Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Vera C.C. Collum - Scottish Women's Hospitals - Royaumont Abbey, France - Hôpital Auxiliare 301 (HA 301)

Vera Christina Chute Collum was a British anthropologist, journalist, photographer, radiographer and writer.  She was born in India in 1883 and came to England as a child.

Vera was in charge of the press office at the headquarters of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in London when war broke out and she volunteered to help with the Scottish Women's Hospitals.   She was sent to Royaumont Abbey in northern France, which was set up as a military hospital - known as Hôpital Auxiliare 301 (HA 301) - to treat wounded French soldiers.   Initially employed as an orderly, Vera was soon trained to become a radiographer to help out in the newly-formed radiography department of the hospital, which was the envy of the French military medical officers.   She became extremely skilled and was kept very busy, her work as a radiographer saving many lives.

On 24th March 1916, after a period of leave and much needed rest in England, Vera was badly injured during a torpedo attack on the cross-channel ferry on which she was returning to France.  The S.S. 'Sussex' was torpedoed by a U-boat and badly damaged on her way from Folkestone to Dieppe with 53 crew and 325 passengers. The whole of the bow was blown up, forward of the Bridge. The lifeboats were launched but several of them capsized and the passengers in them drowned.  Although the 'Sussex' stayed afloat, about 100 people were killed.  Vera and the other injured passengers were taken back to England for treatment.  

Vera recovered sufficiently to be able to return to her duties in Royaumont in time for the big push of July 1916 with the Battle of the Somme.

In May 1924, Vera was elected to the Royal Anthropological Institution in London.  Under the heading University attended, Vera put  "The world!" (sic).  She travelled extensively in Japan and the Far East and was a member of the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland.

In 1924 Vera was living in Chelsea in London.  By 1929 she had moved to Shaftesbury in Dorset and by 1935 she was living in Guildford in Surrey where she died in 1957.

Vera was awarded two medals by the French Government for her work during the First World War -  the Medailles des Epidemies (Bronze) in 1915 and the Croix de Guerre in 1918.

I am indebted to Sarah Walpole who is Archivist and Photo Curator
of the Royal Anthropological Institute in London for her invaluable help in researching Vera's life story.



"The Women of Royaumont A Scottish Women's Hospital on the Western Front" by Eileen Crofton, published by Tuckwell Press, East Linton, East Lothian, Scotland, 1997

"The Roses of No Man's Land" by Lyn Macdonald (first published by Michael Joseph Ltd in 1980), published by Penguin Books, London 1993.


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