Sunday, 28 October 2012

The 'Unremembered'

Before I had an interest in military nurses, I researched some local war memorials in considerable depth. During the course of that work I learnt a lot about the course of the Great War, and began to visit the Western Front, paying my respects to local men who lie in cemeteries there and taking many photos along the way.  It was a good grounding for what came later.  However, one important lesson I learnt was that not all those who died did so in battle, with many never meeting the enemy or even leaving the UK. I also realised that many who had been casualties of war, who had met the enemy, fought, suffered and died young are not commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission because they made the mistake of dying after the end of the 'qualifying' period which fell on 31st August 1921. So a man who joined the Army one day and got run over by a bus twenty-four hours later will be remembered by the CWGC for evermore.  A man who fought his way through four years, was gassed, wounded and mentally scarred, but died after 31/8/21 - even one day after - will not.  People try hard to justify that rule and point out that there has to be a cut-off date somewhere.  I call it rubbish.

Women have fared particularly poorly at the hands of the War Office, and later the Ministry of Defence by falling foul of their 'rules' for commemoration. Many nurses, both trained and untrained, have been 'forgotten' because despite caring for military personnel throughout the war they were considered 'civilians,' and therefore unworthy of recognition, even if they died within the qualifying dates. Included among these groups are most VADs, trained nurses of the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John, and a host of nurses who worked in primitive and dangerous conditions caring for soldiers of other nations overseas. I must also mention here munition workers, doing the most dangerous of work in the United Kingdom, with many of them losing their lives - they are also forgotten by the authorities. Complete and utter rubbish.

Our nation spends so much time honouring and revering its war dead, but seems happy to continue to turn a blind eye to the war dead who just happened to die at the wrong time, despite their cause of death being directly attributable to their war service - they remain invisible and anonymous.  I hope in the future that these men and women might receive the respect to which they are entitled. Breath-holding not recommended.

Matron Volta Billing who returned from overseas service with the Territorial Force Nursing Service, her health undermined, and died on 16 December 1922. Remembered here, if nowhere else



  1. I've done quite a bit of reading on munitions workers recently and there's shockingly little out there to remember them, considering how utterly utterly vital they were to the war effort, and how many died

  2. Yes, munition workers were particularly badly treated. I wonder if there was a deliberate policy of discounting civilians in order to minimise their vast numbers being made public, especially as the majority were young women. And It also plays down the great contribution made by women during the Great War. Or maybe they just couldn't be bothered with the extra work it all entailed.

  3. A few years ago on holiday i came across the grave of Captain William Barnsley Allen a doctor who was awarded the VC in the Great War.

    He lies in Earnley cementry almost forgotten, so i took few photos and posted them on a blog.

    My little contribution to a great man not remembered on any War Memorial.

    This is a great blog and one i all ways enjoy reading.

  4. What an amazing array of letters after his name, and obviously both brave and dedicated. And a great example of the unremembered. Of course, if he'd drunk himself to death during his initial training in the UK he would have his place in history. I would put a smiley there, but it's really not very funny ...

  5. I'm so grateful you are remembering these women. The rules of remembrance by the CWGC are certainly arbitrary and don't reflect the reality that so many soldiers and nurses died much later, of war-related causes. And of course, there were those who were institutionalized for the remainder of their lives, their mental health ruined.

  6. Very good that you're writing about this, especially as the work of women in the war is underappreciated. Also, my great-uncle Alfred was wounded in the lung and gassed at Arras; he died in 1931 of bronchitis, which the inquest recorded as having been caused by his war injuries - I always felt he deserved remembrance.