Sunday, 21 August 2016

Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler (1891 - 1917) - British WW1 nurse

Staff Nurse Nellie SPINDLER of the 44th Casualty Clearing Station, was a member of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS).

Staff Nurse Spindler was born in Wakefield in Yorkshire in 1891.  She was killed by a shell during an artillery bombardment on 21st August 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele, while working at the 44th Casualty Clearing station in Brandhoek, Flanders.  She was 28 years old.  According to reports, Nellie died in the arms of Minnie Wood, the Sister-in-Charge of the CCS - see the earlier post about Minnie Wood posted on 27th July 2016.

Nellie was the daughter of George and Elizabeth Spindler of Wakefield.   She was buried with full military honours in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery - Plot XVI, Row A, Grave  One of only two British female casualties of the Great War buried in Belgium. 

Source:  Commonwealth War Graves Commission List of Female Casualties of the First World War and Free BMD

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Gabrielle M. Vassal (1880 - 1959) - writer and journalist

Gabrielle Maud Candler was born in Uppingham in the county of Rutland in England, her father Howard, was a schoolmaster from Islington, London who ran a boarding school in Uppingham.  He was born in 1848.  Her mother Edith Ellen, nee Tablor from Sutton Hall near Rochford in Essex, was born in 1846.  Gabrielle's siblings were Edward, Edith, Mary, Lucy, Alice, Walter, Arthur and Bertha.   By 1901, the family had moved to Hampstead in London by which time her elder brother Edward worked as a solicitor and Arthur as an articled clerk to an accountant.  Her youngest sister Bertha Nelly studied art.

Gabrielle married Joseph Marguerite Jean Vassal in Hampstead in 1903.  During the Napoleonic wars a Joseph Vassal was a prisoner of war.  Joseph was a French doctor.  Gabrielle travelled with her husband to his various postings as a doctor to French colonies, writing about her experiences.  She was adept at shooting and liked to go hunting.

During the First World War Gabrielle's husband served with the small division of the French Army that joined the British contingent in Gallipoli.   His letters to Gabrielle during that time under the title "Uncensored Letters from the Dardanelles" were initially published by Gabrielle in French.  She translated the letters into English and had them published in 1916. You can read the English version of Joseph's letters to his wife here:  In 1918 Gabrielle had a novel published - "A Romance of the Western Front".

During the Second World War Gabrielle joined the French Resistance.   

Was she Countess von Hoenstadt as some publishers seem to think?  Katrina Gulliver thinks probably not :  ttp:// 

Gabrielle died in England in 1959.  

She sounds amazing - I should love to find out more about Gabrielle.

Some of her books are available as free downloads : "On and Off Duty in Annam" by Gabrielle Vassal is available on Archive:

"In and around Yunan Fou" about their time in Vietnam

With thanks to The Gallipoli Association whose Autumn 2016 Magazine "The Gallipolian" has an article about Gabrielle on page 65.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Dorothy Peel, OBE (1868 - 1934) - British businesswoman, writer and journalist

Constance Dorothy Evelyn Bayliff was born on 27th April 1868 in Ganarew, Herefordshire, the seventh of nine children, four of whom died in infancy.  Her parents were Richard Bayliff, an Army Officer, and his wife Henrietta, nee Peel.   Dorothy's siblings were Charlotte, born 1862, Hugh, born 1964, Richard born 1867 and Rosa, born 1873.  The family moved to Bristol where the boys were educated at Clifton Academy.

Dorothy was initially educated by her parents - education for children did not become compulsory in Britain until a law was passed in 1880 and an Act of Parliament decreed that all children between the ages of five and ten years old had to be educated either in a school or at home.   At that time, 'boys were educated intellectually, girls socially - they were expected to marry someone able to support them financially.  Not to be married was to announce oneself a failure.   Legally women belonged to their husbands.  It was the duty of a woman to provide a comfortable home life, with the help of servants, for her family'. (p. 15).   Dorothy was brought up to know that "it was the duty of wealthier people to do what they could to help the poor".

When Dorothy was seventeen, the family moved to Twickenham.  Dorothy's cousin Mrs Talbot Cole wrote articles for "The Queen" newspaper which Dorothy's sister Charlotte illustrated.   Dorothy wrote an article which she entered into a competition run by "Woman" magazine and she won.   When Arnold Bennett took over the post of editor of "Woman" he encouraged Dorothy and helped her to become a professional writer, writing mainly about domestic matters and cookery.  In addition to writing for the "Daily Mail" and other publications, Dorothy also ran her own business - a hat shop.   She lectured and gave demonstrations on the art of cookery.

In 1894, Dorothy married her second cousin Charles Steers Peel, an engineer, in St. Paul's Church, Knightsbridge.  As well as working, Dorothy brought up a family and managed the household.  Dorothy and Charles  had two daughters and lost a third child.   Once married, Dorothy wrote under the name of Mrs C.S. Peel.

"It needed the war to accustom us to women in trousers" (p.56) because until then, "women dribbled about in muddied petticoats which cramped their movements and added to the fatigue of their tasks." (p.63).   During the First World War, Dorothy ran a club for the wives of men in the forces, continued with her charity work among the poor and co-directed the Ministry of Food during the period when food was rationed.  In 1918, she was given the editorship of the women's page of the 'Daily Mail"  For her services during WW1, in 1919 Dorothy was awarded the Order of the British Empire.  

Dorothy's account of her life "Life's Enchanted Cup: An Autobiography 1872 - 1933" was published in 1933.

Dorothy died on 7th August 1934 in Kensington.   

All quotes from "The Life and Times of Dorothy Peel, OBE Bicycles, Bloomers and Great War Recipes",
 by Dorothy's great-granddaughter Vicky Straker, published by Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2016.

For a review of the book please see

Lady Alda Hoare (1861 - 1947)

I had not realised before reading Deb Fisher's weblog about her recent visit to Stourhead, a National Trust property in Wiltshire, that the house and gardens are in Mere.  Shame on me!  I used to live in Salisbury yet I never visited Stourhead.  By a coincidence, one of the soldier poets featured in the Somme Poets exhibition and book, Colin Mitchell (1890 - 1918), was from Mere :(

Deb, who is the Secretary of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship, has written a very interesting account and in it mentions Lady Alda Hoare and her First World War activities. 

Alda Anne Weston was born in 1861 in Weymouth, Dorset.

Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare was born in 1865 in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire

They met when they were children and were married in December 1887 in Bicester.  After the wedding, they lived at Wavedon House, Cross End, Wavedon, Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, where their only son Henry Colt Arthur, known as Harry, was born in 1889.

Henry senior inherited a Baronetcy from his cousin Sir Henry Ainslie and the estate known as Stourhead in Stourton, Mere, Wiltshire, went with the title.  As the property had been abandoned and closed for ten years, the Palladian-style house and grounds were in a very dilapidated condition.  Henry and Alda Hoare set about restoring the house and gardens to its former glory.       

Harry, who joined the Dorset Yeomanry at the outbreak of war, was badly wounded fighting in Egypt and died of his injuries in Alexandria on 19th December 1917.   At their home Stourhead, Henry and Alda welcomed recuperating soldiers from the Red Cross Hospital in Mere and Lady Hoare organised tea parties and entertainment. 

Henry and Adla died within hours of each other in 1947, and, after being inherited by a nephew, the house was given to the nation.

During the Centenary years of the First World War, the National Trust is holding special events at Stourhead to commemorate the work of Henry and Alda Hoare and the life of their son Harry, so now is the time to plan a visit.


Deb Fisher's weblog:

Find my Past and Free BMD

Photo from 

On the 1901 Census Henry and Alda had nine live-in servants and lived at Stourhead, Stourton, Mere, Wiltshire, England, which was a Palladian-style manor house with beautiful gardens.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Matilde Bonnet - Italian woman WW1 doctor

With thanks to Elena Branca from the Italian Red Cross for this information about an Italian woman doctor in WW1.  Another name for the list of Italian women doctors in WW1 posted earlier.

Matilde Bonnet, born on 29th November 1879, was the daughter of Protestant Pastor Jules Bonnet.  In 1898, Matlda enrolled to study medicine in Catania, before moving to Turin in 1901, where she graduated in 1904 with 105 out of 110 marks, qualified as a doctor and pharmacist.   Matilda then joined the Italian Red Cross (CRI) and served at the Red Cross Hospital in Ivrea during the First World War.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Women porters on the Italian Front in WW1

Italy joined the conflict on the side of Britain in May 1915. Troops from the Italian Army fought along her border with Austria in the mountains of the Italian Alps, on the Western Front and also in the Middle East.

Due to the large number of troops needed on the Italian Front during the First World War, women were used as porters to take supplies up to the front-line in the mountains.  The women who volunteered for the work were aged between 16 and 60 years. They wore a red arm band with an identification number stamped on it.   

They hauled loads of concrete and wire as well as ammunition, food and supplies for the troops in the mountains.  Although all the women were extremely brave in very harsh conditions and worked hard clearing snow away as well as delivering supplies, three of them stood out as particularly brave: Maria Muser Olivotto, Maria Silverio Matiz, Rosalia Primes and Maria Plozner Menthyl.   Maria Plozner Menthyl was one of the leaders, encouraging her co-workers when they were tired and urging them to pray when they felt their courage slipping when they came under fire.

On 15th February 1916 after delivering supplies, Maria and her friend were resting before returning to their base, when they came under fire from an Austrian sniper.  Maria was shot and badly wounded. She died in a field hospital at Paluzza a few hours later and was buried with full military honours in the cemetery at Timau.  Maria, whose husband was fighting with the Italian Army at Carso, left four children - the eldest was ten and the youngest six months.

In 1997, the Italian President awarded the italian gold medal for military bravery - The Motu Proprio - to Maria Plozner Menthyl to commemorate all Italian the women porters of WW1.  The medal was presented to Dorina - Maria's daughter.  

With thanks to Elena Branca of the Italian Red Cross for posting a link about Italian women porters in The First World War: 

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Rose Henriques 1889-1972

Rose L. Lowe was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Stoke Newington, London. She served as a nurse at Liverpool St Station in the First World War and then as an ambulance driver based in Cannon St Row during the Second World War.

In 1916, Rose married Basil Henriques and together they established and ran the settlement in Berners Street (later known as Henriques Street), London, pursuing philanthropic work among the Jewish community in the East End for more than half a century.

Rose produced a stream of paintings that document the times she lived in , exhibiting her work at the Whitechapel Gallery from 1934 onwards.

A few years ago, Clive Bettinson of the Jewish East End Celebration Society rescued a series of watercolours from the basement of the Whitechapel Library in London where they were being walked upon and thankfully they were restored.

Information supplied by Stanley Kaye and Clive Bettinson.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Dame May Curwen, DBE (1889 – 1973) – British

Annie May Curwen was born on 7th May 1889 in Birkenhead, Wirral, which at that time was in the County of Cheshire.   Her parents were William Curwen and his wife Emma, nee Lyon.  In 1891 the Curwen family lived in Silverdale Road, Oxton.

May was educated at Birkenhead High School, a Girls’ Public Day School Trust School, before going on to Harrogate College then Newnham College, Cambridge.

During the First World War, May was secretary of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals from 1916.   In 1919, she joined the YWCA as Education Secretary.   In the New Year’s Honours List of 1949, May was made a Dame of the British Empire.  She was the British delegate to the United Nationsl Refugee Fund from 1954 – 1958 and President of the British Council for Aid to Refugees from 1962 until 1973.

Dame May died in Kensington in 1973.