude from Southampton to Melbourne. On 30 December 1944, Ida married widower Professor William Ewart Gye, director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, at the register office, Brentford, Middlesex.

Following Gye’s retirement in 1949 due to ill health and, opposed to the nationalisation of medicine, Mann stepped down from her post at Moorfields.  The couple travelled to Australia and settled in Perth, where Mann set up a small private practice and became a consultant at Royal Perth Hospital.  She also helped her husband with cancer research.  After William's death in 1952, Ida travelled widely in outback Australia at the request of the Western Australian Public Health Department and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, compiling records of the incidence of eye diseases, especially trachoma, among Aborigines.  Ida died on 18 November 1983 in Perth, Western Australia.

Ida's Publications

Ida Mann, The Development of the Human Eye (Cambridge, 1928)

Ida Mann, Developmental Abnormalities of the Eye (Cambridge, 1937)

Ida Mann and Antoinette Pirie, The Science of Seeing (Harmondsworth, 1946)

Ida Mann, Culture, Race, Climate and Eye Disease (Illinois, 1966)

As Caroline Gye, The Cockney and the Crocodile (London, 1962)

As Caroline Gye, China 13 (London, 1964)


Friday, 22 January 2021

Winifred Buller (1884 – 1970?) – British aviation pioneer who served with the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps in WW1

With thanks to Chris Dubbs for finding the photograph that sent me off on this voyage of discovery and to Lynne Sidaway for additional information. It is proving very difficult to find information about Winifred. 

Born Winifred Sayer in 1884 in Bacton, near Yarmouth in Norfolk, UK, her parents were William Sayer, a solicitor, and his wife, Ettie Sayer.  Winifred became fascinated by all things mechanical and learnt to drive in her teens, quickly becoming an expert motorist.   

In 1904, Winifred married George Cecil Buller, a businessman, who was Managing Director of the Shoreham and Lancing Land Company. The couple had 2 children – Max (Donald) Napier Buller (1907 – 1993) and Cecil Edward Anthony Buller (1906 – 1972).    In the 1911 Census, George and Winifred Mea Buller were listed as  living at 60 Draycott Place, Chelsea, London. It seems they also had property in Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, for their sons were there according to the 1911 Census, in charge of a nanny.  

Winifred met the French aviator Count Olivier de Montalent when he was in Britain in 1911 with his Breguet plane.  She took several flights with him, which made her decide to learn to fly. When her husband was away on an extended business trip, Winifred drove her sons and their nanny to France so that she could take flying lessons at the aerodrome in Douai.   La Brayelle Airfield was one of the first airfields in France. It was situated 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) west of Douai, in the Nord département in northern France. It was host to the world’s first aviation meeting, home to Bréguet Aviation and an important airfield in the First World War. 

Winifred soon became an accomplished and skilled pilot and on 18th May 1912, the request of the Aero Club de France for permission to issue an Aviator's Certificate to Mrs. W. Buller, a British subject, was granted.  Back in Britain, Winifred became the English ladies cross-country flying champion in 1912, holding the record for long-distance and cross-country flying.  . She then became the first woman to take aviation seriously enough to adopt it as a profession and worked as a test pilot for the British Caudron Company, based in Cricklewood, near Hendon Aerodrome, north of London.

A report in the “Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser”newspaper of 3rd July 1914 announced that Winifred joined the flying corps of the British League in April 1914, which was intended for service in Ulster in case of military opertions.  

During the First World War, Winifred joined the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps and, as this photograph shows, served on the Western Front. 

I have not been able to verify further details about Winifred.  It seems she may have gone to America with her husband and sons.   Several websites mention that George Buller became a naturalised US citizen in 1927 and that Winifred died in Hove in 1970, by which time she was Mea Winifred Williams.  However, I found several women with similar names, so it is difficult to be certain.  If anyone has any definite information about Winifred please get in touch.  

WW1 Photograph of Winifred in her plane on the Western Front – Original caption: "Red Cross Nurse on Battlefield In Aeroplane. Mrs. Winifred Buller, the English airwoman, who is now on active service with the Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps, is ready to fly over the battlefield with her wounded charge should the ambulance in which she is conveying him break down. The photo shows Mrs. Buller in her aeroplane. (Photo by George Rinhart / Corbis via Getty Images)"

Sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD, British Newspaper Archive, 
Chronicling America and

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Lydia Grant (1880 - 1917) - Australian VAD who died serving and is buried in Manchester Southern Cemetery, Manchester, UK

 With thanks to Marjorie Earl for finding this poem about Australian WW1 VAD nurse Lydia William Falconar Grant, Elder daughter of Peter G. and Emily Grant of Brisbane, Queensland.  Member of the Brisbane Branch of the Red Cross Society of Australia. Nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment - 2nd General Western Hospital

GRANT, LYDIA WILLIAM FALCONAR VAD – Nurse, Red Cross Unit: BRCS VAD AUSTRALIAN DETACHMENT BRISBANE  Born in Scotland in 1880  Died 1 April 1917 - aged 37 - at the military hospital on Ducie Avenue (this was part of 2nd Western General Hospital) on 1st April 1917.

Her Brother, Chesborough G F Grant was in attendance and he gave on the death certificate an address of Whytecliff, Albion, Queensland, Australia. In 1903 and 1905 Lydia was living at Lynton, Norwood Street, Toowong, Brisbane with Emily Mary Graham Grant, Peter George Grant and John Macdonald Grant. She was buried in Southern Cemetery, Manchester, UK.

A Poem (In Memory of the Late Miss Lydia Grant.) published in the Cairn Post, Tuesday, 1st May 1917

Feeling compassion for. the sick and the wounded caused by the nations at strife.

Brought ardent desire to be up and doing her share in the battle of life.

Seeing no longer a reason why she should indolent be,

Announced she had found her vocation-"War work as a V.A.D.

Oft times her work became strenuous and sometimes irksome, too;

But she was ever ready patriotic work to do;

For had she not two brothers fighting "somewhere in France,"

She felt she could not be idle and miss so ennobling a chance.

She was one of the V.A.D.'s chosen the wounded and sick to attend;

Did she flinch when she knew 'twas in England? No! to ask it was but to offend.

Thoughts flew to her home and her mother, had fears lest she'd not give consent;

This was the answer: "God bless you and the mission on which you are bent"

That day on the quay when they parted, her tender emotions were stirred.

Though not regretting the step she was taking, she mingled her tears with theirs;

Then reminding them of the dear ones at the war who were doing their part,

She whispered, "Good-bye, mother dárling," the boat was preparing to start.

Then after anxious weeks of waiting a cable came to tell:

"Safe arrival, uneventful journey, happy and well."

Then letters followed, telling of, the wounded and dead, but

The sorrows of life are teaching a lesson, for which I am thankful," she said.

News of her serious, illness came, brothers sent for by doctor's request;

"O, God"! cried the mother in anguish, grave fears it had stirred in her breast.

In vain was the skill of the doctor, and the nurses who all did their best;

"Thy will be done," sobbed the mother, when she heard they had laid her to rest.

By L.E.R.

"Caringa," Townsville.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out who L.E.R. was.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Eleanor Charles Warrender (1862 – 1949) - British nurse in the Boer War and in the First World War

 With thanks to Becky Bishop for suggesting I research Eleanor 

Eleanor Charles Warrender was born on 20th February 1862. Her parents were Sir George Warrender, 6th Baronet of Lochend and Bruntsfield, and his wife, Helen, nee Purves-Hume-Campbell.   Eleanhor’s siblings were: Alice Helen Warrender b. 1857 d. 23 Sep 1947, Julian Margaret Maitland Warrender b. c 1856, d. 5 Apr 1950, Captain John Warrender1 b. 5 Mar 1859, d. 12 Jul 1894, Vice-Admiral Sir George John Scott Warrender of Lochend, 7th Bt. b. 31 Jul 1860, d. 8 Jan 1917 and Lt.-Col. Hugh Valdave Warrender b. 14 Sep 1868, d. 8 Mar 1926.

Eleanor must have studied nursing because she nursed on hospital ships during the Boer War and served with the French Red Cross during the First World War.  She was involved with the Guide Movement and was a supporter of local causes. She was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec palmes and was appointed Dame of Grace, Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (D.G.St.J.). 

In 1894, Eleanor and her siblings inherited a house called High Grove in Ruislip, Ruislip-Northwood U.D., Middlesex from her mother’s stepfather, Sir Hugh Hume-Campbell. In 1935, Eleanor sold 10.5 acres (4.2 ha) of the grounds of the house to the local council to establish a new playground and park, now named Warrender Park, and 13 acres (5.3 ha) to Ideal Homes for a residential development. During the Second World War, she made Highgrove available to the military, and British and American personnel from RAF Northolt stayed there.  

Eleanor never married and died in 1949.

If anyone has a photograph of Eleanor, please get in touch.