Saturday, 30 September 2017

Lady Randolph Churchill (1854 – 1921) – American born socialite (mother of the British soldier and politician, Sir Winston Churchill)

Reading Siegfried Sassoon’s “Siegfried’s Journey, 1916 – 1920”, I noticed a reference to Lady Randolph Churchill:  “I had already become known to Lady Randolph at the Lancaster Gate Hospital, where she acted as a sort of Olympian head-matron.” (p. 101).  

I had to find out more about the 'Olympian' woman, and by a curious coincidence, the following day in a charity shop I found a book that answered all my questions.

Jennie Jerome was born in New York on 9th January 1854.  She was the second of four daughters born to Leonard Jerome, a New York financier who made and lost several fortunes, and his wife, Clarissa, nee Hall, who was known as Clara.  Jennie’s sisters were Clarita, later known as Clara, (1851 – 1935), Camille (1855 – 1863) and Leonie (1859 – 1943).   The sisters were brought up in New York society to be accomplished horsewomen and musicians.  Strikingly beautiful, their father ensured they were well educated and taught to speak several European languages.  They were encouraged by their father to be strong, independent women and from their mother they learnt the importance of ensuring a ‘harmonious family life’.

According to Kehoe, society life in New York during the American Civil War (1861 - 1865) continued much as before.   In 1867 the family travelled to France where they lived in Paris and were presented at the Court of the Empress EugĂ©nie.  Jennie attended a boarding school outside Paris.

During the Franco-Prussian War (19th July 1870 – 10th May 1871), the Jerome women left Paris on the last train before the Prussians began the Siege of the city.  They took refuge in England, first in Brighton then in London, returning on a visit to Paris - a ruined city - in the winter of 1871.

Jennie met Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, at a reception on board the ship “Ariadne” during a summer vacation in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, UK in 1873.   The couple were married on 15th April 1874 at the British Embassy in Paris.  They had two sons – Winston (1874 – 1965) and John (1880 – 1947).

After the death of Lord Randolph in 1895, Jennie continued her life as a socialite and during the Second Boer War (October 1899 – May 1902), she helped to raise funds to equip a hospital ship to send to South Africa to treat wounded soldiers. Jennie chaired the American Ladies Hospital Ship Fund and American millionaire Bernard Nagel Baker, founder of the Atlantic Transport Company, lent his steam ship “Swansea” for use as a hospital ship, which was fitted out and re-named the “Maine”.  Jennie travelled to South Africa aboard the “Maine”, to help keep the peace between the American nurses and the British officers.  The photograph shows Jennie seated among the nurses, clad in white like the nurses and wearing a distinctive Red Cross armband.  For her work during the Boer War, Jennie was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal in 1902.

Although I have not been able to find any further reference to Jennie’s WW1 work, it seems obvious to me that she continued to help out. Apart from her work at the Lancaster Gate Hospital, in 1916 she published a book called “Women’s War Work”.   Jennie died after surgery following an accident, on 29th June 1921 and was buried in the Churchill Family plot in St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, UK.

Jennie’s outstanding legacy lived on in her son who became one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers and later accepted a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.



“Siegfried’s Journey 1916 – 1920” by Siegfried Sassoon, published by Faber and Faber, London, 1945 and

“Fortune’s Daughters: The Extravagant Lives of the Jerome Sisters: Jennie Churchill, Clara Frewen and Leonie Leslie” by Elisabeth Kehoe, published by Atlantic Books, London in paperback 2005.

Internet sites: 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Margaret Anabella Campbell Gibson, MM (1877 - 1918) - Administrator (= Officer), WAAC

Remembering today Margaret Anabella Campbell GIBSON, M.M., Unit Administrator (equivalent to the rank of Officer in the Men’s Army) – of the 1st Hostel, Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps, who died on 17th September 1918.   

Margaret Anabella Campbell Elliott was born in Mauritius on 12th July 1877. Her parents were Thomas Elliott, C.M.G. and his wife, Georgina Celia Campbell Elliott.  

Margaret married John MacDougall Gibson, a Captain in the British Army.  She was the first member of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) or, as the Corps later became known, the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, to be awarded a Military Medal for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in charge of a QMAAC Camp during an enemy air raid’.  Mrs Gibson was buried in Mont Huon Military Cemetery in Le Treport, Seine-Maritime, France, where two other women who died serving during WW1 are buried.

I found the photograph of Margaret that is featured here on the weblog of Nick Metcalfe and contacted him at once.  Nick has kindly given my permission to use the photo, which, he tells me, is now out of copyright. Nick told me that the source of the photo is: ‘For King and Country: Officers on the Role of Honour.’ (19 October 1918). Illustrated London News. Issue 4148, Vol CLIII, p 15.  My thanks to Nick Metcalfe for his help

For a review of a recently-published book about the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, please see an earlier post on the weblog.

Further information from Nick’s website:

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Review of “The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in France 1917 – 1921” by Samantha Philo-Gill, published by Pen & Sword History, Barnsley, 2017.

These days, when women serve in the British Armed forces alongside their male colleagues, it is all too easy to forget how different things were a hundred years ago.

Drawing on official documents, letters and diaries written by those involved from the WAAC’s inception in 1917, through the change of name to the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, disbandment in 1920, founding of the WAAC Old Comrades Association, up to the laying up of the Corps’ flag in Guildford Cathedral in 2012 and present day commemorations, this book gives us the story of one of the Corps in which women served during the First World War.  It is a reminder of the on-going struggle for emancipation that women in Britain had in the early years of the 20th Century.

Philo-Gill takes us on a voyage of discovery finding out about the background to the setting up of the Corps at a time when Britain was in desperate need of men to fight at the front and the women who were brought in to help.  As she points out, this was the first time in Britain’s history that women had ‘officially work(ed) alongside the British Army’.  

The book gives a clear explanation of how the various women’s suffrage societies were involved in the setting up of the WAAC – ‘no woman was to be employed unless a soldier was released for combat’ - the establishment of rules of conduct, rates of pay – deductions for board and lodging, etc. – uniforms, recruitment methods and so on. This is followed by a description of the work undertaken in France by the Corps members and the women who were in charge of them and the locations in which the women worked, such as Officers’ Clubs, base camps, records offices and Army schools of instruction.   Initial reluctance to the idea of women near the front lines eventually led to acceptance that women were needed to help win the war.  Women could undertake such tasks as clerical work, telephonists (they had to speak French), cooking, baking bread, cleaning, waiting at tables, driving, gardening and looking after graves in cemeteries – not grave digging as that was undertaken by men.

The women posted to France worked extremely long hours, sometimes 8 hours on and 8 hours off, and, when possible, had a half-day off each week, yet the healthy life with regular exercise, even with a rather Spartan diet, meant that the women who joined the WAAC were a happy band.  They were also “expected to attend church parade and service on Sundays”.

I found so much of interest that it is hard to choose just a few for the review – I was fascinated to read about the employment of French civilian women, that “In 1915, the hemline of civilian women’s dresses was raised by several inches’ and ‘Married women were allowed to apply and did not require their husband’s approval” – that must have raised some eyebrows at the time.  Descriptions of day-to-day life for the WAACs in WW1 France and how the women coped with the difficult conditions they encountered I found particularly interesting. And did you know there were three female artists who were assistant administrators in the WAAC who ran camouflage units in France?

After the Armistice in November 1918, Corps members were assigned to new duties such as Border Control.   Also interesting is the description of the change in attitude to the women who served during WW1 when they tried to find work in post-WW1 Britain.

There are some very good photographs included, many of them the author’s own, and an interesting chapter on the women who were despatched to write about the work of the Corps for the British press, as well as those who took photographs, painted official pictures or wrote books about the WAAC. 

One of the Corps’ Administrators (equivalent to the rank of Officer in the men’s army) was Margaret Gibson, who was the first woman to be awarded the Military Medal - for her bravery during an air raid.   Sadly, Mrs Gibson died on 17th September 1918.  She was buried in Mont Huon Military Cemetery, Le Treport, France, along with three women who died while serving with other organisations.

“From the time of their arrival in France in March 1917, the WAAC was subjected to air raids” and there were quite a few wounded or killed during those air raids. There were also those who died of diseases contracted while serving in France. They were buried in cemeteries in France and I often wonder how many of those graves receive visitors?  This book is a fitting memorial to all the women who served in the WAAC/QMAAC.

“The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in France 1917 – 1921” by Samantha Philo-Gill, published by Pen & Sword History, Barnsley, Yorkshire, UK, 2017 is available from good bookshops.  For further information please visit

Friday, 8 September 2017

Staff Nurse E.K. Cooke, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service

Remembering Staff Nurse Ella Kate COOKE, 2/RESC/1266, of The Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, who died on 8th September 1917, following an accident. Staff Nurse Cooke was buried in Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt.  Grave Reference: B. 25.  I wonder if her grave receives any visitors?

Ella was born in Auckland in New Zealand in 1881 and was educated at Grafton School. She trained as a nurse at Cook Hospital in Gisborne and Hawera Hospital, Taranaki.   Ella and her sister travelled to Britain on a private trip in July 1914 and when war broke out, Ella volunteered for service overseas. She was posted to the French Flag Nursing Corps (FFNC) in November 1914 and was based in Bernay in Northern France.   Ella was then sent to No. 17 General Hospital in Alexandria Egypt.   She died on 8th September 1917and was buried in Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt.  Grave Reference: B. 25.  I wonder if her grave receives any visitors?

Staff Nurse Ella Kate Cooke is commemorated at York Minster, York, UK and on the Roll of Honour of Grafton School, Auckland, New Zealand.
With thanks to Callan Chevin of the Facebook Group
for finding the photograph of Staff Nurse Cooke and to Debbie Cameron of the Facebook group  for finding this link to additional information about Ella Cooke:

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Staff Nurse Ethel Saxon - Territorial Force Nursing Service (1891 - 1917)

Staff Nurse Ethel SAXON, of the Territorial Force Nursing Service died 100 years ago on 3rd September 1917. Ethel was born in 1891 in Abertillery, Monmouthshire, Wales. Her parents were Henry Adelaide, a builder and joiner, and his wife Adelaide, nee Morton. Ethel had two younger sisters - Augusta Mary and Lucy.

Ethel trained as a nurse and worked in Liverpool,. During WW1, she joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service and it is possible that she served initially in Frodsham Auxiliary Military Hospital before being posted to Karachi. Ethel died on 3rd September 1917 and was buried in Karachi Cemetery, BA. A. 15.

Nurse Ethel Saxon is commemorated on the Delhi Memorial (India Gate), India. Grave Reference: Face 23, on the Liverpool Cathedral Memorial to the nurses of WW1, in Herefordshire, at Snatchwooed Road Methodist Church, Abersychan, Wales, on the memorial in York Minster and in Lancashire.

A memorial service was held to commemorate Ethel Saxon on 3rd September 2017 at Frodsham Methodist Church, Frodsham,Cheshire.

The Photograph of Ethel Saxon has been kindly supplied by her relative Mr. A. Williams who also supplied further information about Ethel.

Initial source:  Commonwealth War Graves Commission List of Female Casualties of the First World War.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Book with a chapter on WW1 Nurses from Bedfordshire in WW1

Well in time for our Christmas Wish Lists here is news of a WW1-related book to be published on 2nd October 2017 by The History Press.  “Sand, Planes and Submarines: How Leighton Buzzard shortened the War” by Paul Brown and Delia Gleave.   To pre-order a copy please see the following link:

I am reliably informed there will be some WW1 poems written by women munitions workers (see photo from the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives) and a chapter about local nurses.  Definitely a must buy.

With thanks to Elise Ward who posted mention of the poems on Debbie Cameron's Facebook Page Remembering Women on the Home Front WW1.