Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Mrs Hilda Wynne (1884 - 1923) - British

Newspapers at the time of WW1 report that Hilda was ‘… probably the most decorated British woman of the First World War’.

Hilda was born in 1884 but I have been unable to find out more about her early life. According to the Peerage website, Hilda’s father was James Clifton Brown born in 1841 and a Colonel in the British Army. He was from Yorkshire and served as a Justice of the Peace (JP) in Essex, UK.  Hilda's mother was Amelia Wroe, who was apparently American. The Clifton Browns had ten children – Elsie, Howard, Edward, Louisa, Francis (who became a Vice Admiral), Mildred, Leonard, Douglas (who became a Colonel), Isla and Cedric who was born in 1887.

I can’t seem to find a Hilda and the marriages the four Clifton Brown girls made were not to anyone called Wynne. I found a Reginald Wynne who married a Hilda Brown in 1902, St. George’s Hannover Square, London. He died in Paris in 1913 and was a Colonel in the British Army who fought in the Boer War, which would tally with Hilda being a widow in 1917 when she went to visit America to raise funds to take an ambulance unit to Russia.

I read in one newspaper report about Hilda that her husband had been ‘a general’. According to the Red Cross website, a meeting was held at the Royal Automobile Club in London in September 1914, asking members to lend their vehicles for service as ambulances. Hilda and a man called Ivor Bevan (about whom I can find nothing!) formed the Bevan-Wynne Ambulance Unit and Hilda drove several of the vehicles to Belgium herself. She was based in Dixmunde, where she met up with Dr. Hector Monro and Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm, who also took a mobile ambulance unit to Belgium and France in 1914.

There is a mention of Hilda in Sarah Macnaughtan’s book about her war on two continents. And a photograph of Hilda was featured on the front cover of “The Sketch” on 2nd September 1915, with this report:

"Hilda Wynne in the trenches in the Western Front After service in Belgium, France and Italy, in 1917 Hilda went to America and raised funds for the Anglo Russian Bevan Ambulance Cars Unit."

At that time Hilda was living in West Chapel Street in Mayfair, London. She served in Russia until 1919 and was awarded the Kuaatan Order of St. George for her work with Russian Guards on the Kovel Front.

Hilda died penniless in Paris on 28th January 1923, having spent all her money on looking after the wounded.

Sources: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/albert-bushnell-hart/harpers-pictorial-library-of-the-world-war--volume-7-tra/page-11-harpers-pictorial-library-of-the-world-war--volume7-tra.shtml Award from Russia http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/22343113/2539987 and photograph from "The Sketch" newspaper of 2nd September 1915.

I am very grateful indeed to Sergio Sbalchiero for additional information about Hilda' and her war-time service:

"At the beginning of the war Hilda Wynne enlisted in the Hector Munro's Ambulance Corps operating on the Flanders front. There she met another volunteer, the Scottish banker Ivor Bevan. Together, they founded the Wynne Bevan Ambulance Corps. They operated on the Russian front from 1915 to 1917 in Galicia, Persia and Caucaso. In october 1917 they went to Italy and settled in Preganziol, a little town near Treviso, transporting the wounded on the Piave front. In june 1918, during the last Austrian offensive, they transported 840 Italian wounded. After the battle Hilda received a silver medal for valour and a cross of war. In Flanders she had been decorated with the Order of Leopoldo II and the Croix de Guerre. In Russia she received twice medals of the Order of St. George from the Tsar. She received also a medal of the Red Cross. An Italian officer said that she was 'a worthy follower of Florence Nightingale'."

My thanks also to Lynne Sidaway who tells me that Hilda's son was still alive aged 91 in 1995, living in Tennessee, America.