Monday, 26 September 2022

Book Review: “Women are now doing men’s work” by Lawrence Taylor, Edited by Carole McEntee-Taylor

As those of you who follow my weblog and Facebook page Inspirational Women of World War One will know, I have been researching the women of WW1 seriously for over ten years now.   However, while I was familiar with some of the information in Lawrence Taylor’s wonderul book, which has been written to raise awareness of women in the Great War, I found quite a lot of information that was new to me.   

There are 21 chapters – covering The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, Munitionettes, The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, Voluntary Aid Detachments, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, Hospital Ships, The Australian and New Zealand Army Nursing Services, The Scottish Women’s Hospital, The Women’s Royal Naval Service and more.  The book has a delightful cover of a cartoon by Fred Spurgin (1882- 1968), a British comic illustrator.

"Women are now doing men's work" is a definite must read for anyone truly interested in the history of The First World War.  I very much hope that Lawrence plans more books about the women of WW1.

You can purchase a copy by following this link:

Lawrence explains in the Further Reading Section at the end of the book that the Imperial War Museum, London has an excellent website where you can view photographs of the women of WW1. Agnes Conway, who chaired The Women's Work Subcommittee of the Imperial War Museum London (which was founded in 1917), collected a vast number of photographs of the women of WW1 for the nation. Lawrence Taylor finds many of those photographs and regularly researches and posts information about the women of WW1 on his Facebook page

From 1917-1929, Agnes Conway – whose father was Martin Conway - the first honorary Director-General of the IWM - gathered information and photographs pertaining to the role of women during the First World War.   She was the curator of the Women's Work Section of the Imperial War Museum and was named Honorary Secretary of the Women's Committee between 1917 and 1920. Agnes was helped in her work by Lady Priscilla Norman, who ran a hospital in France during the first few months of the war, Lady Asquith, Lady Mond and Lady Haig.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Annie Elizabeth Mistrick nee Brewer (1874 – 1921) - British nurse.

With thanks to Bryan Boots for suggesting I include Annie here and for his help 

Annie Elizabeth Brewer was born in Newport, South Wales, UK on 21st November 1874.  Her parents were John Brewer and his wife, Jessie M. Brewer, nee Pote.  

When she was twenty-four, Annie qualified as a nurse of 'insane persons' (psychiatric nurse) and worked in hospitals around Britain including in London and Chester, before travelling around Europe as a personal nurse and companion.

Annie, who was also known as Nancy, was in France with a lady from Cardiff when war broke out, and immediately joined the Anglo French Nursing Expedition and was behind the lines in the first battle of the Marne. With occasional "leaves" she remained in France, serving on the Somme and at Verdun. Annie assisted with 229 operations in 7 days during the battle of Verdun. Annie invariably accompanied the troops up the line and on one occasion the ambulance in which she was travelling was shelled and she was wounded in the head and struck with a piece of shrapnel in the leg.  She also came under shellfire while working in a French hospital.  The strain led to a period of serious illness, but she insisted on returning to duty once she recovered.

Annie in WW1

According to French Genealogical sources, Annie married French ambulance driver Daniel Mistrick, on the Verdun battlefield. After the war she remained in Europe, working at a feeding station in Germany with the French army of occupation. The French government awarded her the Legion d'Honneur and Croix de Guerre. Annie also received war and victory medals from the British government but was never recognised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

In 1921, Annie returned to Newport to nurse her ailing mother in the family home at 23 West Street, but she was also seriously ill and died of kidney disease, Bright's disease, on 30th January 1921 aged 46. Although she is buried at St. Woolos cemetery, Annie currently does not have a war grave. Gwent Western Front Association are campaigning for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to put her on their register. 

Ian Brewer, Annie's great nephew, has researched the life of Annie Brewer, published on BBC Cymru. She was also featured in BBC Wales television documentary entitled "Annie's War: A Welsh Nurse on the Western Front".   On 30th January 2018, The Western Front Association unveiled a blue plaque on West Street in Newport. Guests at the unveiling included members of Mrs. Mistrick's family, Health Minister Vaughan Gething and pupils from St. Woolos primary school.

The Blue Plaque in memory
of Annie

Sources: Find my Past, Free BMD< Information received from Bryan Boots, Lives of the First World War and

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Louise de Bettignies (15th July 1880 – 27 September 1918) French woman who became a British Secret Agent in WW1

With grateful thanks to Ciaran Conlan, an Irishman who has a love of WW1 and helps anyone who needs hel. Ciaran helps me a great deal with my research. 

WW1 Secret agent Louise de Bettignies was born in Saint Armand-les-Eaux in Northern France on 15th July 1880. Her parents were Henri-Maximilien de Bettignies, a porcelain manufacturer who was a Captain in the French National Guard, and his wife, Julienne-Marie Mabille de Poncheville.

During the First World War, Louise was recruited and worked as a secret agent for the British during WW1, using the code name Alice Dubois.  She was arrested by the Germans and condemned to death on 16th March 1916. 

Louise said “I am French.  I would never do anything against my country, my conscience and my honour”.  The sentence was commuted to hard labour for life and Louise was sent to Germany, where she died due to pleural abscesses poorly operated upon at St. Mary's Hospital in Cologne on 27th September 1918.

Monday, 2 August 2021

 Three nurses who lost their lives in the mysterious explosion aboard HMS “Natal on 30th December 1915 are remembered on the Chatham Memorial in Kent, UK:

Nursing Sister, CAROLINE MAUD EDWARDS,  Served aboard H.M.H.S. "Drina.", Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. Killed in destruction of H.M.S. "Natal" in Cromarty Firth, 30 December 1915. Grave Reference: 15.

Caroline Maud Edwards

Nursing Sister, ELIZA MILLICENT ELVENS, Served aboard H.M.H.S. "Drina.", Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. Killed in destruction of H.M.S. "Natal" in Cromarty Firth, 30 December 1915. Grave Reference: 15.

ROWLETT, Nursing Sister, OLIVE KATHLEEN. H.M.H.S. Served aboard HMHS "Drina.", Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service. Killed in destruction of H.M.S. "Natal" in Cromarty Firth, 30 December 1915. Grave Reference: 15.

From the CWGC List of Female Casualties of the First World War; photos from the Imperial War Museum, London - the collection made by Agnes Conway - historian and archaeologist, who from 1917-1929 collected information concerning women's work in the First World War. Agnes was Chairman of the Women's Work Sub-Committee of the Imperial War Museum in London. Her father, Martin Conway, was first the honorary Director-General of the IWM.

HMS Natal was a Warrior-class armoured cruiser built for the British Royal Navy in the first decade of the 20th century. She escorted the royal yacht in 1911–1912 for the newly crowned King George V's trip to India to attend the Delhi Durbar. During the First World War, the ship was assigned to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet, but did not participate in any battles. Natal was sunk by a mysterious internal explosion near Cromarty on 30 December 1915 with the loss of at least 390 crewmen and civilians.

On 30 December 1915, Natal was lying in the Cromarty Firth with her squadron, under the command of Captain Eric Back. The captain was hosting a film party aboard and had invited the wives and children of his officers, one civilian friend and his family, and nurses from the nearby hospital ship "Drina" to attend. A total of seven women, one civilian male, and three children were in attendance that afternoon.

I am sure everyone knows about the wonderful work done by Agnes Conway in collecting photographs
of the women of WW1 so that they could be remembered. The i mages are available from the Imperial War Museum's website.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Edith Maud Drummond Hay R.R.C. 2nd Class 3.6.19 (1872 – 1960) – artist and WW1 volunteer

Edith Maud Drummond Hay was born on 28th February 1872 in Kinfauns in Perthshire, Scotland. Her parents were Henry Maurice Drummond Hay, a Colonel in the Army who was a Scottish naturalist and ornithologist, and his wife, Charlotte Elizabeth Richardson Hay.  On their marriage, Henry took the family name of Hay, adding it to his own surname.   Edith was one of four sisters and two brothers - Henry Maurice Drummond Hay, James Adam Gordon Richardson Drummond Hay Constance, Alice and Lucy. 

When Peter Drummond Hay and his family moved into his great aunt’s house in the Perthshire village of Glencarse back in the 1980s, he uncovered a treasure trove of wartime memories.

Edith was affectionately known in the family as ‘Aunt Tuck’. She left a fascinating legacy - a collection of illustrated diaries, including an album of her experiences as a volunteer with the British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) during the First World War, when she joined the Perth/38 Detachment.  

According to her Red Cross Record Card, Edith served in several hospitals, including some in France, and she was awarded the Royal Red Cross, Second Class in June 1919 for her war work.   Edith never married and died on 20th February 1960.   The Grant of Probate for Edith mentions the name David Charles Scott-Moncrieff, which makes me wonder if there is a link to the WW1 poet Charles Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff (1889 – 1930).

The family donated Edith’s WW1 album to the Red Cross in London, where it is at the Red Cross Museum.  The British Red Cross’s 2020 Calendar features some of Edith’s WW1 paintings.

The Royal Red Cross (RRC) is a military decoration awarded in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth for exceptional services in military nursing, established on 23 April 1883 by Queen Victoria, and first awarded to the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. A second and lower class, Associate, was added during in November 1915 during the First World War.

Sources:  British Red Cross 2020 Calendar, Find my Past

Photograph of Edith from

Professor Dame Ida Caroline Mann, Mrs Gye, DBE, MB, BS, PhD (Lond), MA (Oxon), MD (Hon) (WA), FRCS, FRACS, FRACO (1893 –1983)

With grateful thanks to Alison T. McCall, genealogist, for finding this information about Ida while helping me with research into her brother WW1 poet Arthur James Mann.

Ida was "a distinguished ophthalmologist ... equally well known for her pioneering research work on embryology and development of the eye, and on the influences of genetic and social factors on the incidence and severity of eye disease throughout the world". She was the first woman to be appointed as a surgeon to the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital - Moorfields. 

Ida Caroline Mann was born on 6 February 1893 in Kilburn, London, UK. Her parents were Frederick William Mann, post office clerk, and his wife Ellen, née Packham.  Ida’s brother was the poet, aviator and teacher Arthur James Mann (1884 – 1933).

Educated at Wycombe House School, Hampstead, London, Ida passed the Civil Service Girl Clerk's examination and took a job at the Post Office Savings Bank. She then applied to study medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women, the only medical school which was open to women at that time. She passed the matriculation examination in 1914, one of only eight women out of hundreds of passes, completed her studies, 'with no trouble and intense delight', and qualified Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MB, BS) in 1920.  

Ida gained experience during the First World War at Fulham Military Hospital, and became a demonstrator in physiology.  In 1917 she transferred to St Mary’s Hospital, where she studied embryology with Professor J. E. S. Frazer.  She graduated from the University of London (MB, BS, 1920; D.Sc., 1928) and, qualifying as a member in 1920 (fellow in 1927) of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, she was appointed ophthalmic house surgeon at St Mary’. 

In 1939, Ida visited Australia as the British Medical Association's representative at the 1st Annual General Meeting of the Ophthalmological Society of Australia (B.M.A.). She flew in an Imperial Airways Flying Boat, which took a week to fly at low altitude from Southampton to Melbourne. On 30 December 1944, Ida married widower Professor William Ewart Gye, director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, at the register office, Brentford, Middlesex.

Following Gye’s retirement in 1949 due to ill health and, opposed to the nationalisation of medicine, Mann stepped down from her post at Moorfields.  The couple travelled to Australia and settled in Perth, where Mann set up a small private practice and became a consultant at Royal Perth Hospital.  She also helped her husband with cancer research.  After William's death in 1952, Ida travelled widely in outback Australia at the request of the Western Australian Public Health Department and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, compiling records of the incidence of eye diseases, especially trachoma, among Aborigines.  Ida died on 18 November 1983 in Perth, Western Australia.

Ida's Publications

Ida Mann, The Development of the Human Eye (Cambridge, 1928)

Ida Mann, Developmental Abnormalities of the Eye (Cambridge, 1937)

Ida Mann and Antoinette Pirie, The Science of Seeing (Harmondsworth, 1946)

Ida Mann, Culture, Race, Climate and Eye Disease (Illinois, 1966)

As Caroline Gye, The Cockney and the Crocodile (London, 1962)

As Caroline Gye, China 13 (London, 1964)


Friday, 22 January 2021

Winifred Buller (1884 – 1970?) – British aviation pioneer who served with the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps in WW1

With thanks to Chris Dubbs for finding the photograph that sent me off on this voyage of discovery and to Lynne Sidaway for additional information. It is proving very difficult to find information about Winifred. 

Born Winifred Sayer in 1884 in Bacton, near Yarmouth in Norfolk, UK, her parents were William Sayer, a solicitor, and his wife, Ettie Sayer.  Winifred became fascinated by all things mechanical and learnt to drive in her teens, quickly becoming an expert motorist.   

In 1904, Winifred married George Cecil Buller, a businessman, who was Managing Director of the Shoreham and Lancing Land Company. The couple had 2 children – Max (Donald) Napier Buller (1907 – 1993) and Cecil Edward Anthony Buller (1906 – 1972).    In the 1911 Census, George and Winifred Mea Buller were listed as  living at 60 Draycott Place, Chelsea, London. It seems they also had property in Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, for their sons were there according to the 1911 Census, in charge of a nanny.  

Winifred met the French aviator Count Olivier de Montalent when he was in Britain in 1911 with his Breguet plane.  She took several flights with him, which made her decide to learn to fly. When her husband was away on an extended business trip, Winifred drove her sons and their nanny to France so that she could take flying lessons at the aerodrome in Douai.   La Brayelle Airfield was one of the first airfields in France. It was situated 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) west of Douai, in the Nord département in northern France. It was host to the world’s first aviation meeting, home to Bréguet Aviation and an important airfield in the First World War. 

Winifred soon became an accomplished and skilled pilot and on 18th May 1912, the request of the Aero Club de France for permission to issue an Aviator's Certificate to Mrs. W. Buller, a British subject, was granted.  Back in Britain, Winifred became the English ladies cross-country flying champion in 1912, holding the record for long-distance and cross-country flying.  . She then became the first woman to take aviation seriously enough to adopt it as a profession and worked as a test pilot for the British Caudron Company, based in Cricklewood, near Hendon Aerodrome, north of London.

A report in the “Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser”newspaper of 3rd July 1914 announced that Winifred joined the flying corps of the British League in April 1914, which was intended for service in Ulster in case of military opertions.  

During the First World War, Winifred joined the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps and, as this photograph shows, served on the Western Front. 

I have not been able to verify further details about Winifred.  It seems she may have gone to America with her husband and sons.   Several websites mention that George Buller became a naturalised US citizen in 1927 and that Winifred died in Hove in 1970, by which time she was Mea Winifred Williams.  However, I found several women with similar names, so it is difficult to be certain.  If anyone has any definite information about Winifred please get in touch.  

WW1 Photograph of Winifred in her plane on the Western Front – Original caption: "Red Cross Nurse on Battlefield In Aeroplane. Mrs. Winifred Buller, the English airwoman, who is now on active service with the Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps, is ready to fly over the battlefield with her wounded charge should the ambulance in which she is conveying him break down. The photo shows Mrs. Buller in her aeroplane. (Photo by George Rinhart / Corbis via Getty Images)"

Sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD, British Newspaper Archive, 
Chronicling America and