Saturday, 23 June 2018

Staff Nurse Ruby Dickinson, Australian Army Nursing Service, died on 23rd June 1918

Remembering Staff Nurse, RUBY DICKINSON of the Australian Army Nursing Service. Ruby, who was born in Forbes, New South Wales, Australia, died on 23rd June 1918 at the age of 32. Daughter of William and Julia Dickinson, of "Arizona," Almora St., Mosman, Queensland.   Ruby was buried in the Churchyard of St. Mary’s Church, Harefield, Middlesex, UK - Grave Reference: Aust. 57.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Book Review: “Sister Poppy at the Front” by Brenda Gostling and Mik Richardson (Brenda Gostling, Norwich, 2018)

To my mind, this is a very important book.  Inspired by Poppy the GoGo Hare, a commemorative sculpture in Norfolk, and by the letters of the veteran war nurse Kate Luard, “Sister Poppy at the Front” tells the story of a member of Britain’s Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service who served in France during the First World War. With the title character being depicted as a hare, the book is primarily aimed at small children. However,  adults will also enjoy reading the nurse’s story, which is complemented by some really beautiful drawings - reminiscent of the “Little Grey Rabbit” series.

I love the simplicity of the story told about the nurse, her duties in France, the conditions in which she worked and how she felt.   Finding her brother is the sort of coincidence that did happen. Brenda includes brief details of a Base Hospital, a Casualty Clearing Station and a Hospital Train. The illustrations really help to set the scene.   I particularly liked the illustration of Poppy’s QAIMNS tippet hanging in the cupboard on the first page and are they badgers who are stretcher bearers?

Reading the book took me back to my own primary school days when our headmistress often read us stories about a resourceful rabbit, and to my earliest introduction to the history of the First World War.  I vividly remember, as a very young child, looking at Grandfather’s black and white framed print of Fortunino Matania’s “Goodbye Old Man” and wondering what happened to the horse.  To my mind, it is vital to educate young children about our history and to ensure individual stories are recorded.  It is also good to find a book that describes the women of WW1 who contributed so much but who have been overlooked for so long.  My family always commemorated the First World War but it was not until I began researching in 2012 for a series of commemorative exhibitions about the conflict, that I realised the full involvement of women.

A share of any profits from the sale of “Sister Poppy at the Front” will go to the East Anglian charity Break, which runs children’s homes and also provides breaks for children and young people with disabilities and their families.

Some time ago, I heard of an initiative in Australia whereby people sponsor small teddy bears dressed in WW1 military uniforms, which are sent to primary schools to help educate children about Australia’s involvement in the conflict. Brenda tells me that a Norwich firm of Independent Financial Advisers – Almary Green - who were the sponsors of the Poppy GoGoHare sculpture - have kindly purchased a copy of the book for every primary school in the county of Norfolk – a total of 355 books.  Definitely an initiative to copy.

“Sister Poppy at the Front” £6.99, written and published by Brenda Gostling with illustrations by Mik Richardson.  Further details from

Note:  The QARANC (as the QAIMNS has become) explain: “Brenda and Mik have amalgamated the uniforms of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Voluntary Aid Detachment to form the uniform as worn by Sister Poppy who nurses on a ward at No. 33 Casualty Clearing Station.”

Photos: Brenda and Mik with the book and a cuddly hare in a nurse's uniform made by Mik's wife to accompany Brenda and  Mik on promotional visits.

Lucy London, 12th June 2018

Monday, 4 June 2018

Eleanor Eileen Black, VAD and Dorothea Kathleen Mary Bolus, South African VAD, who drowned on 4th June 1918

4th June 1918

Remembering Volunteer ELEANOR EILEEN. BLACK, a volunteer with the Voluntary Aid Detachment who drowned at sea from Royal Mail Ship RMS “Kenilworth Castle” on 4th June 1918. Eleanor was daughter of Randlord Black, of Queen's Road, Parktown, Johannesburg. Eleanor is remembered in York Minster, York, UK on the Panel commemorating the South Africa Army Nursing Service and on Hollybrook Memorial in Southampton, Hampshire, UK. 

Remembering Volunteer DOROTHEA KATHLEEN MARY BOLUS of the South African Voluntary Aid Detachment, a passenger on the RMS “Kenilworth Castle”, who drowned on 4th  June 1918. Dorothea was daughter of Mrs. Louise Bolus, of "Maisonnette," Kenilworth, Cape Town, South Africa. Dorothea was buried in Plymouth’s Efford Cemetery, in Devonshire, UK - Grave Reference: Church. C. 4785.

The Royal Mail Ship “Kenilworth Castle” was one of the first mail ships commissioned for the Union-Castle Shipping Line.  Built at Harland and Wolfe, Belfast in 1903, she was launched in 1904 and requisitioned as a troop carrier during the First World War. The ship was in a convoy sailing to Britain. It was dark and they had to sail without lights to avoid detection by German submarines.  35 miles off Portsmouth, two of the Royal Navy escort ships were in collision - HMS “Rival” and HMS “Kent”.  Depth chargers from “Rival” exploded under the “Kenilworth Castle”, which was badly damaged. The order was given to abandon ship.  Some of the life boats were lowered but became swamped and 15 people were drowned, among them Eleanor Black and Dorothea Bolus.    The RMS “Kenilworth Castle” eventually reached Portsmouth, where the remainder of her passengers were put ashore.  The ship was repaired, went to sea again after the war and was broken up in 1936.

Here is an extract from a letter from Nurse Bracken, one of the nurses who survived in which she described the incident:   “I'm sending you one of our newspaper accounts of the affair because it describes what happened to the lifeboat in which Black, Bolus, a Wynberg girl called Zondendyk, and myself were.   When the boat capsized I managed to hang on to the side and hung and hung until the boat righted itself but it was the most ghastly few minutes I ever lived through. I remember a big dark wave washing right over me and something - an oar, I think, pressed against my throat until I thought I should choke and something else crushed my eye against the boat's edge and I saw stars and felt my eyeball must burst. My corsets were torn right off me and my legs were bruised and bleeding. Then the boat righted itself and I found myself inside. There were just two of us left, the other a fellow passenger named Dawson and his pyjamas were simply tom to rags! Our boat was quite full of water and we had lost our oars and rudder.

We didn't see or hear anything of the others then and were drifting right away until the Kenilworth turned and her wash brought us rushing back. I really thought that was the very end but we did a surprising turn and instead of crashing into her we rushed along her side and crossed her stern so close that Mr Dawson was struck in the mouth and his teeth knocked out. Then we got out on the other side and that was the last we saw of the Kenilworth. It was horribly dark and we could hear the dreadful calls for help from men and women in the water but could not get near to them. Two women drifted right up to the boat and these were saved. One was the young wife of a Colonel of Marines - the other Nurse Zondendyk. I found a bucket and a scoop tied to the boat and these were used to bale out the water. Mr Dawson and I baled and baled until we were too tired to do any more but the boat felt almost respectable again so we all sat huddled together shivering and taking turns at being sea sick!” 

Read more from Nurse ‘s letter here:

Original Source:  Commonwealth War Graves Commission List of Female Casualties of the First World War

Additional information kindly supplied by Derek Walker :

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Alice Hilda Lancaster, Special Military Probationer Nurse, TFNS - died 3rd June 1918

Remembering Nurse ALICE HILDA LANCASTER, a Special Military Probationer with the Territorial Force Nursing Service, who served in France during WW1.  Alice drowned whilst bathing on 3rd  June 1918 at the age  of 35. Alice was the youngest of five children born to Thomas Lancaster and his wife Alice Halliley Lancaster (nee Milner) of The Cliffe, Monk Bretton, Barnsley, Yorkshire.  She was buried in Wimereux Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France - Grave Reference: IV. A. 2. 

Alice is also remembered on a Memorial tablet in St Paul's Church Monk Bretton, in the Memorial book in St Paul's Church, Monk Bretton, on the War Memorial, Cross Street, Monk Bretton and on her mother's gravestone in Monk Bretton Cemetery

Photo of Alice’s grave from

Original Source:  Commonwealth War Graves Commission List of Female Casualties of the First World War