Friday, 21 August 2015

In trying circumstances

Watercolour of a nurse tending to a wounded soldier in a hospital, by Captain Robert Mauchlen,9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry c.1917 (D/DLI 7/7/920/11(11))
D/DLI 7/7/920/11(11) Watercolour of a nurse tending to a wounded soldier in a hospital, by Captain Robert Mauchlen, 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry c.1917  
Recently a volunteer enquired as to whether Victoria and myself ever clashed over who did a certain piece of research.  While we may have had words over the last biscuit at teatime, we seem to have developed our own spheres of interest and even of seamlessly batting research between ourselves to suit our particular talents. 

For example: Victoria has a special interest in Prisoners of War, be it German prisoners in Durham camps or Durham men in camps in Germany or Switzerland.  This led her to the Hamsterley Parish magazines, looking for mention of the German POWs from Harperley.  In addition to what she was looking for, she found a record of the awarding of the Military Medal to Nurse Spence.

This information she passed to me, as she knows that I am interested in the role women played during the war and have been co-ordinating the Five Sisters research.  I soon found that Cissy Spence (also known as Sarah Jane and Joan) received the Military Medal for calmly carrying on with her work while bombs dropped all around her.  The Casualty Clearing Station that she was stationed at had 250 patients of which 27 were killed and 68 wounded during the raid.  In a piece of quintessentially British understatement her citation describes this as “trying circumstances.”

The Military Medal was first introduced as an honour in March 1916 and was awarded to its first female recipient, Dorothie Feilding, in September of that year.  During the war, 135 Military Medals were awarded to women.  Two of those medals we have tracked down to women from County Durham: Cissy Spence and Kate Maxey.  I wonder if there’ll be others…

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