Wednesday 22 May 2024

Kate Manley, OBE (1866 – 1945)

Born in Bridport, Dorset, UK in 1866, Kate Manley became the UK Ministry of Food’s Chief Culinary Scientist in 1917.  

In November 1917, Kate started a programme to train hundreds of women to work as supervisors in national kitchens.  For her war work, Kate was awarded an OBE in 1919. 

Sources: Information skindly ent to me by Michael Downes, a retired teacher living in East Devon with an interest in local history.

Find my Past, FreeBMD, Imperial War Museum, Western Morning News, 15th August 1945

An image sent to me by Michael Downes

From Imperial War Museum

Western Morning News, 15th August 1945

Sunday 19 May 2024

Vesta Tilley - stage name of Matilda Alice Powles (1864 - 1952) – British music hall star - one of the best-known male impersonators of her era.

With thanks to John Daniel for this information 

Matilda Alice Powles was born in Worcester on 13th May 1864. She was the second child of thirteen children born to Henry Powles, a musician known as Harry Ball, and his wife, Matilda Powles (nee Broughton).

With her father's encouragement, Matilda made her stage debut when she was three years old.  By the time she was six, she was performing songs dressed as a man. She began her professional career in 1869. – her first character of note was "Pocket Sims Reeves", spoofing the act of the then-famous opera singer Sims Reeves by performing his songs such as "The Anchor's Weighed". 

She was billed as Vesta Tilley for the first time in April 1878 when performing at the Royal Music Hall in Holborn, London. As a male impersonator, Alice performed as a dandy or a fop, a famous character being "Burlington Bertie", although she also played other roles such as policemen and clergymen.

In 1890 Alice married Sir Abraham Walter de Frece (7 October 1870 – 7 January 1935) - a British theatre impresario, and later Conservative Party politician, who served as a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1920 to 1931.

Alice and her husband ran military recruitment drives during the First World War and Alice sang at charity events dressed in khaki fatigues  performing numbers written by her husband such as "Jolly Good Luck to the Girl Who Loves a Soldier", "The Army of Today's All Right", "Six Days' Leave", and "Your King and Country Want You" (also known as "We Don't Want to Lose You but We Think You Ought to Go"). She was nicknamed "England’s greatest recruiting sergeant" since young men were sometimes asked to join the army during her shows. Over the course of a week in Hackney, she enlisted so many people they became known as "The Vesta Tilley Platoon".

After the war, music halls declined in popularity. Walter de Frece was knighted in the 1919 King's Birthday Honours List for his services to the war effort, with Alice becoming Lady de Frece. Walter decided to run for Parliament and Alice chose to end her stage career. Her farewell tour took a year to complete, between 1919 and 1920. All proceeds were given to a local children's hospital.  She made her final appearance at the Coliseum Theatre, London on Saturday 5th June 1920. In their review, "The Times" newspaper called it a "wonderful night" and commented that at the end she was "gradually being submerged under the continuous stream of bouquets".

Alice died in St James's, London on 16th September 1952, aged 88. Her body was buried alongside her husband, at Putney Vale Cemetery.

Image:  A postcard of Vesta Tilley dressed in Army uniform during WW1.  These cards were sold in aid of the War Relief Funds.

Music Hall in WW1

The First World War may have been the high-water mark of music hall popularity. The artists and composers threw themselves into rallying public support and enthusiasm for the war effort. Patriotic music hall compositions such as "Keep the Home Fires Burning" (1914), "Pack up Your Troubles" (1915), "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" (1914) and "We Don't Want to Lose You (but we think you ought to Go)", were sung by music hall audiences, and sometimes by soldiers in the trenches.

Many songs promoted recruitment ("All the boys in khaki get the nice girls", 1915); others satirised particular elements of the war experience. 

Sources: Information supplied by John Daniel, 

Additional sources:

Find my Past, FreeBMD, Wikipedia 

Sunday 28 April 2024

The Hewins Sisters in WW1 – Dorothy Hewins (1894 – 1949) and Margaret Nancy Hewins (1902 – 1978) - self-published authors of ‘Lest We Forget: Being Some Account of the Smaller Incidents in the Great War’.

 With thanks to Historian Debbie Cameron* for posting a portrait of Nurse Dorothy Hewins in WW1 on her Facebook Group Remembering British Women in WW1 – The Home Front and Overseas 

Nurse Hewins by Helen Margaret McKenzie

Dorothy Hewins was born on 24th Febuary 1894 in Oxford, UK, where her Father, William Albert Samuel Hewins was a Professor of Economics.  Her Mother was Margaret Hewins, nee Slater.  Dorothy and Nancy had a brother – Maurice Gravenor Hewins - who was born in Chelsea, London, UK in 1897.  Margaret Nancy Hewins was born on 14th February 1902 in Putney, London, UK in 1902.

Maurice served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Middlesex Regiment T.F. Res., attached to the Colonial Office.

During the First World War, Dorothy volunteered to work at the Surgical Requisites Association (SRA)** in Mulberry Walk, Chelsea. In this role she trained and eventually became a fulltime member of the first ever team to develop and apply plaster casts to the injured.

Dorothy struggled with ill health for most of her life and died in 1949.  

Nancy studied at Oxford Unversity and became a theatre director and actress.   In 1927  Nancy created a women’s theatre troupe called Osiris, which toured the country for some four decades.  Nancy died in 1978. 

Sources:  Initial Source: Debbie Cameron’s Facebook Group

Additional Sources: Find my Past, FreBMD, Wikipedia and

“Gloucestershire Echo”, 19 March 1940


**The Surgical Requisites Association was an offshoot of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, who undertook to supply surgical dressings. Two women, Anne Acheson and Elinor Halle, who were both sculptors, devised a way of making splints out of papier mache that were both lighter and cheaper than those made of traditional materials. Old sugar bags were found to be the best material, and these were collected from grocers and members of the public with the help of boy scouts. The Bath branch of the association, believed to be one of only 6 outside London, was established in January 1918, and formally opened later that year by HRH Princess Beatrice accompanied by Lady Crutchley, the head of the first depot in Mulberry Walk, London.

Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild

In 1885 Princess Mary Adelaide of Teck (mother of the future Queen Mary) had became patron of The London Guild, beginning an unbroken line of Royal patronage.  In 1897 her daughter, the Duchess of York (the future Queen Mary) became the patron, having helped her mother with the charity since childhood.

The Guild was established in 1882 when the matron of an orphanage in Dorset asked Lady Wolverton for 24 pairs of knitted socks and 12 jerseys for the children in her care.  She started a small Guild amongst her friends to provide not less than 2 garments for each child at the orphanage and to supply clothing for other charitable institutions.  The Guild grew quickly and by 1894 The London Needlework Guild (as it was then known) was making and distributing over 52,000 garments a year.

On becoming Queen Consort in 1910, Queen Mary renamed the charity Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild and in 1914 established St James’s Palace as the headquarters.

(The portrait of Nurse Hewins was painted by Scottish artist and etcher Helen Margaret MacKENZIE (1881-1966) who was born in Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland - the daughter of an architect. She studied at the Royal College of Art with Gerald Moira, gaining her diploma in 1906.)


Friday 29 March 2024

Muriel Perry (1899 - ?) - British VAD

Muriel Perry, WW1
Born Muriel Haidée Perry, on about 5th March 1899, when the First World War began, Muriel founded the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Free Buffet at Victoria Station, at which servicemen were fed.  

According to an article in “The Tatler” magazine of 15 August 1917, the Buffet cost around £1,000 per month to run and was entirely supported by donations and unpaid volunteers. Mrs Douglas McGarel Hogg was the Honorary Treasurer of the Buffet.

Muriel then drove a motor-kitchen to the Western Front, in aid of the Italian Red Cross. 

My friend Sergio Sbalchiero kindly sent me this photo of Muriel Perry with other volunteers in front of an Italian armoured car with some Italian soldier (Library of Congress-Longshaw Kraus Porritt Collection)

While in Italy Muriel fell in love with Emanuele Filiberto, the Duke of Aosta and a member of the House of Savoy, who she met after being introduced to him. A short while later she wrote him a letter, and uncertain of how to address royalty, she wrote ‘Dear Man’ and this charmed him. Although he was old enough to be her father, and married, their romance appeared harmless and he placed Muriel in a convent in Trieste after she developed dysentery. 

Several weeks later, Muriel returned to London then went to Belgium to organise a rehabilitation centre for wounded soldiers. She was decorated seven times for her war work, including an OBE.

Muriel’s daughter Sally Perry (1909  - 1990) married Gerald Grosvenor on 11th April 1945. He became Duke of Westminster in 1963 and Sally became Duchess of Westminster.

Original source post about .R. Ackerley (1896 – 1957) – WW1 soldier poet and playwright

Additional Sources:

Saturday 21 October 2023

Sofia Flora Skipwith, OBE (1855 – 1940) – WW1 VAD who founded an Auxiliary Hospital in her home Loversall Hall, Yorkshire

Sofia Flora Cooke Yarborough was born on 18th November 1855 in Middlesex, England, UK. Her parents were Charles C. Yarborough, a retired British Army Lieutenant-Colonel, and his wife, Ester Ann.C. Yarborough. 

In 1887, in Tonbridge, Kent, UK, Sophia married widower and British Army Officer Grey Townsend Skipwith (1838 – 1900) who had 8 children by his previous wife.  

Sofia and Grey lived in India and had two children - Flora Blanche Skipwith, born in India in 1889 and Charles Grey Yule Skipwith, born in India in 1890.  Charles also joined the British Army. Sofia’s husband died in India in 1900. 

When war broke out, Sofia joined the local VAD and turned her home – Loversall Hall in Doncaster, Yorkshire, UK - into an Auxiliary Hospital which was opened in 1914 and had 100 beds.  Sofia was the Hospital’s Commandant. 

One anonymous soldier-poet wrote of Loversall Hall: 

“The stately homes of Britain… 

Where many a high-born beauty her gracious warfare raged, 

Men at the call of duty, lie broken, maimed and aged, 

And many a man is living, 

Who for his death has prayed, 

Thanks to his maker giving 

That he the woman made.” 

Sofia’s daughter, Flora Blanche Skipwith, also served in her Mother’s hospital in WW1, as did the writer and poet Barbara Euphan Todd (1890 – 1976) – best known for her ten books for children about a scarecrow called Worzel Gummidge.  Having initially worked on the land, Barbara worked at the Hospital from 12/12/1917 until 15/02/1919

Sophia helped hundreds of soldiers, kept in touch with many of them when they returned to the front line, and was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her war work.

Sofia died on 19th December 1940.  Her Obituary was published in the “Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer” on  24th December 1940. 

Loversall Hall

Built by the Fenton Family of Leeds between 1808 and 1816, Loversall Hall is situated in the heart of the beautiful South Yorkshire Countryside within the village of Loversall just on the outskirts of Doncaster.


The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4th June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.

The five classes of appointment to the Order are, from highest grade to lowest grade:

Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE)

Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE or DBE)

Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)

Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)

Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE)


Sources: Find my Past, FreeBMD 14th Jul 2016

Julia Warde-Aldam MBE, ARRC (1857 - 1931) – opened her house as an Auxiliary Hospital, serving as Commandant and Matron

Sarah Julia Warde was born in Carleton, near Pontefract, Yorkshire, UK in early 1857.  Her parents were Revd. William Warde, an Anglican Church Minister - a former Vicar of Campsall - and his wife, Marianne Warde, née Smithson.

On her father's death in 1868, Julia and her elder sister Mary Ann jointly inherited Hooton Pagnell Hall, near Doncaster, which had been bought by the family of Sir Patience Warde in 1704. Mary died in 1880, leaving Julia as sole inheritor.

On 30th Apreil 1878 Julia married William Wright Aldam, son of William Aldam MP and owner of Frickley Hall, taking the name Warde-Aldam. They had two sons, William St. Andrew (1882–1958), who inherited the Hooton Pagnell estate, and John Ralph Patientius (1892 - 1973), who inherited the Frickley estate. On Willam's father's death in 1890, the couple also inherited Healey Hall in Northumberland and in 1899 they purchased the estate of Ederline in Argyllshire.

In September 1914, a month after the Britain's entry into the First World War, Julia opened up Hooton Pagnell Hall as the Hooton Pagnell Auxiliary Military Hospital. She took on the role of Red Cross Commandant and Matron of the hospital, and was awarded an MBE in the 1918 Birthday Honours and the Royal Red Cross, Second Class.

Julia died in 1931.

Sources: Find my Past 14th Jul 2016

Imperial War Museum website for photograph of Julia


The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4th June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions. 

The five classes of appointment to the Order are, from highest grade to lowest grade:

Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE)

Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE or DBE)

Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)

Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)

Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE)


Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an MBE is the third highest ranking Order of the British Empire award (excluding a knighthood/damehood), behind CBE and then OBE.

The MBE is awarded for an outstanding achievement or service to the community which has had a long-term, significant impact.

The Royal Red Cross (RRC) medal was introduced by Queen Victoria on 27th April 1883. The Royal warrant provides for the award to any ladies, whether subjects or foreign persons, who may be recommended by Our Secretary of State for War for special exertions in providing for the nursing of sick and wounded soldiers and sailors of Our Army and Navy. (During the reign of King George V the words 'or Our Air Force in the field' were added). Those awarded the 1st class medal are known as members whilst those awarded the 2nd class are known as associates (ARRC).   

Thursday 17 August 2023

Lady Edmond Talbot (1859–1938)

With thanks to Chris Warren for contacting me and

sending me copies of his two WW1-related books 

Born Lady Mary Bertie, daughter of the Earl of Abingdon, she was married on 5th August 1879 to Edmund Talbot (1855 – 1947), whose name at birth was Lord Edmund Bernard FitzAlan-Howard By Royal Licence, he assumed the name Talbot in 1876 to enable him to inherit the estates of Bertram, Earl of Shrewsbury. 

Lord and Lady Talbot had two children and lived in Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park, London, UK.   They were Catholic. Lord Talbot was elected Member of Parliament for Chichester in 1894, a seat he held until 1921. In April 1921 Lord Edmund Talbot was appointed by the British government as Lord Lieutenant, or Viceroy, of Ireland. Much was made of the fact that Talbot was Catholic – the first to hold the office since the 17th century.

Retired school teacher Chris Warren has published two excellent WW1-related books:

- his Uncle Jack’s letters sent home from the Western Front - “Somewhere in France: Letters written from the Front 1914 – 1918 by Jack Turner, MC, Croix de Guerre”.


-  “In Flanders Now: The War Poems of Father Albert Purdie 1915 - 1918”

John Turner MC, Croix de Guerre (1882 – 1918) – British schoolteacher and artist (known as Jack Turner).

In a letter home written in July 1915 by Chris’s Uncle Jack when he was serving on the Western Front, he wrote about meeting the Catholic Chaplain Father Albert Purdie and reading the poem Father Purdie had written about Ploegsteert Wood. 

For the poem by Father Purdie, please see

In an extract from one of Jack’s letters published in the book, he mentions being given a copy of a book – a special gift to Catholic soldiers during the First World War from Lady Edmond Talbot.

“He has also given me a jolly little “Garden of the Soul” (Lady Edmond Talbot’s gift to the Catholic soldiers) which is small but has all the offices in.”

Chris Warren’s wonderful books can be purchased by following these links:


“Somewhere in France: Letters written from the Front 1914 – 1918 by Jack Turner, MC, Croix de Guerre”.