Thursday, 27 September 2012

Star Struck

In an effort to make a list of women who served in some capacity during the Great War, but whose work might be unknown by later generations, I've been browsing through medal rolls for French Red Cross workers, and some of those who worked for a multitude of other miscellaneous medical and 'caring' units overseas. The majority, but not all, were women, and I feel sure that in most cases their descendants will be totally unaware that they crossed the Channel to 'do their bit.'  They ranged from Directors and Administrators of large units, to the most humble of drivers, orderlies, cooks and canteen assistants.  But what orderlies and canteen assistants! In places the lists read like Who's Who, and the members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry alone could have kept 'Country Life' in photos and copy for decades. Countesses, Duchesses, Honourables and Lady's; writers, actresses, poets and singers; politicians and businessmen - their names litter the lists.

Included among them, John Masefield and Laurence Binyon; Herbert J. Gladstone and his wife Dorothy (Paget); Lady Louise Mountbatten, Sir Herbert Grotrian, later MP for Hull East, and his brother Frederick. Also included, from vastly opposing spheres, Percy Dearmer, Decima Moore and Enid Bagnold, the latter dismissed from one job by the War Office only to find her way to France as a driver with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. Some of them only stayed a short time, and looking at how many returned after just a month or two I wonder if a few had only medals in mind when they volunteered.  Others stayed for years, working with true devotion in humble occupations. I've enjoyed my wander through the upper classes both at work and at war, and would suggest that if you come from a middle-class sort of background, check the medal index cards, held at The National Archives, just to see if your great-aunt or great-grandmother was there.

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