Sunday, 6 September 2020

Josephine Letitia Denny Fairfield CBE (10 March 1885 – 1 February 1978) - British doctor

Josephine Letitia Denny Fairfield CBE, known as Letitia, was a doctor, a lawyer, a war-worker, and the first ever female Chief Medical Officer for London. She received a CBE for her outstanding achievements in medicine following her contributions during the First World War. 

Despite initially having been rejected by the War Office, Laetitia went on to work for the London County Council, where she campaigned for the initiation of new Public Health departments relating in particular to women's and children's health, and defending who she believed were the most vulnerable members of society. 

When the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was formed in March 1917, Fairfield was appointed as their Medical Officer. A year later, she was appointed Chief Medical Officer to the Southern Command, and was subsequently elevated to Inspector of Medical Services for the Woman's Royal Air Force.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Elisabeth Jalaguier (1890 - 1918) – French nurse (one of the few women commemorated on a war memorial)

Elisabeth was born in the Château du Lac in the rue d’ Avignon in Nimes, France into a wealthy family. 

Educated in the Ecole Normale in Nimes, Elisabeth was planning to become a teacher but at the outbreak of WW1, she trained as a nurse instead, with the la Société de Secours des Blessés Militaires in Nîmes.  In 1916 Elisabeth volunteered to serve closer to the fighting and went to look after the wounded on the Somme, on the Marne, the Meuse and in Italy.  

In 1918 Elizabeth was sent to Pierrefonds in the Oise, where the Red Cross had set up a field hospital.  There she met a military doctor and they became engaged.  On the night of 20th August 1918, the Germans began to bomb the area.  While her colleagues took shelter, Elisabeth refused to leave her post and her patients.  She was killed by a shell splinter while she was giving a soldier an injection.

Elisabeth’s bravery was acknowledged with the posthumous awarding of the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur.  When the war memorial was unveiled in Nimes in 1924, Elisabeth’s name was among the 1,312 men from Nimes who died for France during the First World War.   Her body, which had initially been buried in the civilian cemetery at Pierrefonds, was transferred to the Military Cemetery and a memorial was erected on the place where she died. 


Dr Elizabeth Ross (1878 - 1915) – Scottish Doctor and WW1 heroine

Born in London in 1878,  Elizabeth’s Ross’ family came from the Ross-shire town of Tain and returned there after her father’s death. Her brother, James, also qualified as a doctor and served as a Naval Surgeon during WW1. Elizabeth also had four sisters.

Educated at Tain Royal Academy, Elizabeth went to Glasgow to study medicine at Queen Margaret College in 1896 - two years after the first woman medical graduate, Marion Gilchrist, had received her degree.  Elizabeth graduated in 1901 and went to work in Persia – now Iran –  as assistant to an Armenian physician, before setting up her own practice. While there she spent time in the Iranian mountains, working with the powerful Bakhtiara tribe, who were so impressed with her they made her a chieftainess. Part of her job during this time was to be a doctor to a harem of women.

After a brief period as a take up an appointment as a ship's surgeon, travelling to the coast of India and Japan, she returned to Persia. She is now widely believed to be the worlds first female ships' surgeon.  

At the outbreak of the First World War, Elizabeth responded to an invitation from the Russian government to go and help in Serbia. During the winter of 1914-15 a deadly epidemic of typhus had broken out, killing over 120,000 Serbs, including a third of their doctors.

Elizabeth volunteered to work in a fever hospital in Kragujevac. Conditions were grim, the hospitals were overcrowded; there was insufficient food and heating, wards and patients alike were filthy and there were no trained nurses. She worked day and night to improve the patients' lot but was soon infected herself. She was cared for by members of the Scottish Women’s Hospital who had recently arrived in Kragujevac but  died on the 14th February 1915 on her 37th birthday.

A letter from a Miss Helen McDougall tells the brief sequel: "We met Dr. Ross on her way up country at Nish; as one of our doctors knew her well, she spent quite a while with us in the evening while we were there... She used frequently to come over and have tea with our unit and tell us all about her work. We all got so interested and I must say appalled that one after another we went over to see her typhus block. One afternoon another member of the unit and I went and we shall never forget our visit... It would be very difficult to realise the terrible odds against which this brave woman was fighting and I may say her one cry was how little she was able to do. When we went in, she welcomed us warmly but was very loath to show us round. Again and again she said, "Are you sure you are not afraid?" When we were leaving, I turned and said to her, "Oh Dr. Ross, how can you go on here?" She only answered, "Six of the doctors are down and who would look after them if I left?".... A few days after this, we heard that she was down."

Dr Elizabeth Ross died in Kragujevac Serbia of Typhus while nursing victims of the epidemic which killed 300,000 in 1915 and were casualties too of the First World War. She is buried alongside nurses Mabel Dearmer and Lorna Ferriss.  Except for a small plaque in Tain’s St Duthus Church, she is almost forgotten.  However, this is definately not the case in Serbia. Each year she is commemorated in a ceremony attended by Serbian high ranking dignitaries and many thousands of people. 

The Graves of Dr. Elizabeth Ross, Mabel Dearmer and Lorna Ferris

 In 1977, the local Red Cross in Kragujevac was given some money, and decided to use it to restore the grave of Elizabeth Ross. She is buried next to two British nurses who also died in Serbia of typhus - Mabel Dearmer and Lorna Ferriss. Altogether, 22 British women lost their lives to typhus in Serbia during the First World War, attempting to aid wounded soldiers.

Photographs:  Dr. Ross at graduation, as a ship's surgeon and the graves of Dr. Elizabeth Ross, Mabel Dearmer and Lorna Ferris 


Friday, 31 July 2020

Commemorative First World War Exhibition Project

This self-funded project is in memory of my Grandfather, who was an Old Contemptible  with the Royal Field Artillery who survived, and my two Great Uncles who lost their lives in WW1.

WOS resident artist Rebecca
Grindley gave a talk about women of WW1
I began researching WW1 in 2012 for an exhibiton of Female Poets of the First World War, requested by Dean Johnson, founder of the Wilfred Owen Story museum (The WOS), Wirral, UK.   Once the exhibition was on display, I just continued researching, adding other headings. Inspirational Women of WW1 came about when I stumbled on the story of Canadian artist Mary Riter Hamilton, commissioned in early 1919 by the Canadian Amputees Association to go and paint the aftermath in France and Belgium.  Philip Gosse, MD, a General Practitioner in Britain was the Official Rat Catcher Officer of the British Second Army on the Western Front, which brought about Fascinating Facts of the Great War.  Realisation that Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves were not the only male soldier poets of WW1, prompted me to start researching Forgotten Poets of the First World War.  I am now researching lesser-known artists of WW1.

Exhibition panels are e-mailed free of charge to anyone wishing to host an exhibition.  Exhibitions have been held in a wide variety of locations throughout the UK, as well as in Cork University, Ireland and in Delaware University, USA, and panels have been sent to schools.  If you know of a venue that would like to display panels, please ask them to contact me and I will send them the list of panels researched so far. 

If you are interested in exhibiting any of the panels researched so far, a full list of panels available will be sent on request.  Some of the panels have been put into book form – please see for details.

Commemorative First World War Exhibition Project

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Saturday, 18 July 2020

Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926) – British English writer, traveller, administrator, archaeologist and spy - involved in establishing and administering the modern state of Iraq. 'Liaison Officer' during WW1

Gertrude was born on 14th July 1868 in Co. Durham, UK. Her parents were Sir Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet, three times Mayor of Middlesborough and a director of the family firm Bell Brothers Ironworks’ steelworks in Middlesbrough, and his wife, Maria, nee Shield.  Gertrude had a brother, Maurice, who was born in 1871. Gertrude’s Mother died when she was three years old, which meant that she formed a close relationship with her father.

In 1876, Gertrude’s Father married Florence Eveleen Eleanore Olliffe, a playwright and writer of children's fiction.  Gertrude was educated at Queen's College, London, before going on to study at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she obtained a First Class Honours Degree in Modern History.
Portrait of Sir Hugh Bell, with Gertrude Bell,
by Edward Poynter, in 1876

After her graduation from university, Gertrude travelled to Persia with her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, who was appointed British Minister at Tehran (similar to the post of Ambassador). The next few years were spent travelling - especially in Arabia -  mountaineering and learning languages. Gertrude became fluent in Arabic, Persian, French, German, Italian and Turkish.

During her travels in Arabia, Gertrude met T.E. Lawrence, with whom she shared a love of the Arab peoples.  Gertrude translated and published the work of the fourteenth century Sufi poet, Hafiz into English to great acclaim.

When war broke out in 1914, Gertrude went to work with the Red Cross in France. In 1915, she was summoned to Cairo to work for the Arab Bureau. On 3rd March 1916 she was sent to Basra and on 10th March 1917 to Baghdad. According to Gertrude's reports at the time, "…there were not
many (if any) permanent solutions for calming the divisive forces at work in that part of the world".

Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence
When the Ottoman Empire was split up after the War, Gertrude was given the task of reporting on the situation in Mesopotamia as, by that time, she was an expert on the tribes in the area. Gertrude returned to England in 1925, where her family fortunes had suffered in the aftermath of the war. She returned to Baghdad and was treated for Pleurisy. Her half brother, Hugo, died of Typhoid. Gertrude died in Baghdad on 12th July 1926.

Gertrude’s Obituary, published in "The Geographical Journal" and written by her colleague and fellow archaelogist – David George (D.G.) Hogarth - stated: "No woman in recent time has combined her qualities – her taste for arduous and dangerous adventure with her scientific interest and knowledge, her competence in archaeology and art, her distinguished literary gift, her sympathy for all sorts and condition of men, her political insight and appreciation of human values, her masculine vigour, hard common sense and practical efficiency – all tempered by feminine charm and a most romantic spirit."

After Gertrude's death, her stepmother, by then Dame Florence Bell, published two volumes of Gertrude's letters written during the preceding twenty years. Gertrude is buried in the British Cemetery in Baghdad. A stained glass window in the church of St. Lawrence, East Rounton, North Yorkshire is dedicated to her memory.


Saturday, 4 July 2020

Mary Elizabeth Gladwin (1861 – 1939) - a British-born American Red Cross nurse who served in three wars.

 She was one of the first six American nurses to receive the Florence Nightingale Medal when it was awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1920.

Mary Elizabeth Gladwin was born on 24th December 1861 in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, UK, the daughter of Francis Gladwin and Sarah Gladwin, nee Cooper. The family moved to the United States, settling in Akron, Ohio. Mary graduated from Buchtel College in 1887 (now The University of Akron) and trained as a nurse in Boston, finally completing her formal studies in 1902.

Mary became a science teacher in Norwalk, Ohio after finishing college. Her first work as a war nurse was while she was still a nursing student, during the Spanish–American War in 1898, treating soldiers with typhoid fever in Chickamauga, Georgia. She was soon included in American Red Cross units assigned to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines as well. She was awarded a Spanish War Service Medal for her service. During the Russo-Japanese War, Mary joined an American Red Cross unit, assisting Japanese nurses at Hiroshima. The Japanese emperor personally presented Gladwin with the Imperial Order of the Crown.

Superintendent at Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts from 1904 to 1907 and at the Women's Hospital in New York City from 1907 to 1913, back home in Ohio Mary worked with the Red Cross during the Great Dayton Flood of 1913.  She was head of women's employment at the B. F. Goodrich Tyre Company in Ohio, and was superintendent at the City Hospital in Cleveland. She was also president of the Ohio State Nurses Association and chaired the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing in 1911.

During the First World War, Mary went to Serbia with the American Red Cross to work at a hospital in Belgrade and later iwent to work in Salonika in Greece. She received the Serbian Cross of Charity medal for her service there.  In 1920, Mary was one of the first six American nurses to receive the Florence Nightingale Medal from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

After the war, Mary worked as a hospital administrator and nursing instructor in New York and Minnesota. She wrote two books, Ethics: Talks to Nurses (1930) and a biography of Jane Delano (1931), as well as articles for the American Journal of Nursing. She was also a frequent speaker for students and women's groups, especially after 1929. "If the fathers and mothers could have seen what I have seen on the bloody battlefields," she said, "there never would be another war."

Mary died on 22nd November 1939 at Akron City Hospital, aged 77 years. In 1978, the new building for the School of Nursing at Akron University was named Mary E. Gladwin Hall. Her papers, including diary, photographs, and an unpublished memoir, are archived at the University of Akron, but her medals were donated to the Summit County Historical Society.


Thursday, 23 April 2020

Dr. Vivien Newman links Covid to WW1

Dr Vivien Newman, who, as I am sure you all know, has written some wonderful books about the women of WW1, sent me links to a project she is working on, drawing comparisons with WW1 [women] and COVID and has kindly given me permission to share them with you.

Funnily enough, I began thinking of those comparisons myself as I've just finished reading "The Daily Telegraph Dictionayr of Tommies' Songs and Slang 1914-1918".

Here are Dr Newman's links :
We’ve nursed like this before.

Corona poetry - echoes of the Great War.

Dr. Newman’s WW1 books are all available through Amazon and Pen and Sword:

We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First World War
Nursing Through Shot and Shell: A Great War Nurse's Diary
Tumult and Tears: The Story of the Great War Through the Eyes and Lives of its Women Poets
Régina Diana: Seductress, Singer, Spy
Suffragism and the Great War
Children at War 1914-1918
For a review of Children at War please see…/book-review-ch…

To find out more about Dr Newman’s books please visit