Monday, 20 March 2017

Hospital Ship HMHS ‘Asturias’ sunk 20th – 21st March 1917 off Start Point in the English Channel

Remembering today those who died as a result of the sinking of the ‘Asturias’ on the night of 20th – 21st March 1917, among them were two women:

Bridget TRENERRY, aged 64, Stewardess on HMHS "Asturias" (Belfast), Mercantile Marine.
Bridget died on 24th March 1917, as a result of an attack by an enemy submarine.  Daughter of the late John and Mary Murphy; wife of the late Edmund Trenerry.  Bridget is commemorated on the HOLLYBROOK MEMORIAL, SOUTHAMPTON, Hampshire, UK

Bridget was born Bridget Murphy in 1853 in Dublin.  She was married to Edmund Trenerry, a Customs Officer in Falmouth in September 19871 and the family lived in Truro in Cornwall in 1881.    Edmund and Bridget had two sons – Henry, born in 1878 and Francis, born in 1882.  In 1891 the family were living in Southampton and by 1901, Edmund had retired and they were living in Portswood, Hampshire.

And Nursing Sister Jessie Josephine PHILLIPS, a 28-year old Staff Nurse with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, who drowned at sea (from HMHS "Asturias") on 21st March 1917 and commemorated on the TOWER HILL  MEMORIAL in London.  Jessie was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal during WW1.

Jessie was born in Mooltan, Bengal, India on 21st March 1889.  Her father was Frederick William Phillips, a Police Superintendent, and his wife Josephine Maud Phillips, nee Laville.
On the night of 20th – 21st March 1917, HMHS ‘Asturias’ was on her way from the port of Avonmouth, near Bristol, to Portsmouth on the south coast of England.  She had just unloaded a thousand wounded men to be transferred to hospitals in Britain. She was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat off the south coast of Devonshire.   The crew managed to beach the ship near Bolt Head.

‘Asturias’ was another of the passenger liners requisitioned by the British Admiralty for use as a hospital ship during the First World War. Originally in service with the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company ‘Asturias’ was built by Harland and Wolff Shipbuilders of Belfast, who built the Titanic and her sister ships, and sailed the route between Southampton and Buenos Aires in The Argentine.   She was sent to be re-fitted as a hospital ship and served during the Gallipoli Campaign, in Egypt and Salonika.

In 1915, ‘Asturias’ was the first hospital ship to be targeted by German U-boats.  A torpedo hit her but did not detonate.   A press release issued by the German Government at the time explained that ‘Asturias’, clearly marked as a Hospital Ship, had been wrongly identified as a target.

In October 1916, British writer and poet J.J.R. Tolkien, who was taken ill with Trench Fever while serving on the Western Front, was evacuated to Britain on HMHS ‘Asturias’.

In January 1917, with the British naval blockade causing food shortages and their progress on the Western Front slowed, Germany announced that she would be waging unrestricted submarine warfare on shipping travelling to Britain.  A Declaration issued on 31st January 1917 by the German Government and reported in the British press announced:

“The German Government can no longer suffer that the British Government forwards troops and munitions to the main theatre of war under cover of the Red Cross and if therefore declares that from now on no enemy hospital ship will be allowed in the sea from Flamborough Head to Tershelling on the one hand and Ouesant (Ushant) and Land’s End on the other.  If in this sea zone after the expiry of the stated time any enemy hospital ship is encountered, it will be considered as a v(“Diss Express, 6th April 1917)

Following the sinking of the HMHS “Asturias”, the British “Government announced that measures would be adopted to bring home to the German Government the shameful character of the outrages committed under their orders.”  (Globe, Saturday, 7th April 1917)


Commonwealth War Graves Commission  List of Female Casualties of the First World War; British Newspaper Archive;  and

Monday, 13 March 2017

Dorothy Mortimer Watson – (1888 – 1917) – British Staff Nurse

Dorothy was born in Ilkley, Yorkshire in 1888.  Her parents were Christopher Holmes Watson, a yarn agent born in Norwich, and his wife, Mary, nee Stewart.  Dorothy had a brother, Ben Howard, born in 1875 and a sister Beatrice Balfour, born in 1883.  

Dorothy was educated at the Masonic Institution for Girls in Clapham, London, a boarding school for girls founded in 1788 by Bartholomew Ruspini, an Italian-born dentist.  The school was set up for the daughters of Freemasons who had died or fallen upon hard times.  Dorothy’s father died in 1894.  Schooling lasted for five years and during that time the girls did not return home for holidays and visits from family members was discouraged.

In 1910, Dorothy’s sister, Beatrice Watson married Alfred Daniel Kemp and went to live in Norfolk.

Dorothy trained as a nurse at Harrogate Infirmary. During the First World War she enrolled in the Territorial Force Nursing Service.  Entry into the TFNS was extremely strictly controlled – applicants had to be between the ages of 25 and 35, British subjects, well-educated and to have completed a three year training course as a nurse at an approved hospital.

After service at No. 2 Northern General Hospital in Leeds and in Leeds War Hospital, Dorothy was posted to Malta in 1916, where she worked at the St. John Military Hospital in Sliema.  This was originally a school but was requisitioned for use as a hospital in WW1.   Dorothy died on 13th March 1917 and was buried in the Pieta Military Cemetery in Malta.   She is also commemorated on the War Memorial in Harrogate. 

In Malta's Pieta Military Cemetery are the graves of four other women who died while serving during WW1 - three nurses and a doctor.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Margaret Smith Dewar (1883? - 1917) - British Staff Nurse from Scotland

Margaret was born in Scotland in 1883, although according to the Census records I have been able to find, she may have been born in 1879.  Her parents were William and Jane Dewar and she had four brothers – John (b. 1884), William L. (b. 1882), Peter (b. 1886) and James (b. 1889).

Margaret must have trained as a nurse because she served with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals at Royaumont Abbey in France from 16th August 1015 until 5th February 1916.  And as she is commemorated on a plaque in the Elder Memorial Chapel of the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, she may well have trained there.  She also worked at Brighton Hospital.

Margaret is also commemorated on the War Memorial in Gemiston, Transvaal, South Africa, near Johannesburg, so it seems the family may have emigrated there at some stage.   She is also remembered in a book entitled “Heroes of South Africa” and her mother's address as her next of kin was in Gemiston, South Africa.

Margaret joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and served with the 37th Hospital, which was established in June 1916 in Vertekop (now called Skydra), near Manastir in Salonika, attached to the Serbian Army.   The Field Hospital at Vertekop was clearly marked with large red crosses and was quite a long way from the Front Line.   A German bombing raid was carried out on 12th March 1917 on Monastir and also targeted the hospital.  Margaret was one of the nruses killed while attempting to protect patients. She was Mentioned in Despatches for her bravery.  
Nursing Sister Dodds, of the Territorial Force Nursing Service, who trained at Willesden Infirmary, was wounded during the attack, and Nursing Sisters Ethel Garrett and Annie Rebecca Colhoun were awarded the Military Medal for their bravery during the attack.

Mary and Margaret were buried with full military honours in Vertekop. After the war, their bodies were moved to Mikra British Cemetery in Kalamaria, Greece, where eleven other nurses who died during WW1 are also buried.

Margaret was posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.  The medal was first created in 1915 and consists of a square-cross medal on two crossed swords, hanging from a ribbon with various degree pins. The decoration was awarded during World War I, again in World War II, and in other conflicts. The Croix de Guerre was also awarded to foreign military forces allied to France.

The Croix de Guerre may either be awarded as an individual or unit award to those soldiers who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy. The medal is awarded to those who have been "mentioned in dispatches", meaning a heroic deed or deeds were performed meriting a citation from an individual's headquarters unit. The unit award of the Croix de Guerre with palm was issued to military units whose members performed heroic deeds in combat and were subsequently recognized by headquarters.

Photograph and additional information about the Croix de Guerre kindly provided by Steve Dewar, Margaret’s Great-Nephew.

Mary Bethia Marshall (1886 – 1917) - British Nurse from Scotland with the QAIMNS WW1

Mary was born in Gutcher, North Yell in the Shetland Islands on 1st June 1886.  Her parents were James Marshall and his wife Catherine, nee Hoseason.  Mary’s siblings were John James, William R. and Agnes.

Mary trained as a nurse and from 1st October 1908 till 31st January 1913, she worked at the Royal Southern Hospital in Liverpool, where she was in charge of the Tropical Ward.  After that she worked in a Cancer Hospital in London, in the Children’s Hospital in Heswall and in the Merchant’s Hospital in Liverpool.   She joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service during WW1 and served with the 37th Hospital which was established in June 1916 in Vertekop (now called Skydra) near Manastir in Salonika, attached to the Serbian Army.   The Field Hospital at Vertekop was clearly marked with large red crosses and was quite a long way from the Front Line.   For her bravery in trying to save her patients, Mary was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palms and was Mentioned in Despatches. 

Mary Bethia Marshall is commemorated on the War Memorial in Heswall, Wirral, UK and on the plaque dedicated to the nurses of WW1 in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

Another nurse killed in the same air raid also attempting to protect her patients was Staff Nurse Margaret Smith Dewar who was also Mentioned in Despatches for her bravery.   Nursing Sister Dodds, of the Territorial Force Nursing Service, who trained at Willesden Infirmary, was wounded during the attack, and Nursing Sisters Ethel Garrett and Annie Rebecca Colhoun were awarded the Military Medal for their bravery during the attack.

Mary and Margaret were buried with full military honours in Vertekop. After the war, their bodies were moved to Mikra British Cemetery in Kalamaria, Greece, where there are


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Dorothy Marguerite Inman (1890 - 1917) - British

Dorothy Marguerite Wethered was born in Harley Street, Marylebone, London in 1890.  Her parents were Frank Joseph Wethered, a doctor, and his wife Rosa Wethered, nee How.  The family lived in Harley Street, London.  

In 1909, Dorothy married Arthur Conyers Inman in Marylebone.  She joined Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps during the First World War as a Worker - for which the equivalent rank for men in the British Army was Private.   Dorothy died on 11th March 1917, aged 26 and was buried in East Finchley Cemetery, London.

According to researcher Debbie Cameron (thank you Debbie!), Dorothy's husband was a well known bacteriologist who was Pathologist to the Brompton Hospital for Consumption. He served in the British Army during the First World War as an Honorary Captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps(R.A.M.C.) and was Special Bacteriologist to the British Expeditionary Force during the War, working to develop vaccines.  Arthur died in France in 1926.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Mabel Edith Blencowe (1879 – 1917) – British

Mabel was born in Oxford in 1879, the third child of eleven born to John George Blencowe (1839 – 1992) and his wife Emma Blencowe, nee Young (1855 – 1938), six of whom survived.   John Blencowe was a master baker, pastry cook, confectioner and grocer.  After their marriage in December 1885, John and Emma ran a grocer’s shop in Oxford.  After the death of her husband, Emma Blencowe ran the business with the help of family members, adding a post office in 1899.   Mabel Edith and her sister Florence Blencowe trained as nurses. Florence worked at Northampton General Hospital in 1911.
In WW1, Mabel Edith joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service and after working as a Staff Nurse at Northampton General Hospital for nine months, she was sent to France where she died in the 7th General Hospital, St. Omer, France on 10th March 1917.   Mabel was buried in Longuenesse (St. Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, and is also commemorated on the nurses’ window in the north transept of York Minster and on her parents’ grave in the Cemetery of St. Sepulchre, Oxford.
You can see a photo of Mabel’s grave in France on Tanya Mortiner Birney’s website -

Note:  The Territorial Force was the name of the Territorial Army at the time of the First World War.  The Territorial Force Nursing Service was formed in 1909 by an act of Parliament as a sister organisation to the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.   Members were civilian nurses who worked in hospitals in peacetime.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Mary Jane Pilkington Stuart Gartside-Tipping (1866 - 1917) - British

"The death occurred on March 4th 1917 "in the war zone in France, while on active service" of Mrs Mary Jane Pilkington Stuart Gartside-Tipping."

Mary was the daughter of Captain Walter Henry Stewart Flynn, R.A. and his wife Mary Elizabeth Pilkington, who were married in Westminster in March 1865.  Mary’s mother was related to William Pilkington, a Lancashire cotton mill owner.

Mary’s mother re-married after the death of Captain Flynn and her second husband was George Augustus Coombe, a surgeon and MP from Lancashire, who took his wife's maiden name and was knighted in 1893.  Sir George and Lady Mary Pilkington lived in Southport in Lancashire.

Mary married Henry Thomas Gartside-Tipping, the eldest son of Gartside Gartside-Tipping of Bolton and of Rossferry, Belturbet, Co. Fermanagh, in Ormskirk, Lancashire in 1890. They went to live on the Isle of Wight in "Quarr Wood" in Binstead, which Henry had inherited from his uncle the Reverend Vernon Tipping.  They had three children.   In 1911 the family was living in Geldston, Norfolk.

During the First World War Mary Gartside-Tipping worked for nearly a year at the Munitions Worker's Canteen, Woolwich, and in January 1917 joined the Women's Emergency Canteens (Compiegne), for service on the Western Front  in France.  The Women's Emergency Canteens were run by the London Committee of the French Red Cross.  Mary was accidentally shot by a deranged French soldier on 4th March 1917. The French military authorities did everything possible to express their sympathy.  The French medal the Croix de Guerre, which had been withheld from women since November 1916, was awarded to her and she was buried with full military funeral honours in Vauxbuin French National Cemetery, Aisne, France.

Lieutenant-Commander H. T. Gartside-Tipping returned to naval service during the First World War. A keen yachtsman, when he was killed at the age of 67, Henry was the oldest serving naval officer of that war.  He was killed on 25th September 1915 during naval operations in the North Sea off Zeebrugge on the coast of Belgium, serving in the Dover Patrol vessel H.M. Armed Yacht "Sanda".

Lt. Commander and Mrs Gartside-Tippings are also commemorated on the War Memorial at Southport, Lancashire.   

Sources:  Commonwealth War Graves Commission List of Female Casualties of the First World War,
The Times Digital Archive and