Thursday, 1 August 2013

Scarlet Finders and Lady Helpers

My grateful thanks to Sue Light from the beautiful and most informative website Scarlet Finders -   Sue flew to my rescue when I asked what "Lady Helpers" were in WW1 - one of the poets on my list - Beatrix Brice Miller - was awarded a medal and she was described as a "Lady Helper".  I just had to find out what they did, how they got there and where they stayed while there!   

Beatrix Brice Miller, incidentally, went with the BEF to France in August 1914. 

Sue says:

"The 'Lady Helpers' are an interesting group.  I'm not sure that the term was widely used other than in grouping together a varied selection of women on the medal index cards held by The National Archives - probably finding some difficulty in classifying them, 'Lady Helpers' was used as a catch-all term.

Looking at the women so described, they fall into many different categories.  To take a few of them, Mabelle Egerton started a 'coffee stall' in Rouen for French soldiers; Lady Bradford wrote letters home for soldiers throughout the war; Lady Michelham put a great deal of money into supplying and funding a hospital train (among other things); several were involved in setting up hospitals or mobile medical units, such as Lady Murray, Lady Dudley.  Lady Angela Forbes did a variety of things, but probably most remembered for her soldiers' canteen at Etaples.

They were, on the whole, rich, influential, philanthropic women who wanted to be involved in the war and self-financed various projects to do so.  The War Office had learnt a lesson during the Boer War about rich women who made a nuisance of themselves, and during the Great War were fairly stringent in removing anyone who didn't toe the line, or tried to get involved in anything that might prejudice the reputation of the British army.   So I don't know where Beatrix Brice Miller fitted in - I see there was also a Mary Brice Miller - possibly her sister-in-law? (Note from Lucy:  This was, we believe Sue, Beatrix's Mother).  

There might be an answer within the Women's Work Collection at the Imperial War Museum - most women who did some sort of voluntary job get a mention somewhere.  Also, the actual medal roll, to which the medal index card relates, might give some idea of what her role was, though equally, it might not!

Assuming that they had permission from the War Office to go to France, they would have travelled in the normal way for the time - boat across the Channel, and then probably motor car on arrival.  Of course, they were never 'at the front.'  If working for the British, they would almost certainly have been confined to the base towns - the Channel ports of Boulogne, Calais etc., and those towns that housed British soldiers - Etaples, Rouen, Abbeville, Treport, etc.  If they were working for the French, or wanted to go farther afield, then they would probably cross the Channel into somewhere such as Le Havre or farther south, and would need permission from the French authorities.
Accommodation would depend entirely on what sort of work they were doing.  Many would stay in hotels, private rooms or with friends. If they were involved in hospital work, then probably on the premises.

I suspect that the IWM might be the best bet to get a clue as to what she did, but sometimes it's hard to find out, especially if they didn't stay in France for long.  If her name turns up anywhere on my travels I'll certainly make a note and let you know."
Best wishes - Sue

Thank you very much indeed Sue.   I shall follow up those leads.

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