SYLVIA DAISY BROWN ~ Nelson Police recovery of Hospital Matron’s war medal leads to a long search of discovery.

2/R – B/28 ~ SYLVIA DAISY BROWN, RN ~ QAIMNSR    

Uncharacteristically I am starting this story with the ending, the reason for which will become apparent as you read on.

The impetus for this medal research initially came from the Nelson Police.  Constable Ben Wallbank in the course of apprehending an offender had found a First World War medal in the offender’s backpack.  The British War Medal, 1914-18 was named to  B.28 SISTER S. BROWN.  Constable Ben contacted MRNZ for help to find any of Sister Brown’s descendant family to return the medal to.   As always, we are happy to oblige any request to return medals however in this case, little did I know what I was in for.

Sister Brown’s medal entitlement – British War Medal, 1914-18 and Victory Medal.

The discovery of Sister Sylvia Brown’s war medal started a lengthy journey of research to find a descendant to whom her medal could be returned.  In short there were none.  Because she had made Nelson her permanent home for more than 27 years, it seemed the most appropriate place her medal and history would be both appreciated and accessible, was at Nelson Hospital.  

At a ceremony celebrating International Nurses Day 2019, the Director of Nursing and Midwifery at Nelson Hospital, Pamela Kiesanowski and the hospital’s Charge Nurse managers gathered to hear a summary of the research into Matron Sylvia Brown’s previously unknown background.  Pamela said she was honoured to accept Matron Brown’s war medals, a first in the hospital’s historical collection.  Included were a sterling silver QAIMNSR Cape Badge, a NZ Registered Nurse’s badge and a photograph of Matron Brown.  The memorabilia will be displayed in an appropriate position for all to enjoy. 

Note:  Sylvia Brown’s British War Medal, 1914-1918 is accompanied by a replacement Victory Medal to complete her entitlement for display purposes.  MRNZ remains ever hopeful the original Victory Medal will re-surface so that it can be reunited with her British War Medal.  There is every possibility the missing medal is also still in Nelson.  If you can provide any information that will help us to locate the missing medal, please contact Ian at MRNZ.  

Pamela Kiesanowski, Director of Nursing & Midwifery at Nelson Hospital holding Matron Sylvia Brown’s framed memorabilia with Ian Martyn of MRNZ.

Constable Ben Wallbank of the Nelson Police and finder of Matron Sylvia Brown’s British War Medal, 1914-18, with Ian, Director and Founder of Medals Reunited New Zealand.

Pamela Kiesanowski and deputy Linda Ryan with the Nelson Hospital Charge Nurse managers, Constable Ben Wallbank, Brian Ramsay (MRNZ), Hospital Chaplain, and Ian Martyn (MRNZ).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My personal thanks are due to a number of people who have contributed in a variety of ways to complete this story. 

The first is to Constable Ben Wallbank of the Nelson Police for contacting after finding Sylvia Brown’s medal for without it there would be no story or research into the unknown background of Matron Brown; to Nelson historian Cheryl Carnahan and researcher Lorraine M. for supplying background material that assisted my research, and to Mr John Liell, Archivist at Nelson Hospital, for use of the only three photographs of Matron Brown, all of which are contained in this post.

Special thanks to Director of Nursing & Midwifery at Nelson Hospital, Pamela Kiesanowski for generously providing for Matron Brown’s memorabilia to be framed.

I am also indebted to the two UK based ladies, Andrea Ruddick who is a part-time researcher for MRNZ, and to Sylvia Ramsay (nee Brown!), an amateur  genealogist who responded to a question I posted on Ancestry.com.  Both ladies were most helpful in establishing the way ahead for me by providing ancestral leads to Sylvia Brown’s extended family. 

Finally, my thanks to three other contributors to this project; first is to noted Nelson ‘cemeterian’ Brian McIntyre who so ably restored Matron Brown’s bronze grave plaque in time for the wreath laying, second to my colleague Brian Ramsay for expertly mounting the medals, and third, to a former work colleague, photographer and picture framer extraordinaire, Mr Peter Wise of Wise’s Picture Framing, 78 Buxton Square, Nelson for the superb job he made of mounting and framing Matron Brown’s memorabilia.  

~ Lest We Forget ~

The reunited medal tally is now 265.

 

Sister Bailey, Matron Sylvia Brown, Sister Vanessa “Ness” Woodham, Sister Evans – Nelson Hospital, 1923

The Life & Times of Matron Sylvia Daisy Brown

Author’s Note:  This post is considerably longer than usual as it reflects 18 months of research into Matron Sylvia Brown’s origin and life before her arrival in NZ in 1912.  Various attempts have been made to write a biography and whilst this is not it, her story from her birth in Yorkshire is a fascinating one.  The challenge to try and piece together the background of the enigmatic spinster who became a long serving Matron of Nelson Hospital, and the reason she remained in Nelson for the rest of her life, were mysteries I  could resist at least attempting to unravel.

Some of my conclusions are conjecture due mainly to an absence of information to the contrary, and therefore remain open to being disproved.  They are my best guess after standing back from all that was gathered and applying logic of known circumstances of both the time in history, the places and circumstances.  To produce anything more definitive would require considerably more time in research than I have the time to spend on one case.  I should also point out that while I have tried to present the known information in a chronological sequence, much of it was discovered by chance, looking ‘outside the square’ and a various stages of the 18 months.  As a consequence because there are small breaks in cohesion, try to view what I have presented here as an overall picture of Sylvia’s life rather than an in-depth, minute by minute coverage of her life.  

I am reasonably satisfied with the overall result however again, any reader who can improve the accuracy of this story is very welcome to make their contribution known to me.   

If you are up to it …. read on.  I think you will be as intrigued as I was once I got into the detail, by the revelations and dimensions of this rather anonymous and very private lady’s life before her arrival in New Zealand.

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AWMM Cenotaph Profile

My research start point as for most medal returns was the Auckland War Memorial Museum (AWMM) Cenotaph database where Sister Sylvia Brown is listed with all other NZ First World War Soldiers and NZANS Nurses. 

On receiving Sister Brown’s war medal from Constable Ben Wallbank, my first reference check was against the Auckland War Memorial Museum (AWMM) Cenotaph website which houses the digitized records all NZ soldiers and nurses who served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) during the First World War.  

Having a basic knowledge of Sister Brown’s war service, the first thing I noticed from looking at her Profile Page was the absence of information as well as some incorrect entries.  Her date of birth was confined to the year only, one of the units she had served in was missing, as was one of her medals.  Post war employment was incomplete and her military training was confused with her nursing training prior to enlistment and so on.  This did not exactly fill me with confidence to use this material.  The detail had been added by museum staff so understandably it might not have been transcribed with complete accuracy and understanding.  A background in military terminology and acronyms is essential in order to draw the most from Sylvia Brown’s wartime file that is kept in the UK National Archives – for all intents and purpose, my starting point.  

Sylvia Brown’s original Cenotaph Profile page is reproduced below.  Items in red indicate an error or incomplete detail that appeared at the time I viewed the page in 2017.  I have omitted duplicated information to save space.

NAME:   Sylvia BROWN (second name missing – Daisy)

Birth – Circa 1883 (incorrect – Dec, 1883)

Date of Birth – 1884 (incorrect – 02 December 1883)

Place of Birth – Essex, England (incorrect county – York, Yorkshire)

Identity

  • FORENAMES:  Sylvia 
  • SURNAME:  Brown
  • ALSO KNOWN AS:  Sylvia Daisy BROWN (birth name = Daisy Sylvia BROWN)
  • SERVICE NUMBER:  B.28 (incomplete = 2/R–B/28)
  • GENDER:  Female

Civilian life

  • ADDRESS BEFORE ENLISTMENT:  Pre 14 September 1915 – New Zealand,  c/- Timaru Hospital, Sth Canterbury, NZ 
  • POST WAR OCCUPATION: Matron (incorrect – Sister) at Waiapu (incorrect – Te Puia Springs) Hospital (Maternity Annexe), Waipiro Bay, East Coast, Gisborne 
  • RELATIONSHIP STATUS:  Single 

Service

WARS AND CONFLICTS

  • ARMED FORCE / BRANCHArmy / Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR)
  • WAR:  World War 1, 1914-1919
  • CAMPAIGN:  1914-1919 Western Front – 2nd Military Hospital at York; No 6 General Hospital – BEF, France
  • MILITARY SERVICE:  1915-1919 
  • MILITARY DECORATIONS:

MILITARY DECORATIONS

  • MEDALS AND AWARDS:  Victory Medal (British War Medal, 1914-18 not recorded)

TRAINING AND ENLISTMENT

  • MILITARY TRAINING:  1906-1908 – training at Temperance Hospital, London; 1909 – State Registered Nurse (SRN); 1912 NZ Registered Nurse (NZRN)
  • ENLISTMENT:  WW1  14 September 1915 – Ward Sister – Enlisted in England
  • ARMED FORCE / BRANCH:  Army / Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR)
  • OCCUPATION BEFORE ENLISTED:  1912-1915:  Ward Sister at the Timaru Hospital, South Canterbury, NZ
  • AGE ON ENLISTMENT:  31 yrs

EMBARKATIONS

  • EMBARKATION DETAILS:  WW1   Sister – July 1915  –  Left NZ on the ship ‘Remuera’ to England

LAST KNOWN RANK

    • LAST RANK:  WW1   7 April 1919 – Demobilised – (Acting Sister) Matron /Military  QAIMNSR  Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve

Biographical information

Sylvia Brown, also known as Sylvia Daisy Brown, did her nursing training at Temperance Hospital, London.  Prior to enlisting she was a ward sister at the Timaru Hospital, South Canterbury, New Zealand.  In July 1915 she travelled on the ‘Remuera’ to return to England and enlist for war service.

DEATH

  • DEATH:  1950
  • DATE OF DEATH:  30 May 1950
  • AGE AT DEATH:  66 yrs
  • PLACE OF DEATH:  Nelson, NZ 
  • CEMETERY:  Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson          
  • GRAVE REFERENCE:  RSA Section  Block 1  Plot 23 

Why an NZEF File ?

From the outset of researching this case I was beset with an information drought.  When I opened the Cenotaph file entitled B.28 Sister Sylvia Brown – QAIMNSR to my surprise it consisted of exactly nine pages which I found highly unusual for someone who had war service!  As I read the contents I wondered why it had been raised at all?  The file contained only letters and receipts to and from the War Office in England that related to Sister Brown’s pay and allowance matters which had arisen after arrived in New Zealand – not much use to me at all.   

While NZANS nurses all had relatively complete files irrespective of where they had served, not so Sister Brown.  The only discernible difference I could see between Sister Brown’s file and the NZANS files was with the regimental numbers – Sister Brown’s was 2/R-B/28 which was new to me, while the NZANS nurse numbers had all started with 22/**** plus a one to four digit number following. 

The fact that a file for Sylvia Brown had been raised and placed with NZ WW1 military personnel, and a file that had a service number (albeit one I did not recognize), automatically had me thinking she must have been attached or co-opted as some sort of auxiliary military nurse.  Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service [Reserve] (QAIMNSR) was not a unit I recognised but I was aware a number of NZANS nurses and civilian nurses had served with a variety of military hospitals during the war. 

Critically however, there was no “Record of War Service” in Sister Brown’s file as all the NZANS nurse had included.  The RWS contains all personal information including enlistment documents which would note such things as birth date and place, citizenship status, age at enlistment, parents, next of kin, rank, professional qualifications, education, medical specifications and inoculations, fitness etc, an employment summary (postings and promotions during service) and so on.  It would also include any entitlement to decorations and awards (medals).

A book entitled “All Guts No Glory – Nelson Tasman Nurses and Chaplains of World War One” by Cheryl Carnahan (Nelson 2015) proved to be somewhat more useful than Sister Brown’s Profile Page and her NZEF File.  It contained a short biography of Sylvia Brown in her capacity as former Matron of Nelson Hospital from 1920-1937.  It gave a summary of her war service and employment as a nurse, however no mention was made of her origins or life beyond nursing, either before or after it.  

Sylvia Brown’s citizenship

I was also interested to know why Sister Brown had not enlisted in with the NZANS nurses for war service if she had been keen to contribute.  Sylvia had been an accepted on to the Roll of New Zealand Registered Nurses (NZRN) in April 1912 when she arrived in NZ.  At the time she travelled back to England she was still a UK national as she had not yet qualified by time to become a naturalized New Zealander.  Was this the reason she had not joined the NZANS?  My research would suggest not as being a NZ citizen at this time, was not a prerequisite for enlistment (as it is now) so I could only conclude Sister Brown’s reasons for returning to England to serve, must have been for purely personal/patriotic reasons.  

Since I was about to write the story of Sylvia Brown and her war medal, I felt it was important to present her life as accurately as possible and to this end I used the little information I had to make a start.  First I needed to verify the accuracy of this, and second, my task was to try and fill the very large gaps of our knowledge of her.  I believe I owed it to Sylvia Brown’s memory as a veteran, and to the successive generations of Nelson nurses, to tell Sylvia’s story in full so they would have an appreciation of exactly who the Matron was whose photograph and medals now graced the history wall of their hospital.   

Finding Sylvia Brown’s roots

Given the shortcomings of the reference material I had to work with, I decided to discount it all in favour of Sister Brown’s QAIMNSR file which I had obtained.  The applications therein had been completed in her own hand and so were likely to be the most correct information available.  

By coincidence one of the top (latest) entries of Sister Brown UK file was a request made by her to the War Office after the war, for a copy of her “Record of War Service.”  This she had received in 1921, sent directly to her via the Waiapu Hospital Board, the administering body of Te Puia Springs Hospital in the Hawkes Bay she was working at.  Being a military file, had her RWS been sent care of the NZ Defence Secretary’s office as was normal procedure between Allied military forces, a second copy would have been automatically generated and archived before on-forwarding to Sister Brown – this is the kind of wartime / peacetime administrative challenges researchers are often faced with resolving (usually by spending money!).  This then was also the reason there was only post-war bumph in Sister Brown’s archived NZEF file.

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YORKSHIRE

Birth Date and Place

Confirming when and where Sylvia Brown had been born was central to building her past.  Hopefully this would also lead me to her family and an understanding what had prompted this life-long spinster and nurse to leave her ancestral home, emigrate to New Zealand, return to England and volunteer for war service, and then return to NZ to live out her life in Nelson, in relative obscurity Nelson?

Starting with her birth, the file immediately clarified a previous unknown – the date Sylvia was born.  The file stated: 2 December 1883 (not 1884 as was recorded in other records), and her Place of Birth was confirmed as York.  The problem with this however was that I could find no record of births in York for 2 December 1883?  There was no Ancestry.com record of her birth, nor was she listed in any on-line records for the County of Yorkshire.  I cross checked with the Yorkshire and All England Census records – again, nothing – Sylvia Daisy Brown simply did not exist?  My default thinking in such circumstances is to suspect illegitimacy.

Not finding any reference to Sylvia Daisy Brown was highly unusual, particularly as Sylvia had been a spinster all her life.  Unless she had been married or changed her name for some reason, she should have appeared at least once!  The other deficiency that struck me reading her birth details was the lack of any reference to parents or family. 

I would need to find a link between Sylvia’s birth and the existing Yorkshire census records if I was to find out who her mother, father, family and place of birth were, and to trace her movements before she enrolled for nursing.  For the moment I was stuck!

Registration anomalies

From previous experience I have found that the registration of a child’s birth is generally not done immediately, nor even proximate to, a child’s birth date.  Most families get around to it after some time has passed and so since there was no urgency in these years, registrations made up to six months after a birth was not uncommon.  Within a single year, births, deaths and marriages were registered in the Quarter in which they occurred (more or less) – Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep and Oct-Dec.  However if the registration was not recorded in the Quarter of the birth, then it would likely happen in the following Quarter.  Given this delay, if a birth occurred during the Last Quarter of a year (as Sylvia’s did – 2 Dec 1883), the baby’s registration year would probably be done by the parents in the First Quarter of the new year, and this is exactly what I believe occurred with Sylvia‘s birth – born 2 Dec 1883, registered in the Jan-Mar Quarter of 1884.  In New Zealand the same situation can and does happen today, but the occurrences are far fewer as the law requires a child’s birth to be registered within eight weeks of birth – a trap for the unwary! 

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Overview 

It was clear from the above plus a cursory viewing of census, electoral rolls and NZ newspapers there was very little about this woman anywhere and that I was going to have difficulty finding accurate information from which I could base my search of Sister Brown’s early life in England.  I started with her public nursing career records in NZ such a registrations and from here would work backwards to England.  I gathered the available nurse and midwife registration references, and a couple of articles from NZ newspapers that related to Sylvia hospital appointments.  These showed she trained at the London Temperance Hospital from 1906-1908, graduated in 1908 as a State Registered Nurse (RN) and Midwife.  Leaving England in 1909, Sister Brown went to Australia for three years before emigrating to New Zealand in 1912.  She had held a number of posts in NZ hospitals before WW1.  Sister Brown returned to the UK.  in 1915, enlisted into the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) and served in both England and France for three and a half years, before returning to New Zealand in 1919.  Sister Brown was appointed Matron at Nelson hospital in 1920,  retired in 1937 and died in 1950.  There was no indication whether she had ever became a naturalised New Zealander.

There was no obvious evidence she was (ever) married and appeared not to have had any family in New Zealand.  There was nothing of any note about her in any of the Nelson newspapers of the day, or the history websites other than her appointment as Matron at Nelson.  No death notice, or record of a funeral other than her date of death and the fact she had been buried in Nelson.  A check of the NZ Army Nursing Service Association website to see if she had served with the NZANS at any time, also drew a blank.  For a woman who had been Matron of Nelson Hospital for 17 years, Sister Brown proved to have been remarkably anonymous.  

The early years in Yorkshire 

The key to finding Sylvia Brown’s past was in her name.  I had initially looked for any record that contained Sylvia Daisy Brown.  There were several census and BDM records which made reference to various combinations of her first names Sylvia, Daisy and Brown such as Daisy Sylvia Brown, S.D. Brown, Daisy S. Brown etc, but none of these in the Yorkshire censuses were within the year range for Sister Brown.  I then checked the nursing registrations since they also carried the address of each nurse at the time of annual re-registration.  There were entries for a Sylvia Brown and several more for Daisy S. BROWN with the address, “c/o Mrs Lamond, Great Fishall by Tunbridge.”  This was the nearest to Sylvia Brown’s full name I had come in any registration.  What’s more the years of registration matched the years Sister Brown had undertaken her training at the London Temperance Hospital.  I had found her!  Back I went to the Yorkshire BDM records and censuses to try and locate the birth date and place of Daisy S. Brown. 

The Boston Spa baths the village was named after.

Looking firstly for BROWN births that included combinations of Daisy S. Brown, Daisy Sylvia Brown or D. S. Brown, I consulted all Yorkshire birth, death and census records between the years of 1841 and 1901.  In these I found only one entry which seemed to fit Sister Brown’s birth date.  The 1891 West Riding of Yorkshire census showed that a “Frances BROWN (49), Lodging-house Keeper, and daughter “Daisy S. BROWN (7)” were living in the High Street of a village named Boston Spa.  This meant that Daisy S. Brown would have been born in 1883/1884.  But that was as far as it went – no other records for Daisy S. Brown?

Frances Brown’s address was listed as 54 Main Street, Clifford with Boston, Boston Spa which was near a Boy’s Preparatory School.  The lodging-house was the boarding hostel for the pupils of the Prep School.  I looked for evidence of a Mr Brown, presumably Daisy’s father but could not find any male named BROWN linked to Frances or Daisy Brown.  A check of the Yorkshire Registry of births, Deaths and Marriages for “Brown” males in the area – nothing in 18901, 1891 or 1871 that related to Boston Spa, or the parish of Spofforth that Boston Spa was situated in.

I then looked for a birth record for Daisy S. BROWN – nothing, however I did find a birth record for Daisy S. MORRELL whose birth was registered at York in 1884.  Apart from the Morrell surname, there was definitely some very coincidental elements to this find – same first name, same initials, location, and a birth year very close to Sylvia Brown’s stated birth date, 2 December 1883.  Could Daisy S. Brown and Daisy S. Morrell be the same person?

These details seemed to bear a close resemblance to the Frances and Daisy S. BROWN who appeared in the 1891 census?  I went back to Sister Brown’s military file and nursing registration records searching for another detail that might confirm my suspicion.  While the names of her parents were not recorded, I did note the sequence of her name had varied on occasions.  During her nursing training (1906-1908) her registration papers recorded her name as Daisy Sylvia Brown.  Her UK nursing registration and the midwives registration records referred to, Sylvia D. Brown whilst her UK military record reflected several combinations – Sylvia Daisy Brown, Sylvia Brown and Sylvia D. Brown.  In New Zealand, Sister Brown’s nursing records had shown she was only ever known, and signed herself simply as Sylvia Brown while her cemetery plaque in Nelson states, Sylvia D. Brown.  It was looking very possible that Daisy S. Brown, Daisy S. Morrell and Sylvia D. Brown and Sylvia Daisy Brown were one in the same person?  More evidence was required.

The MORRELLs of Follifoot

Frances Morrell was well documented in the West Riding census over several consecutive years.  They showed her family had been resident in the rural hamlet of Moor Side, Follifoot since at least 1841.  Follifoot is situated in the parish of Spofforth in the West Riding of North Yorkshire, roughly midway between Harrogate and Wetherby.  It is dominated by several features such as Spofforth Castle, Plumpton Rocks and the Rudding Park Estate.  The nearest major city is  Leeds to the south west.

Samuel and Mary Morrell (nee WELLS) were tenant farmers whose roots were in Pannal, just four kilometres from Follifoot.  In 1851 Samuel and Mary were farming 110 acres in Follifoot, the farm now part of Rudding Park Estate which also includes the former  Oakwood Estate once owned by the Brearleys.  Frances Morrell, the second youngest child of nine, was born in 1842; her eldest sibling Rebecca in 1825 followed by Ann, Mary, Thomas Wells, Hannah, Samuel Jnr, John William and baby Sarah Morrell in 1844.  Frances Morrell’s birth record showed she had been born at Knaresborough, about 11 km north of Follifoot and Spofforth which also sits on the fringes of Rudding Park.  I located records for Frances, her parents and most of her siblings at Follifoot in every West Riding census from 1841 to 1871. 

In tracing the Morrells I found that Samuel Morrell Snr had died in 1880 aged 77, leaving his wife Mary (81), youngest son John William (40) and Frances (39) as the only family members still living on their Follifoot farm (by then reduced to 23 acres).  The 1881 census showed Mary Morrell had died (1883) which left only Frances (41) and brother John William Morrell (43) at home to manage the land.  This was also the last time Frances MORRELL appeared in any UK census. 

Sister Brown noted in her enlistment application that her nearest relative was “Robert Brearley Esq. – 1st Cousin and Guardian.”  My next step was to find out how Sylvia was connected to Robert Brearley and since he had been her guardian, did this  mean that she had no father, or no known father, or had perhaps had been orphaned or abandoned?

The BREARLEYs of Batley

Batley – Commercial St, Batley

A ‘guardian’ suggested Sister Brown had been in the care of one from an early age.  On the face of it this seemed an odd congregation – the Morrells being a tenant farming family of limited means, and the Brearleys, a self made and highly successful family of influence and wealth made in the textile industry with and international export clientele in France, Germany, Belgium, the Americas and throughout the United Kingdom.

To find the some of the answers I would need to first reconstruct the Brearley family to find out where exactly the connection between the Brearleys and the Morrells occurred.  In the period 1841 to 1911 there were numerous Brearley families mentioned in the Yorkshire censuses, the majority of whom resided in and around the town of Batley.  In the 1911 census I found one Robert Brearley Esq. who was by occupation a “woollen manufacturer” and manager/owner of the massive Queen Street Mill in Batley – this was obviously Sylvia’s first cousin.  Robert’s older brother Arthur assisted Robert with the running of the mill, and his two younger brothers, Henry and Thomas Percival Brearley, were employed as workers at the mill.  

BATLEY and ‘Shoddy’

Batley is a very old town in the West Riding of Yorkshire.  It was mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086 and was listed in the 1379 Poll Tax.  The parish church, All Saints, was erected in the 15th century during the reign of Henry VI (1422-61).

Batley c1890 – a perpetual smog enveloped the mill town.

Batley became a major industrial centre as a result of the the woollen and textiles industry development following the invention of ‘shoddy’, a cloth made from recycled wool invented ion 1813 by Batley’s Benjamin Law.

Men in the 19th century generally owned one good or “Sunday suit” which was of the finest black broadcloth and worn with a white shirt and a black tall hat.  At home the jacket was removed and the shirt and pants were covered with a blue apron.  A suit lasted from 5 to 7 years.  Week-day trousers of the working man were made of a large percentage of cotton cord.

‘Shoddy’ –  The process involved grinding woollen rags into a fibrous mass and mixing this with some fresh wool. Law’s nephews later came up with a similar process involving felt or hard-spun woollen cloth, the product in this case being called ‘mungo’.  The manufacture of shoddy and mungo was by the 1860s, a huge industry in West Yorkshire, particularly in and around the Batley and Dewsbury areas.  It created a national and international demand for rags and waste wool, and made clothing much more affordable.

Shoddy came to mean ‘cheap and nasty’ almost certainly because of the American Civil War (1861–65).  Recruitment of huge armies on both sides created an immense demand for uniforms, which some manufacturers struggled to meet (or exploit) with poor-quality shoddy.  This led to stories of soldiers’ clothing falling to pieces after just a few days’ wear, or even in heavy rain.

Robert Brearley & Son ~ Queen Street Mill, Batley (1853-1935) – circa 1880.

Queen Street Mill

A search of the social history of Batley and the woollen manufacturing industry in Yorkshire reveals that Robert Brearley (1808-1866) had started in the manufacturing industry after years of operating a weaving loom in one corner of the living room of his and wife Elizabeth’s cottage in Batley.  He partnered with his brother-in-law Joseph Hall in taking over the Clerk Green Mill and turned its fortunes around.  By the early 1850s trade was good and manufacturers were experimenting with different weaves.  Robert had perfected a particular and lasting quality of ‘shoddy’ by blending materials which became much sought after.  Robert Brearley was one manufacturer who is said to have made a great deal of money out of what were called “Marble goods” which enabled him to build a new mill.  The foundation stone was laid on the first of March 1853 by his son Thomas (1835-1890).  It was said that the mill was to be called The Marble Factory, but it is as the Queen Street Mill that it became known.   

Batley – the original Primitive Methodist Chapel, c.1886 – nicknamed the ‘Shoddy Temple.’ 

It was the quality of Robert Brearley & Son’s shoddy that set it apart from other producers.  He had started exporting to Europe and the Americas which set the Brearley manufacturing industry on a path to expansion and wealth.  Robert and Elizabeth Brearley had five girls and only one son, Thomas, who after his father died would take over the business but retain his name.  Thomas’s and Hannah Brearley’s family fortunately was the reverse of his father’s fortunes in that he had four boys and one girl.  The boys were all put to work in the business as the mill grew into a massive complex (above) whose primary product was ‘shoddy’.  

The same ‘Shoddy Temple’ today, otherwise known as the  Batley ZION Methodist Chapel. 

The Brearley’s manufacturing empire was at its zenith 1880-1900 but lasted only two more generations before the family was out of the business.  Thomas Brearley died in 1890 and second eldest Robert Brearley Jnr (1861-1929) took the helm along with his older brother Arthur.  The two younger brothers, Henry and Thomas Percival Brearley initially had worked in the mills but later pursued other manufacturing interests.  Robert Jnr continued to trade as Robert Brearley & Son until his death while on a business trip to Mentone in the south of France, in 1929.  The mill went into liquidation six years later in 1935.  It was eventually in the ownership of Jack Stross Ltd., but that too was to close in 1959. 

The success of the Queen Street Mill and the production of shoddy by the Brearleys had spanned 80+ years.  It not only made them  wealthy and influential but each successive generation had contributed greatly to the growth and prosperity of Batley, both in terms of financial capital and employment.  They had been major contributors to building the Batley Hospital, and the Batley Methodist Central (Zion) Chapel in the town square.  Such was the Brearley influence that even the Chapel, in a nod to the family, was known by the town’s folk as the “Batley Shoddy Temple.”

The BREARLEY – MORRELL connection

When Thomas Brearley had married on 27 May 1856 it was to a Moor Side girl from Follifoot named Hannah Morrell (1835-1899), the elder sister of Frances Morrell (1842-1899).  Thomas had built the Oakwood House in Batley on a large estate that now forms part of the Rudd Park Estate and which happens to have on its boundaries to the NW, NE and SE, the villages of Pannal, Spoffoth (Follifoot) and Boston Spa.   

So what did this have to do with the birth of Daisy Sylvia Brown, aka Sister Sylvia Brown?  The first clue came in the 1871 census.  Residing at Oakwood House in Batley was Thomas BREARLEY, the owner of the Queen Street Mill, his wife Hannah and sons Arthur, Robert (10), Henry and Thomas Percival Brearley.  Also at the house was “Frances MORRELL (28) – Single – Sister-in-Law.”  This entry obviously proved that Hannah was Frances’s sister – family connection confirmed.  What it also meant was that should Frances Morrell ever have a child in the future, the young 10 year old Robert Brearley Jnr (later owner/manager of the Queen Street Mill) would be that child’s first cousin.

Daisy S. BROWN or Daisy S. MORRELL ?

Sylvia Brown had stated in her military enlistment application that both parents were “Deceased.”  Whilst the identity of her father remained unknown, the York Death Register recorded the burial (and presumably death) of one Frances MORRELL (59) in the Apr-Jun Quarter of 1899 at Wetherby.  That also accorded with Frances Brown’s age in the 1891 Census of Boston Spa, give or take a few months. 

In the absence of a documented marriage for Frances BROWN, or any apparent existence (or death) of Daisy’s father named BROWN, I believe it is safe to conclude that Daisy S. MORRELL and Daisy S. BROWN, ergo Daisy Sylvia BROWN, Sylvia D. BROWN, and Sylvia BROWN are all one in the same person.  As I continued down this and explored her wider family connections, the evidence became overwhelming.

NOTE: for the purposes of continuity, I will refer to Sylvia Brown by her birth name DAISY from this point until she assumes the name SYLVIA in preference to Daisy, circa 1909.

Who was Daisy’s Father ?

The most pressing of question was whether Daisy’s birth had been legitimate or illegitimate?  To answer this I needed to find out whether or not there was a “Mr Brown”, or perhaps a marriage record of someone else to Frances Morrell, before or after Daisy’s birth.  If I found a husband (or man) named Brown who could be clearly linked to Frances and Daisy’s birth, the possibilities proffered below could be ruled out.  But I could not and became even more convinced that Daisy Sylvia Morrell [Brown] was illegitimate.

With the information I had gathered to date, I theorised over Daisy’s paternal possibilities by looking closely at Frances’s status, age and location between 1872 and March-April 1883 when Daisy would have been conceived, and . 

Frances Morrell was born about 1842, being a Brearley ‘extended family’ member by marriage (via her sister Hannah Brearley, nee Morrell, her presence at Oakwood House in 1871 suggested she was more than a “Visitor”, possibly living there to assist her sister Hannah in some fashion, or perhaps she was employed at Oakwood in some domestic capacity, or even working for her brother-in-law Thomas Brearley in his Queen Street Mill?  It would have been too far to travel from Follifoot on any regular basis, to any from any other type of work beyond what she was doing on the farm at Follifoot.

To put Frances Morrell’s status and residential circumstances into perspective at the time Daisy S. Morrell [Brown] was conceived (Mar-Apr 1883), Frances was single and of mature age, in fact at 41 years of age in 1883 she was more than middle aged when one considers the average age at death for women was around 60 at this time.  It could also have been that Frances being aware of her age may well have wished to have a child before she was very much older – her biological clock was ticking!  

Frances had ample opportunities for a ‘liaison’ with any number of available males either in Batley, Follifoot or latterly in Boston Spa.  At Oakwood there were her four barely eligible Brearley male cousins (all younger than Frances) who worked at their father Thomas Brearley’s Queen Street Mill and still living at Oakwood House.  There were also the two families of staff who maintained the Oakwood estate and who occupied two separate houses within estate; three of the males were of age and eligible.  The Queen Street Mill itself employed around 400 workers (mainly males) and that was quite apart from many more who worked in the more than 70 mills of varying sizes that populated Batley.  The expansion of cloth manufacturing and textile processing in Batley had seen the population go from a sedate 7,000 in 1841, to 21,000 in 1851 and by 1891 it had exceeded 128,000.  

Following the death of Samuel Morrell in 1880, and their mother Mary Morrell in 1883, Frances (41) and her old brother John William (43) were the sole remaining Morrell family members living at Follifoot.  It is unknown when exactly Frances went to live in Boston Spa but to recap, the first census record in which she appeared as the Lodging-house Keeper was 1891 – Frances ‘Brown’ as she then was, was 49 years old and daughter Daisy ‘Brown’ was 7 years of age.  

A less likely hypothesis but one not to be totally dismissed was that Frances became pregnant to a person known only to her which could have been from any location.  She may have remained at Follifoot to have the baby, or had simply moved away at an appropriate time to have her baby, perhaps to a convenient village (like Boston Spa) where she was unknown, secured a position as Lodge-house Keeper, had her baby, and continued to live there without any undue attention from anyone. 

In the absence of proof positive, I resist the temptation to speculate any further on Daisy’s paternity.  Suffice to say I could find no definitive record that would prove the identity of Daisy S. Morrell’s father.  My personal belief is she had been born illegitimate. 

Where was Daisy S. MORRELL born ?

My conclusions here resulted from information pertinent to establishing where Daisy had been born:

  • The YORK Registry shows that Daisy S. Morrell’s year of birth was registered at York in the first quarter of 1884.  This is proximate to Sylvia D. Brown stated date of birth of 2 Dec 1883.  This of course did not automatically mean the birth had occurred in York.  York was the largest city in the West Riding and therefore the centre for the county and parish administrative records such as the registrations of births, deaths and marriages.  
  • A familial connection existed between the Morrell and Brearley families via Hannah Brearley (nee Morrell).
  • Frances MORRELL was ‘unmarried’ in 1881, and no longer living at Follifoot by 1891.
  • Had Frances Morrell been married when she had Daisy, both parents would have been recorded for the birth, an address, and possibly a separate record of baptism – none of these I was able to find which again reinforced my belief that Daisy’s birth was illegitimate.
  • Frances [Morrell] BROWN and daughter Daisy S. BROWN were living in the High Street at Boston Spa in 1891 according to the census; this was their first appearance in public records under the surname of BROWN.  
  • Frances [Morrell] BROWN remained in Boston Spa until her death eight years later (presumably at Boston Spa).  The York Registry records only her burial in 1899 at Wetherby, just 2km from Boston Spa.
  • Frances BROWN’s death was registered in her own name, Frances MORRELL and not BROWN.

Conclusion:  Again, in the absence of a definitive birth record or any other record after the 1891 census that might bear her or Frances [Morrell] Brown’s name, it is impossible to name the location of Daisy’s birth;  York was the only place mentioned in connection with her birth, the place her birth was registered in 1884. 

Why BROWN and Boston Spa?

Boston Spa 1885 – High Street at the time Frances & Daisy Brown lived there.

In considering this question I gave weight to the proposition that a pregnant Frances Morrell was assisted in her circumstances possibly at the insistence of her sister Hannah Brearley.  Boston Spa was a safe and trusted environment sufficiently far enough from Follifoot, Spofforth and Batley  where she was well known, to avoid as far as possible any scandal or impact on should the father be known.   By providing Frances with a residence and an income as the Lodging-house Keeper of the Boys Prep School in Boston Spa, she could sustain her either before, or after the baby was born, in anonymity.  By also adopting an unassuming name such as “BROWN”, the presence of a baby/child with her could be easily explained away by a “widow”, Daisy’s aunt, her step-mother, grandmother or similar but only in a place she was unknown.  

Knowing what I now do of the personalities and future events that affected this family, in retrospect I considered the following hypothesis as a credible possibility:

  • It is 13 kms between Follifoot and Boston Spa which even in those days was not an unreasonable distance for people who may have known Frances Morrell, to travel either on foot or by horse/coach and whom she may meet unexpectedly in the street. Follifoot was rural and sparsely populated while Batley was a town approaching city status, such was its prosperity and speed of growth. 
  • On the other hand, Batley is 51 kms from Boston Spa, a distance which would have provided a much greater buffer likely to prevent routine contact with people Frances knew or associated her with the Brearleys.  A Lodging-house Keeper’s position, being one surrounded by children of varying ages including the children of women staff members employed at the Lodging-house, thereby providing a natural mask for any maternal indiscretion.  As the child grew it would simply blend into the occupants of the Lodging-house and be seen as just another pupil or one of the staff’s children.

Granted, this is conjecture but certainly it would be an effective means of deflecting any unwanted attention or a connection to any person who stood to lose their reputation or name, should that person be linked to an illegitimate child of their making?  This still doesn’t answer the question of exactly who Daisy S. Brown’s father was, but I fear it is as close to the truth as I have the time to find. 

With this information, I must leave you to draw you own conclusions.

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BOSTON SPA to TILDONK

Early education

Having dealt with the possibilities of Daisy’s origin as far as is possible, the next phase of her life is equally mysterious and interesting, again with more questions than answers.  Growing up in Boston Spa, it would have been reasonable to assume that Daisy’s first couple of years of infant education may have occurred while her mother was the Lodge-keeper at the Boston Spa Prep School.  Class sizes for the infant boys would have been more than capable of absorbing one infant girl belonging to the student’s ‘house mother.’  The alternative was a private tutor.  There were numerous small schools in Boston Spa conducted in the houses of the educated few.  Small classes (5-7 children) were provided as an act of benevolence by some to educate the children of the poor who could not afford to pay for education – Daisy could have gone to any of these? 

European school days

Tildonk – the Ursuline Convent School and Chapel are clearly visible at centre right.

Whilst I could not find any particular evidence of Daisy’s infant education in Boston Spa (if any), I was able to trace her later schooling history from entries she had made in her QAIMNSR enlistment application.  In answer to the question of where she had been educated, Daisy had written: “Ursuline, Tildonk Brussels; Breslau, Carlowitz, Germany; The College. Boston” 

On the face of it, a Catholic schooling in Europe seemed a most unlikely start to the education of a seven year old from Follifoot/Batley/Boston Spa, possibly illegitimate, fatherless, a working mother of limited means (Lodging-house Keeper), and from presumably a Methodist family background (Morrells and Brearleys).  Travelling the 700 kms to Belgium would have been a substantial expense and which undoubtedly would also require a chaperone to accompany Daisy, plus accommodation and travelling expenses for the journey (rail, ship, rail) and that was before her tuition and board was paid for.  Someone of means I imagine must have had a hand in making this happen.  A cousin perhaps?

The Ursulines

Ursuline Sisters in the gardens of Tildonk Convent School – 1909.

Not having the remotest clue what “Ursuline, Tildonk” might be (other than it was in Brussels), I asked ‘Mr Google’ for assistance.  Tildonk is a village in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant, near the borders of Germany and Poland.  

The Ursulines refers to a number of religious institutes of the Catholic Church which still exist.  The best known group was founded in 1535 at Brescia, Italy by St. Angela Merici (1474–1540) for the education of girls and care of the sick and needy. Their Patron Saint is Saint Ursula.  The Ursulines are divided into two branches; the monastic Sisters of Order of St. Ursula (O.S.U.), among whom the largest organizations are the Ursulines of the Roman Union.  The other branch is the Sisters of the Company of St. Ursula, who followed the original form of life established by their founderess.  They are commonly called the Angelines.

Tildonk Convent School

Stable in Tildonk where Pastor John Lambertz started the convent school in 1818.

Both the Ursuline Convent School and Church in Tildonk were founded around 1818 by Pastor John Lambertz, a benevolent Belgian Catholic priest who saw the need for educating girls who had no means of education, literacy, or catechesis.  Pastor Lambertz very much wanted to do something for them and consulted with other priest.  In the end he started a small school in, as if by divine intervention, a stable with three young ladies between the ages of 21 and 23 who had begged him to take them in as they were devoutly intent upon becoming Nuns.  They became the three original Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk.  As well as providing a benevolent education in the name of charity and succour to the poor, sick and afflicted, a commitment to the faith and spreading the ‘Word of God’ were equally important parts of the Sisters’ education and ‘repayment’.  The Convent School later took in boarders from the ages of 5-18 who were in the main, daughters of British servicemen whose parents wanted them to have an education that was not disrupted by the frequent postings military personnel were subjected to. 

Breslau–Carlowitz, Germany

The Ursuline Convent in Breslau today.

In 1901, 112 years after the French Revolution, the French Parliament voted in favour of a ‘Law of Association’ which gave the signal for the persecution of religions and priests.  The Ursuline Sisters were also not immune from this persecution.  Together with the priests, the Ursulines were forced to abandon their schools and religious institutions and leave their homeland, by a hostile French Government who had driven them from their Convent and School in Bouloigne-sur-Mer and had passed laws that made it impossible for the Sisters to continue their work of Christian Education anywhere in France.  This flowed northward and the same occurred in Belgium.  The Ursulines was just one religious order thrown out of their houses, and their properties confiscated after the closing of their institutions.  The majority of the Sisters and students in the Tildonk Convent School, fled north to another Ursuline school for the ‘higher education of young ladies’ in the city of Breslau, Germany.  Previously a Polish territory, Breslau bordered the Polish city of Carlowitz which had been taken over during the days of an expanding German Empire. 

After WW2, Breslau was restored to Poland and the two cities combined to become Breslau–Carlowitz (Wrocław-Karłowice as it is now known, or just Wrocław) and is administered as a single city by a Polish administration.  

The Tildonk Convent School in Brussels was reinstated after the Revolution and steadily grew, both in numbers and facilities.  The School has been steadily enlarged over the 200 years it has been operating, into the grand facility it is today that rightly celebrates a status among international schools that is second to none in Europe.  The Roman Catholic Ursuline Sisters can be found in most countries of the world today where they continue to teach and help the less fortunate, whilst spreading the ‘Word of God’ and of their order.

Ursuline Convent at Tildonk, Brussells

Convent School dormitory.

Tildonk Convent School Hall – c.1895. 

Ursuline Tildonk convent reception, festival or banquet hall today.

Pupils peeling potatoes at the Convent School, c.1910.

Ursuline pupils in the Convent Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The College.Boston”

The last place of education Sister Brown had attended was “The College.Boston” (as it was written in her application).  I could find no current or historical reference to “The College” or a “college” of any sort in the village of Boston Spa, the town of Boston in the adjacent county of Lincolnshire, or for any other school Yorkshire school past or present that either had a college, or used the word “college” in its title?  My conclusion at this point was that Daisy must have finished her education at that the only well known college of that name, the very old and highly regarded Catholic institution of “Boston College” in Massachusetts, USA (which is what Google invariably opens to). 

Daisy’s education by the Ursuline Sisters had been underpinned by Catholicism and an ethos based upon charity and compassion for the poor.  Boston College MA caters for such streams of learning, and by departments that offer specialist professional development for those wishing to have careers in medicine, nursing, religious studies and in the church institution, governance, charity and the like – it seemed to fit the kind of profile that was evolving for Daisy and a logical extension to that which Daisy had learned at Tildonk and Breslau (possibly as a future Ursuline Sister or a Daughter of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul; perhaps also a contributing reason  why she had chosen to remain a spinster?).    

I had looked for every possibility of there being a “Boston/Boston Spa” college, high school, anything with that name in England.  The only college long associated with Boston Spa was Wharfedale College ** which was an all boys’ school, so that was ruled out.  I did find another “Boston College” in Ireland which raised my hopes.  It would most certainly have been a Catholic institution however I quickly learned that this was actually an international extension of the Boston College in Massachusetts, USA.  There was no evidence to support Daisy’s attendance at either of these schools.   

Wharfdale Hall, formerly Wharfdale College, in Boston Spa.

Note:  ** The former Wharfedale College is now the Grade II-listed (historic) Wharfedale Hall on Boston Spa’s High Street, the rear of the property sits on the banks of the Wharfedale River.  In the 1850s, a second natural spring in Boston Spa (the reason for its name) was found on the present site of Wharfedale Hall.  A company was formed to build a modest hotel, baths and assembly rooms over the spring however the grandiose plans that resulted saw the company bankrupted before the hotel was opened.  The building subsequently became a boys’ school, Wharfedale College until is was taken over in 1939 by Notre Dame Girl’s School from Leeds as their wartime school.  It was returned to a splendid residence, Wharfedale House, after the war – hence its current name.   

St John’s – Boston Spa

I had a gut feeling that somehow Boston Spa and “The College. Boston” that Daisy/Sylvia had written down were somehow linked.  Had she gone to the American Boston College, I felt sure she would have written “Boston College. USA” or something similar.   

I searched for historical references to education in Boston Spa but found very little of any use – mostly relating to contemporary education.  I then happened upon a 2008 newspaper article that reported the up-coming demolition of a former school building in Boston Spa.  The building had originally been part of a school called the “Deaf and Dumb School” which I later learned had been re-named several times over its first 50 years – originally St John’s Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and then St John’s Catholic Deaf and Dumb College, St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf and Dumb and finally St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf, ** the name it retains to this day.  Web searches of these names produced several useful results and took me first to a Catholic Priest from Belgium and then to Sheffield in North Yorkshire. 

Note:  While the School’s official name was/is St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf, it was referred to by past pupils and the deaf community as just “Boston Spa” as it is easier to lipread “Boston Spa” was also the first school in England that used a sign language other than British Sign Language, namely Belgian Sign Language,/ which was introduced from Brussels by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.  St Vincent’s School for the Deaf at Tollcross in Glasgow, also taught by the Daughters of Charity, had previously used Irish Sign Language.

The Belgian Priest

Monsignor Désiré Pierre Antoine de Haerne – 1858

Monsignor Désiré Pierre Antoine de Haerne (1804–1890) was a Belgian priest and one time Director (1856-1869) of the Royal Institution for Deaf Boys (and Dumb Girls) in Brussels, Belgium which had been founded by the Sisters (ka Daughters) of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul for girls who were deaf, dumb (mute) and blind.  This inspired his lifelong interest in working with the deaf and  and abiding concern for those children, generally of the poor, who without any education would be unable to support themselves by getting work when they were older.  The success of the “deaf and dumb” school in Brussels where he had developed programs and trained the first two deaf English girls in 1869, encouraged him to take the concept of a school for the “deaf and dumb” to England.  The first school was established in 1870 in a rented cottage at Handsworth, Woodhouse, Sheffield in South Yorkshire.  The purpose was to teach deaf children, both boys and girls, to read and writing, and some hand skills to enable them to find work. 

When Mons. de Haerne opened the Handsworth cottage school as St John’s Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, it had the capacity for accommodating 12 resident students.  When the roll reached 41 by the end of 1874, the Monsignor sought a larger premises.  With the help of the Bishop of Leeds and generous donations, a place was eventually found in the form of a converted house in Boston Spa which had formerly been the “Boston Spa College”, by then a defunct school for gentlemen’s sons.

St John’s Boston Spa College, 1875

Re-named St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf it was relocated from Handsworth in 1875 to 27 Church Lane in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire.  The school opened in the same year initially with four deaf and dumb pupils.  Monsignor de Haerne with the help of two Daughters (Sisters) of Charity of St Vincent de Paul who had bought from Belgium to assist him with the school in Handsworth, also ran the new school with the same Vincentian Family ethos.  This school was the predecessor of a much larger school which evolved over the next fifty years into a fully fledged, purpose built school for deaf-mute children who had to be a minimum of seven years of age, of sound mind and capable of instruction, many of whom were boarded at the school, some permanently.  Inmates typically stayed at the school for six years.  The school flourished and expanded under the management and instruction of the Daughters of Charity, accepting children from every corner of the UK.  New areas were used as workshops where the boys learned tailoring, shoe-making, carpentry, bookbinding and printing, while the girls learned cookery and household work, gardening, needlework and later, typing.  

For almost a century and a half, thanks to the foresight and inspiration of Monsignor Désiré de Haerne, the Daughters of Charity have continued to apply their Vincentian Family ethos at St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf in Boston Spa, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2020.

St Johns School for the Deaf, Boston Spa – c.1908 

With this information, I had a moment of clarity re Sister Brown’s reference to “The College.Boston” – the references to Boston Spa College and St John’s Catholic Deaf and Dumb College, Boston Spa known by locals as “The College” and the use of “Boston Spa” by former pupils to refer to the College, now made perfect sense.  Sister Brown’s reference to “The College. Boston” in her enlistment application was simply a short/corruption of the name used (probably used by the locals) to reference St John’s Catholic Deaf and Dumb College.  The College was as mentioned before referred to as just ‘Boston Spa’ by former deaf and dumb pupils for its ease of lip reading.  Add to this the fact “The College” had also been situated in the former “Boston Spa College” building, there was sufficient evidence amassed from all the references to the “deaf and dumb” school in Boston Spa for me to draw a conclusion as to which school Daisy had attended – St John’s, ergo “The College.Boston Spa.”

Mons. Désiré P.A. de Haerne, c.1865 with honours bestowed by the Belgian King, France, Spain and Portugal.

It was very possible that Daisy’s continued education was influenced by the Mons. de Haerne and the Daughters of Charity either before or after she had returned from Belgium.  There is also the distinct possibility Mons. de Haerne had singled Daisy out as a potential tutor, having met her on one of his frequent visits back to Brussels from where he managed all his deaf and dumb schools.  As a Catholic priest very well known in Brussels, undoubtedly he would also have had close contact with Ursuline Sisters and the Convent School at Tildonk.  Mons. de Haerne’s need for tutors in his expanding school who were conversant with the Catholic Daughters of Charity ** education methods, language and ethos would have made Daisy Brown a prime candidate to be employed at St John’s, and the bonus was she actually came from Boston Spa!  This the Monsignor had done previously with two deaf English girls whom he took to Belgium to be educated as tutors, both of whom once suitable skilled, returned to Boston Spa as tutors at the then St John’s Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.  

To that end, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mons. de Haerne could have also facilitated Daisy’s chaperoned travel and entry to Tildonk on the understanding she would be schooled at the international Convent School and if he results were suitable, then be trained under the guidance of Mons. de Haerne to be a tutor at St John’s when she returned to Boston Spa?  

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In light of the above, I warmed considerably to the idea that Daisy’s Brown’s Aunt Hannah Brearley (on behalf of her sister Frances), together with her son Robert Brearley Jnr, who was already in the starting blocks to take over the mill from his ailing father Thomas, somehow had been involved in the decision for Daisy to go to Tildonk.  It would also not have been beyond the Brearleys influence or benevolence to financially “assist” Monsignor Désiré de Haerne with building works required for his recently relocated St John’s school to Boston Spa, in return for his assistance with placing Daisy at Tildonk Convent School, and with the prospect of employment as a tutor thereafter, should she prove suitable?  These were all possibilities that are reflected further on in the story which are necessary to recall for drawing a feasible conclusion on how Daisy Brown’s life unfolded. 

Regrettably, nothing I found could either confirm or deny any combination of these propositions – but again, the answer I believe lies somewhere within. 

Note:  a minor point to note is that after Sister Brown returned from France prior to her demobilization, she requested a train travel pass to Glasgow before she left England in December 1909 – could this have been to visit some of her former colleague Daughters of Charity that were resident tutors at the St Vincent’s School for the Deaf at Tollcross?  There was another reason for a visit to Glasgow which is revealed a little further on in this story and linked directly to a lady by the name of Wilhemina Hay Lamond, aka Elizabeth Hay Abbott.   

Return to Boston Spa

Daisy returned to Boston Spa from the Breslau-Carlowitz Ursuline school in Germany at about 14 or 15 years of age (1898/1899).  She had proven herself to be a very capable scholar and was fluent in both French and German.  With this background she would have been eminently suited to being guided as a future tutor by the Daughters of Charity at the St John’s school.  Whatever the case, apart from the death of her mother Frances in 1899, there is no record of how exactly Daisy spent the years 1900 to Dec 1904 other than we know now she had applied to attend the Nursing School at the London Temperance Hospital starting in 1905. 

There is one other family that featured in Daisy’s life before this time which only became known once the notes in her military file had been deciphered to reveal the identity of Daisy’s mysterious references to a “Mrs Lamond.”  This will become apparent a little further on in this saga.

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A NURSING CAREER

London Temperance Hospital (LTH)

London Temperance Hospital in Hampstead Road, Camden, London – c.1918

In January 1905 Daisy Sylvia Brown (21) enrolled as a Probationary Nurse at the Nurses Training School, a hospital department within the London Temperance Hospital (LTH) in Hampstead Road, Camden.  The LTH was re-named the National Temperance Hospital (NTH) in 1932. 

The London Temperance Hospital opened 6 October 1873 as an initiative of the National Temperance League and was managed by a board of 12  teetotallers.  Under its rules, the use of alcohol to treat patients was discouraged, but not outlawed: doctors could prescribe alcohol when they thought necessary for exceptional cases.  At the time Daisy enrolled, LTH was under the control of Matron Annie Isabel Richardson, a career nursing sister who was greatly respected and very well liked by her Probationary Nurse charges, and as it happened, was someone who Sylvia would call on for assistance in the years to come.  There is no known reason why Daisy chose to go to the London Temperance Hospital for her training – most major hospitals had their own nurse’s training programmes and could issue a certification for having acquired the requisite experience as a nurse (and midwife) after three years on the job. 

London Temperance Hospital Registered Nurse’s medal (qualified nurse/midwives) – as worn by Sylvia Brown. 

LTH ~ NTH  Registered Nurse’s medal could also be worn suspended from a brooch bar (as above).

“Temperance” itself may have been an influential factor – whilst not knowing if Daisy had been exposed to then ‘demon’ drink via her mother or other family members, the LTH at the time Daisy enrolled had embarked upon ground breaking medical treatments by removing the widespread practice of treating most patient ailments with copious quantities of alcohol, with the exception of those ailments that had shown proven benefits from alcohol consumption.  Perhaps it had also been the impact of her Catholic education with Ursuline Sisters that had influenced her to choose an establishment that was free from alcohol.  Temperance was certainly a theme in the Convent School’s ethos and teachings. 

Whomever paid Daisy’s fees to attend the training at Tildonk is also unknown.  Being her “1st Cousin and Guardian” Robert Brearley may well have paid for this.  Given the fees were initially minimal in return for spreading the ‘word’ and undertaking charitable works, it is unlikely there would much to pay.  As the school gained popularity internationally, the fees went up accordingly.  Apart from the Brearleys who may have funded Daisy for their own particular reasons, one other possibility was that the Lamonds may have paid – these folks we shall meet a little further along in the story.

In April 1908 after two years training, Probationary Nurse Daisy Brown duly gained her London Temperance Hospital Certificate which was the prerequisite for sitting the State Registered Nursing examinations.  These she passed successfully and as a now qualified Staff Nurse, Daisy’s name was entered into the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Roll as No. 11864, thereby also entitling her to use the post nominal letters of “RN” – Registered Nurse.   A further nine months of specialist training followed for her Midwife’s qualification.  After passing the Central Midwives Board (CMB) Certificate in Midwifery, Staff Nurse Daisy Brown’s name was entered on to the UK Midwives Roll as No. 27896 on 15 February 1909.  

LTH – Operating Theatre, c.1918 

LTH – one of the Men’s Wards.

Former London Temperance Hospital

Forrnerly the London Temperance Hospital, the National Temperance Hospital occupied the corner of Hampstead Road and before it was demolished in 2018.

Closed in 1990 after 117 years, the National Temperance Hospital sat in a state of abandonment for 18 years in central London before demolition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Important Note:  At no time did Daisy Sylvia MORRELL ever legally change her surname to Daisy Sylvia BROWN or to Sylvia Daisy BROWN.  Whilst she was required to use her first two names (the order was immaterial) as recorded in the York Registry, for all legal documentation, she remained “Daisy” for the duration of her nursing training.  From the time Sister Brown left the London Temperance Hospital at the end of 1908, thereafter she only ever referred to, and signed, herself as Sylvia Brown or Sylvia D. Brown.   For the sake of continuity, it will be to either (Sister) Sylvia Brown or Sylvia  that I shall refer to from here on.

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The LAMONDs

One of the things that prompted me to try to find out Sister Brown’s origin and back story was that at no stage in any of her documentation had she ever made mention of her family, apart from her “1st cousin and guardian” Robert Brearley.  There was also the series of mentions of a “Mrs Lamond” in both her nursing training and military service records, who invariably had been quoted as Sister Brown’s point of contact and address whenever she was in London.  The address was recorded thus: “C/o Mrs Lamond, Great Fishall near Tonbridge.”  This deepened the mysteries that seemed to surrounded her early life.

Tonbridge (or Tunbridge Wells as it is now) is about 80 km south east of London.  The first occasion Mrs Lamond was cited had been in Probationary Nurse Brown’s Nursing School application.  The next reference to Mrs Lamond was in the 1909 UK Midwives Registration Roll, and again in Sister Brown’s QAIMNSR enlistment application, both as her point of contact while in France and as her leave address whenever Sister Brown returned to London (on three occasions).  Last, Mrs Lamond had invariably had been referenced as Sister Brown’s address while she undertook a course of massage training in London after the war in 1919. 

I looked first for any traces of Mrs Lamond at Batley, Boston Spa, Follifoot, Tonbridge, Great Fishall and the surrounding counties.  Having found only a couple of entries for a Mr Andrew Lamond (Retired) at Great Fishall, Tunbridge, there was no mention of a Mrs Lamond.  My first inclination was to question whether she had died, or perhaps was no longer with Mr Lamond, if indeed he was her husband?  

The number of references to Mrs Lamond suggested to me that Sylvia had known her for quite some time and was a trusted person in Sylvia’s life.  As for any mention of staying with Robert Brearley Esq., her “1st Cousin and Guardian”, there was no evidence to show she had stayed, or ever intended to stay, with the Brearleys at any time.

Mrs Lamond and the RMC

The breakthrough came as a result on an entry in Sister Brown’s records.  I found a single variation to Mrs Lamond’s usual address of “Great Fishall near Tunbridge.”  In a letter dated October 1918 that Sister Brown had submitted to Matron-in-Chief QAIMNS, Mrs  Bechley at the War Office, whilst on sick leave in London, Sylvia had advised Matron Bechley that her address would be: “C/o Mrs Lamond, 36 King Square, Finsbury, London C.” (Central), the place she could be contacted for instructions regarding her post sick-leave employment with QAIMNSR.  

A search of the 1911 London census and a Business Directory revealed that the address in King Square was a ‘Home of Service’ situated next door to St. Clements (formerly St Barnabas) Anglican Church.  The ‘Home of Service’ was headed up by non-other than – “Mrs Lamond” (no initials or first name given!).  A ‘Home of Service’ was part of a benevolent charity with royal patronage (the Queen Alexandra) that provided accommodation and birthing assistance (midwives) for London’s poor and destitute mothers and mother’s to-be.  Many women (and wives) of the well heeled London gentry busied themselves with charity work  to give them a purpose whilst they enjoyed their privilege, the most popular charity to serve being the Royal Maternity Charity.  Mrs Lamond (then aged about 60) had become involved with the RMC after moving to London.  

Royal Maternity Charity (RMC)

Founded in 1757, the Royal Maternity Charity was originally called the ‘Charity for Attending and Delivering poor Married Women in their Lying-in at their Respective Habitations’, later known as the ‘Lying-in Charity for Delivering Poor Married Women at their Own Habitations’ and finally as, the ‘Royal Maternity Charity for Delivering Poor Married Women in their Own Habitations’.  

The Charity offered a service to ‘sober and industrious’ married women ‘destitute of help in time of labour’.  It supplied them with medicines, provided midwives for ‘common cases’ and surgeon accouchers (male ‘midwives’) or physicians for more ‘difficult cases’, allowing them to give birth more safely and comfortably in their own homes.  Aside from the Royal patronage (purse!) and donations, one of the ways in which revenue was obtained to support the service was to accept Probationary Nurses from training institutions (such as the LTH’s internal Nursing School that Sylvia attended) who under the guidance of an accredited nurse/midwife (and a small fee), could gain valuable real-time midwifery training and experience by attending to women the RMC was supporting, either at home or at a Lying-in Hospital.

Mrs Lamond had originally volunteered as one of the RMC’s ‘Visiting Ladies’ whose job it was to visit mothers-to-be and post natal mothers for ‘the purpose of lending material and medical assistance, in cases of great necessity and destitution’.  The ladies visited such cases in either a Homes of Service, at a Lying-In Hospital, and sometimes in their own squalid accommodation, to hand out material relief from the Charity’s Samaritan Fund.  Mrs Lamond had ceased to be a ‘Visiting Lady’ and together with Dr. (Mrs) Willey took on a much more demanding responsibility by running the Home of Service at 36 King Square.  

Finsbury in the early 1900s was a very depressed area of London with high concentrations of poor and consequently a very high birth and mortality rate.  Those women unable to have children delivered at home, or who were destitute and without a home, were offered Lying-in facilities provide by the RMC for no charge whatever.  Homes of Service were established in Finsbury Square and King’s Squares in Central London.  The Homes aside from providing Lying-in facilities until the baby was born, provided meals for “expectant and suckling mothers of the poor” at a nominal charge or in special cases, free of charge.  So popular was the service, expectant mothers would travel 20–30 kilometres to the Lying-in facilities in Finsbury.  One expectant mother, the wife of a “jockey” and resident near Paris, is stated to have come to Finsbury from France for this purpose!  

Connection – Sylvia Brown and the Lamonds

After reading this I concluded that given Sylvia’s nursing and midwifery skills which would have been most useful when required, she  had stayed with Mrs Lamond while possibly assisting her at the King Square ‘Home of Service’.  King Square was also close enough to the War Office for Sylvia to respond to any instruction regarding her post sick leave employment, be it in England or France which had yet to be decided.

While my research to date confirmed a connection between Mrs Lamond and Sylvia, it still did not reveal Mrs Lamond’s actual identity because once again, there were no initials or a first name which would allow me to accurately identify Mrs Lamond and her family members by name, e.g. was the Andrew Lamond (Retired) at Great Fishall a relation, father, husband, son or no relation at all?  

Mrs Lamond unmasked

I decided to take a punt and follow up on “Andrew Lamond (Retired)” to see where he led me.  If I could follow Andrew Lamond’s movements pre-retirement backwards from Tonbridge to see where he and his family had lived and worked, there may be a good chance I could firstly confirm whether “Mrs Lamond” was in fact his wife (or mother?) and secondly, find out her first name from a marriage (or birth) record.  This process might also provide the link that I believed had existed between Mrs Lamond and Sylvia Brown from a time before Sylvia’s nursing training started in 1905. 

As it happened I got as far as the 1891 London electoral register and discovered the Lamonds living at Northumberland Park in Tottenham  – Andrew, Margaret M., Isobel, and Wilhelmina Lamond.  I continued to trace the family until I got back to Scotland and Cortachy, Angus where Andrew had been born in 1848.  Ii was during this process I discovered a previous marriage that Andrew Lamond had to a Jean MATTHEW (1830-1913).  From that union they had a son, Andrew Matthew Lamond (1867-1946).  The odd thing was that all of Andrew Lamond Snr’s census listings that included his wife Margaret, only ever mentioned her as “Mrs Lamond” never once using her first name!  No wonder she was tricky to locate.  After more delving I found a Dundee Parish record for Andrew Lamond’s marriage to a Miss Margaret (sometimes Margot) McIntyre MORRISON, born in 1845 in Perth, Perthshire, Scotland.  Unfortunately this did not take me any closer to understanding how her relationship with Sylvia Brown had eventuated, but by following Andrew B. Lamond and his business I was gaining a larger picture into which Sylvia would eventually fit.

Andrew Lamond was a mercantile clerk in Dundee and after marrying Margaret M. Morrison, they had two daughters – Isabel Taylor Lamond (1879-1914) and Wilhelmina Hay Lamond (1884-1957).  As Andrew’s mercantile interests grew in the wake of significant advances in mechanisation of the many forms of manufacturing, Andrew relocated his family to the commercial hub of London.  The family moved from Dundee to No.2 Plevna Villa, Northumberland Park in the suburb of Tottenham in 1889.  They subsequently moved to No. 77 Northumberland Park which was retained until both had retired to Great Fishall.  Andrew had bought another property at Great Fishall in which their son Andrew Jnr, a bachelor and also a businessman, lived.  The property was most useful as family holiday home, as well as place to stay for Margaret and Wilhelmina whenever they were away from London.  It was also the place where Sylvia had been welcomed to stay as she wished.  

 The Lamond and Brearley connection

Andrew Lamond Snr’s commercial and business acumen made him a very successful and wealthy manufacturer and exporter of jute and its associated products.  As such, he would have routinely been in contact with many other textile and cloth manufacturers in London business circles, and in textile manufacturing hub of Yorkshire.  Undoubtedly this would have bought him into contact with one of the largest and wealthiest manufacturer of ‘shoddy’ in Yorkshire – Thomas Brearley, and later his successor sons Robert and Arthur, as well as the wider family on social occasions, at Great Fishall and Batley.  The Lamond’s and Brearleys had much in common.  Both families had their roots in Scotland, both family heads were highly successful and self made men in the textile industry, both were manufacturers and exporters all over Britain, or Europe and the Americas. 

Cotton mill “doffers” – children being light and nimble replaced empty bobbins on the weaving machines.  A 10 hour day was the norm pre-1900.

The mills were  noisy and dangerous places – no such thing as “occupational heath and safety.”  Children did all the non-skilled jobs like cleaning, sweeping etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The influence of the Queen Street Mill manager Robert Brearley’s widowed mother Hannah, the surviving matriarch of the Brearley manufacturing empire, may have also played a significant part in bringing the two families into together with Margaret Lamond and Hannah Brearley becoming acquainted through their husbands.  Opportunities to grow the friendship between the families would have resulted from accompanied business trips, attendances at social events, their involvement in philanthropic activities, the women’s engagement in charity work and women’s groups, and of course both family’s bond with their faith and the church – the Lamonds and Brearleys were staunchly fundamentalist Methodists.

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In due course Andrew Lamond Snr retired and moved into the Great Fishall house.  Margaret meanwhile continued to commute to the apartment she had retained in London from which to conduct her charity work, for as long as she was able.  Andrew Lamond Snr died at Tonbridge in July 1925 aged 77, and his wife Margaret, at Hampstead just three months later in October 1925 – she was 84. 

Andrew and Margaret Lamond had left their entire estate of £111,432.00 (today’s equivalent approx NZ$ 11,666,000.00) to their widowed youngest daughter Wilhelmina Hay Abbott (George Abbott died in 1947) and to her widower brother-in-law Edward Alfred GIMINGHAM, and three daughters.  Edward was an electrical engineer and had married Wilhelmina’s older sister Isobel Taylor Lamond in 1906; Isobel died unexpectedly in 1914.  Edward was at the time the Factory Manager for an electric lamp manufacturer.  Andrew Lamond Jnr who had been the Managing Director of American Colonial Products importing agency, died in 1947 aged 79. 

As I continued researching the Lamond family, I could see there were instances long before Great Fishall that would have led to a  connection between Mrs Lamond, Wilhelmina and Sylvia.  The biggest hint came from Wikipedia!

Wilhelmina Hay LAMOND

While looking into Wilhelmina’s background I discovered she had a biographical profile on Wikipedia.  Born in Dundee, Scotland in May 1884 (five and a half months after Sylvia) Wilhelmina Lamond had been educated initially at the City of London School for Girls … and then Brussels!  This was too coincidental not to be true as there was only the one prestigious international boarding school for girls in Brussels, albeit an Ursuline Convent School, and that was at Tildonk, the same school Sylvia attended!  When I read this it was clear this was the common denominator between the Lamond and Brearley families. 

Wilhelmina had initially attended the City of London School for Girls and was subsequently enrolled to attend the Tildonk Convent School in Brussels.  With Wilhelmina and Sylvia both being of similar age, there was every reason to believe their attendances at Tildonk very possibly were either at the same time, or at least overlapped.  

Students at Tildonk Convent School generally started at the age of seven and traditionally remained for approximately seven years, whilst taking an annual holiday at Christmas time back at home in England.  Given the possibilities of a relationship between the Lamond and Brearleys to this point, it was small stretch to assume both girls if not previously known to each other before they arrived at Tildonk, would most certainly have made the acquaintance of every other English girl of a similar age during the seven or so years they were in residence.  That being the case, I could then imagine Sylvia leaving Boston Spa anywhere between 1890 and 1894, and Wilhelmina from London possibly between 1891-1894. 

Given the knowledge I had of their enduring friendship after Sylvia had left the UK, it was not hard to see how an schoolgirl  friendship while at Tildonk, and after spending Christmas holidays together back in England (as was the norm for all international students), could develop into a life-long relationship as both Tildonk alumni and virtual ‘step-sisters.’ 

For me this scenario had a high chance of probability.  It would also explain the enduring relationship Sylvia clearly had with Mrs Lamond long before 1905 when it first became known to me.  Aside from Andrew Lamond and Robert Brearley having a common interest in textile manufacturing, with Andrew having a daughter whom he intended to board at Tildonk, and Robert’s (assumed) intention for his niece Sylvia to be also boarded at Tildonk for whatever reason, both men had a shared interest in the girls education which ultimately would have the effect of uniting the families in a bond of friendship.

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RETURN to ENGLAND

Wilhelmina Lamond – her story

When both girls returned from Tildonk around 1899-1900, it is assumed Sylvia went directly to The College back in Boston Spa, and if a tutor, would have been required to board at St John’s with the Sisters of Charity. 

Wilhelmina’s father Andrew Lamond on the other hand, had pre-planned his daughter’s educational path.  He was intent on her entering the mercantile world as a company secretary and accountant and so sent her to London in 1903 to undertake studies and gain experience in both subjects.  

Suffragist and Feminist

Wilhelmina soon tired of this work considering far too mundane to achieve anything significant in her life.  Rather, she had been inspired by the electoral reform in New Zealand which gave women the vote in September 1893, and thereafter, her passion for this same cause in Britain became her focus.  After three years of studying subjects she had little interest in, Wilhelmina abandoned the idea of office work in 1907 and instead, entered the University College London where she pursued a broader course of ethics, modern philosophy, and economics.  It was not long before Wilhelmina became a leading suffragist (as opposed to suffragette) in London, and an equalitarian feminist.  Her profile in suffragist and social benevolence circles grew rapidly.  She proved she was a ‘doer’ and found little difficulty standing up for causes, or gathering followers. 

In 1909 Wilhelmina started organizing the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage.  In that role she campaigned in the Orkney Islands.  She took a position on the executive committee of the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies the next year, along with the founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospital, Elsie Inglis.

Lt. (E) Jasper Andrew Richard ABBOTT R.N. – 1935.

Wilhelmina took time out briefly to get married in 1911 to the well known war correspondent and travel writer, George Frederick ABBOTT (1874-1947).  Their only son, Commander (E) Jasper Andrew Richard ABBOTT, OBE, mid, Coronation Medal (1911-1960) R.N. joined the Royal Navy as an Engineering Officer in 1929 and retired in 1959. 

 For reasons best known to herself, after her marriage Wilhelmina decided to name herself ‘Elizabeth’ Wilhelmina Hay Abbott.**  Perhaps Elizabeth sounded more modern and elegant while Wilhelmina perhaps a little too old fashioned, or European sounding – who knows ? … whatever the case, ‘Elizabeth’ Abbott became very successful in all things she undertook.  She became one of the driving forces and fund raising mastermind (her accountancy studies were of benefit after all) that directly supported both women’s suffrage in Britain and women’s causes generally (mainly health related) up to and beyond women gaining the vote in Britain. 

During the First World War ‘Elizabeth’ toured extensively for two years as a lecturer, going to India, Australia and New Zealand where she successfully raised in excess of £60,000 pounds for the Elsie Inglis Scottish Women’s Hospitals.  Of her travels, she said, “I received unbounded hospitality.”  After the war, she served as an officer of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and edited its newsletter Jus SuffragiiA staunch advocate for the poor and oppressed women, ‘Elizabeth’ was instrumental as the Scottish Committee (Glasgow) Minority Representative for Poor Law Reform which sought to abolish restrictions on women’s right to work.  

Concerned primarily about economic opportunities for women, ‘Elizabeth’ joined Chrystal Macmillan, Lady Rhondda, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and others in founding the Open Door Council (later Open Door International) in 1926, chairing the Council in 1929.  She also chaired the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene for ten years, and was active with the organization for much longer.  With a passion for justice and the underdog, ‘Elizabeth’ campaigned tirelessly over 40 years for the rights of prostitutes.  In her later years she continued work on women’s economic security, as co-author of The Woman Citizen and Social Security (1943), which responded to gender inequalities.  Aside from her passion for justice, ‘Elizabeth’ Wilhelmina Hay Abbott was described as warm-hearted and lovable.  She continued to work on all manner of women’s issues virtually until the day in 1957 she drew her last breath in Essex at age 73.  George Abbott pre-deceased Wihelmina in 1947.

Suffragettes wearing Tartan in solidarity for one of their Scottish members, Mary Phillips (centre, 3rd from left with bouquet) who has just been released from Holloway Prison – London August, 1908.

Suffragettes who had been imprisoned, campaign for women’s rights wearing prison garb.  ‘Elizabeth’ Abbott toured internationally and worked tirelessly as a fund raiser for the Scottish branches as well as in London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  After her death in 1957, one tribute suggested that ‘Elizabeth’ Abbott would be most remembered for her work in the footsteps of Josephine Butler, for the ‘Defence of Prostitutes’.

PS – There are no known publicly available photographs of ‘Elizabeth’ Hay Abbott.

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Sylvia was the antithesis of Wilhelmina’s extroverted exuberance but at the same time she greatly admired her ‘sister’ and her crusading drive for justice and women’s rights.   Sylvia’s personal style was more that of a quiet, correct, ordered, focused and studious soul, content to dedicate her life to the compassionate care of others through her chosen commitment to nursing.  Whilst the two women’s career paths after Tildonk became widely divergent geographically, the dedication and passion each threw into their respective careers cemented a lifelong bond of respect and understanding between them which endured long after Sylvia left England.  

Throughout the ear stages of Wilhelmina and Sylvia’s vocational training, they were able to remain in regular whenever both were in London at the same time.  Sylvia had left England by the time Wilhelmina was married George Abbott in 1911, however passenger shipping records confirmed Sylvia returned to England for about eight weeks in late 1911, no doubt to congratulate her dear friend and to visit with her Sylvia’s stand-in ‘parents’, Margaret and Andrew Lamond.  Apart from her service in England during the First World War, Sylvia returned to England again not long after the death of Andrew and Margaret Lamond in 1925, and again after she had retired.  There is every reason to believe Sylvia and ‘Elizabeth’ continued to corresponded throughout there lives in opposite hemispheres.  The depth of their friendship was evident by a bequest Sylvia had made to ‘Elizabeth’, after her death.   

Womens Political and Social Union (WSPU) publication.

Founders of the WSPU – Annie Kenny and Christabel Pankhurst.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death of Frances Brown

One other factor that may have further cemented Sylvia’s contact with the Lamonds was the death of her mother Frances (Morrell) Brown.  Frances died at Wetherby (2 km from Boston Spa) and was buried in April 1899 at the age of 57 years (the York Register records only her burial, and her age as 59).  Sylvia then 15 years old, is thought to have returned to Boston Spa from Belgium shortly after her mother’s death and so for all intents and purposes, was orphaned, although it is presumed she would have resided at St John’s while coming to grips as a tutor there, whilst her cousin Robert Brearley Jnr, would have become her legal “guardian” in name at this time as she was not yet 21.   

It is a small step from tutoring disadvantaged children at St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf whilst completing her own education to decide upon a nursing career.  Sylvia would have to train at a hospital in London (most large hospitals had their own training scheme) and when not in training e.g. over Christmas, would need somewhere to stay.  Mrs Lamond, as we saw above, not only had a facility at the RMC ‘Home of Service’ which provided opportunities for practical midwifery experience for trainee nurses, but one of the Lamond’s city homes was in nearby Tottenham.  It may have been that after Sylvia’s mother Frances had died, it was a natural step for Mrs Lamond to take Daisy under her wing and keep her with their family.  Her youngest daughter Wilhelmina and Sylvia were about the same age and therefore would likely have made good companions for one another. 

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‘KANGAROOS and KIWIS’

To the far-flung corners of the Empire

Colonial Nursing Association medal.

Looking at the pattern of Sylvia’s life during those early years, I am of the belief that at some point she learned of her illegitimacy for which she would not only have felt a sense of personal shame, but also an abhorrence as it would have contradicted the Catholic Ursuline ethics and education she had been moulded by.  The stigma of illegitimacy (real or perceived) was something I think Sylvia secretly burdened herself with.  In retrospect, her courses of action appeared to indicate a resolve to distance herself from her mother (had she been alive when she returned from Tildonk), and possibly the Brearleys.  Certainly this would help to explain why Sylvia left England once she completed her nursing training, to take up a remote position a world away.  It may also have been the reasons Sylvia emigrated to New Zealand for the rest of her life and not return to her Yorkshire roots.

After gaining her LTH Certificate in Nursing and midwifery qualification, in true Ursuline fashion, Staff Nurse Sylvia Brown applied to join the Colonial Nursing Association (re-named the Overseas Nursing Association in 1919 – same medal design as the CNA), an organisation that placed qualified nurse-midwives in government hospitals in some of the Empire’s more remote and developing countries.  Sylvia was accepted into the CNA program and offered a position in the remote wilds of Western Australia.

SS Runic – 1909

Australia bound

As newly qualified Staff Nurses, Sylvia Daisy Brown (25) and a fellow LTH school student, Julia Sarsfleld Murray (32), left Southampton on the SS Runic on 6 May 1909 bound for Sydney via Vancouver and Capetown.  After the Runic had arrived in Sydney on 19 June, Sylvia and Julia continued on by sea to Melbourne and Adelaide until finally disembarking at Albany, Western Australia.  Both nurses had been given appointments at the one and only government hospital which happened to be situated some 580 kms north-east of Albany in the hot, dusty and very remote desert gold-mining town of Kalgoorlie! 

The main street in Kalgoorlie, c.1920

Crowd watching a parade in Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie in 1911.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kalgoorlie Government Hospital (also known as Hannan’s) was to be Sylvia’s home for the next two and a half years. 

Main Ward – Government Hospital, Kalgoorlie WA c.1920 – also known as “Hannans Hospital” so named after the first man to find gold at Kalgoorlie. 

Initially employed as a general duties Staff Nurse, Sylvia was later appointed Sister-in-charge of the Men’s Ward.  After two years in Kalgoorie Sylvia may well have been tempted by the more temperate climate of New Zealand, or perhaps she was encourage by a friend or colleague, but she applied for a position in NZ.  Certainly it would offer welcome respite from the harsh environmental conditions that Kalgoorlie was renowned for.  In December 1911, having completed two and a half years at the Kalgoorie Hospital, Sylvia resigned her position (and presumably from the Colonial Nursing Service) and made her way back to Sydney in readiness for the voyage to New Zealand.

Kalgoorlie Hospital Nurses – some of Staff Nurse Sylvia Brown’s colleagues – c.1912

Note: By way of another coincidence, while researching Sylvia Brown’s life and movements I encountered a 1943 Electoral Roll record for Western Australia that listed a person of exactly the same name and occupation as Sylvia – Daisy Sylvia BROWN, Occupation: Nurse of Kalgoorlie Hospital.  My initial thought was that Sylvia must have returned to Kalgoorie, perhaps to assist during WW2 however further research proved that this particular Daisy Sylvia Brown was born in 1915, the daughter of Australian’s John Joseph and Sylvia Ethel Brown.  Daisy Sylvia Brown WILLIAMS married and died in 1974 – no connection whatsoever to Matron Sylvia Daisy Brown of Yorkshire, England.

Migration to New Zealand

The SS Corinthic sailed from Sydney and arrived in Wellington on 16 April 1912 – the day after RMS Titanic sank!  The 27 year old nursing Sister Brown set about having her qualifications recognised and registered with the NZ Nursing Council. 

Sister Brown’s priority on arrival was to apply for her NZ Registered Nurse’s accreditation which she received later in the month – NZ Registration No. 1179.   Her first position was with the Waiapu Hospital Board in Gisborne at the Waipukurau Hospital.  From Sep to Nov 1912, Sister Brown was appointed Acting Sister-in-Charge of the Hospital to cover another Sister’s temporary absence.  Sylvia applied for a Sister’s position in South Canterbury, and was engaged as the Charge Sister of the Women’s & Children’s Ward at Timaru Public Hospital. 

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WORLD WAR 1

First World War – Return to England

Germany invaded Poland on 28 July 1914 and seven days later, Britain declared war on Germany.  As far as New Zealand was concerned any declaration of war by Britain automatically committed the government to support the Crown.  Forty two percent of NZ’s eligible men of military age were committed, a total of 100, 444 troops from a population of one million, were sent to engage the enemy at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

Sylvia Brown also answered the ‘call to arms’ and very keen to contribute her nursing skills to the war effort.  Enlistment in the NZ military forces was always an option however Sylvia more than likely considered it her place to support the War Effort from her native homeland in their hour of need.  Sylvia made immediate arrangements to take leave of her post at Timaru Hospital and return to England; she had particularly wanted to serve abroad at the front.  

RMS Remuera – 1911

Sister Brown left New Zealand at her own expense on the SS Remuera** (Saloon Class) sailing from Wellington on 15 July 1915.  The voyage to England took 41 days going via Cape Horn, Montevideo, Tenerife (Canary Is.) and arrived at Plymouth on 25 August. 

The following entry from the Remuera’s log indicates the perils of such a voyage early in the war:

**  Severe cold around Cape Horn, ship spent three days in ice fields.  On the last day passed the ‘Windsor’ which had been sunk by a submarine and was transferring the men to a small Norwegian steamer.  The “Remuera’s” Captain (Greenstreet) received a warning from the “Turakina” and spoke with a French warship regarding enemy submarines in the area.  Passengers slept in their clothes for three nights and the life boats prepared for action.

On her arrival, Sister Brown reunited with ‘Elizabeth’ Abbott and Mrs Margaret Lamond with whom she was accommodated once more at Great Fishall near Tunbridge.  In September Sister Brown wrote to her former Matron at the LTH School of Nursing, Mrs Isabel Richardson, requesting a reference of recommendation Sylvia could submit to the War Office with her application to offer her nursing services.  Matron Richardson noted in her reference, “Miss Sylvia Brown was exceptionally well educated” and was “fluent in French and German”.  “I have no hesitation in recommending her from both a professional and moral point of view.”  Sylvia sent her application to the Secretary of State for War which was duly on-forwarded to the Matron-In-Chief of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service, Dame Ethel Hope Becher, GBE, RRC, for a decision on her acceptability. 

Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service [Reserve] – QAIMNSR

QAIMNSR Cape Badge – worn on the right lapel of the shoulder cape.

The QA Reserve as it was referred to, was created to provide a pool of volunteer qualified nurses from which to supplement the ranks of the of the Army’s full-time nursing services in military hospital facilities within England, and overseas in Egypt, the Dardenelles and France. 

Being a fully qualified nurse of mature age, Sister Brown’s application was swiftly approved.  On 14 September 1915, at thirty one years and 9 months of age, Sylvia Daisy Brown was formally enlisted into the 2nd Reserve B, QAIMNSR with the rank of Acting Sister with the personal identification number, B.28 (similar to a soldiers regimental number). 

Sister Brown was required to sign a “Form of Agreement” in which she was obliged to serve in the QAIMNSR for the duration of the emergency, however long that may be.  An initial commitment of 12 months was required, and could be renewed (this was expected) for subsequent periods of 6 or 12 months.  The service would be in England initially before an overseas was considered.  

The Agreement was also an acknowledgement by the nurse that in order to receive the War Gratuity (a financial bonus for war service), they had to complete their contract, i.e. remain for the duration agreed to.  A volunteer nurse was permitted to leave at any time however it would be at the expense of the Gratuity.

Sister Sylvia Brown signed up for the first twelve month period, stressing in her Agreement her desire to serve abroad.

QAIMNS and QAIMNSR                                

Her Majesty Queen Mary was President of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and the Reserve (QAIMNSR) in 1914, the former being the earlier version of the British army nursing service.  The rank structure of the Imperial Nursing Service at that time consisted of a Matron-in-Chief, Principal Matron, Sisters and Staff Nurses – the promotion of sisters and staff nurses was based on time and qualifications.  Besides the Matron and her assistant, Sisters were detailed for hospital duty as Supervisors of Divisions, of which there were four:

  • Surgical Division (Surgical Sister)
  • Medical Division (Medical Sister)
  • Night (Night Sister)
  • Ward (Ward Sister in charge of a Ward)

Uniform

  • The first three (above) wore a grey uniform and a Scarlet edged shoulder capes.  Their badge of rank was TWO 25mm wide Scarlet bands around the forearms of the uniform.  The Cape Badge was worn on the RIGHT lapel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Ward Sisters were generally Staff Nurses (S/Nurse) drawn from the ranks of the Reserve or Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS).  Promotion to the rank of Sister came with length or distinction in service.  These also wore a grey uniform and  Scarlet edged shoulder capes. Their badge of their rank was ONE 50mm wide Scarlet band around the forearms of the uniform. 

Additional medical support was available from the Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) and British Red Cross (BRC) nurses and volunteers – VAD and BRC nurses ranked below the QAIMNS Staff Nurses, having the same status as Junior Nurses or Probationers.

In 1914 there were 300 members of the QAIMNS with 2223 QAIMNSR members. 1803 were sent abroad and by 1919 there were 10,404 members in the QAIMNSR which for the first time in its history included married women and those of a lower social class.  QA nurses because of the strict rules in place at the time had to be single, aged over 25 years and of a high social status, however these restrictions had to be removed when there were so many casualties during WWI.  The War Office overcame the tradition of nurses having to be unmarried by employing, qualified nurses who were married and/or over age 25, in the QAIMNSR on a short term contract which were renewed each year as the war progressed.  After World War 1, contracts were ceased and the nurses returned to civilian nursing.

A QA’s war work

During the war QA nurses tended to vast numbers of the sick and wounded.  It would be wrong to think their work was predominantly of the wounded; proportionally three quarters of all casualties suffered from sickness and other ailments, than did those treated for battle wounds.

The QAs were employed in military both in England and France to staff General and Stationary Hospitals, ambulance trains and Hospital Ships while RAMC male and female nurses, medics and their assistants staffed the battlefield Field Ambulances, Casualty Clearing Stations, Advanced Dressing Stations, Hospital Ship and barges. The QAIMNS and Reserve coped very well by and large with the many horrific wounds and emergency operations that were fundamental to battle casualty nursing however WWI exposed Allied nursing staff to two new areas of man’s inhumanity to man, to treat. 

The first – on April 22, 1915, German forces shock Allied soldiers along the western front by firing more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres, Belgium. This was the first major gas attack by the Germans, and it devastated the Allied line.  The use of chemicals (gassing) was an entirely new and untested form of warfare that was dispensed onto the battlefield in the form of explosive chemical munitions containing either chlorine or mustard gas. 

The second resulted from these attacks.  They introduced another level of fear of the unknown for soldiers and medical staff alike, and mass casualties that required very different treatment not faced before.  Soldiers exposed to chlorine or mustard gas were severely burned with the chemicals attacking the eyes, mouth, throat, wounds or cuts to the skin, and perhaps worst of all, the breathing passages.  Breathing in the gas caused a massive release of fluid into the breathing passages and lungs which would cause them to fill up with fluid and cease to function.  The soldier would literally drown in his own fluid, referred to as ‘dry land drowning’.  Medics and concerned mates who administered water from their water bottles in an effort to ‘douse the flames and pain’ simply exacerbated the casualty’s trauma.

Lice infestation was also a major problem amongst soldiers fresh from the trenches and QAs would often become infested themselves with lice after treating the wounded.  The lice were nicknamed the ‘grey backs’.  Water shortages and having to wash using a canvas bowl or bath made life very difficult for the QAs in field hospitals. 

One of the less palatable and heart wrenching duties of QA Sisters was to write to the family of any soldiers who died in their care at the hospitals.

Military nursing

Sister Sylvia Brown QAIMNSR first wartime appointment was at the Section of No.2 York [Haxby Road] Military Hospital in York, Yorkshire.  Being a native of Yorkshire, Sister Brown had given her address as, c/o “Mrs Lamond of Fishall near Tonbridge” in Kent.  It was the perfect opportunity for her to re-connect again with her surrogate ‘parents’ Margaret and Andrew Lamond, and her close friend ‘Elizabeth’ Abbott. 

No.2 York [Haxby Road] Military Hospital 

The hospital’s name was modified to No.2 York [Haxby Road] Military Hospital for the purposes of the War Office’s military hospital identification system. 

The hospital had been established in a converted Rountrees Cocoa factory which Sister Brown described as a vast place … partitions have been erected everywhere to make the vast halls and workrooms into wards.”  She had been allocated a ward with 60 beds (of the 200) that were her responsibility.  She noted in one of her letters published in the Timaru Herald in January 1916, “convoys of casualties arrive every week from France as this ghastly war goes on … 24 hours after being wounded they arrive here.”  Sister Brown was keen to apply for “active service” abroad and had noted in her letter, “all nurses were first required to serve at a Home Station (No.2 York Military Hospital was her  Home Station’) before going abroad.”  She thought it might be Serbia or the Dardenelles but was unsure which.  She also said that she had regular contact with her friend Sister Violet McCosh-Smith (NZANS) based at Port Said in Egypt who told her she really enjoyed the work there.  Sister Brown finished her letter with the comment, “Everything else really seems small and paltry in the face of these men’s cheeriness and courage.”

The factory Dining Room used as one of the 60 man wards.

By March 1917, Sister Brown had been nursing at York for more than six months and still keen to serve abroad.  To ‘remind’ her superiors she addressed an application to Miss Becher, the Matron-in Chief QAIMNSR, requesting she be considered for an “Active Service” appointment.  Her request was endorsed by the Medical Officer in Charge and the Matron at York Military Hospital, the Matron stating that Sister Brown was a very capable and suitably qualified nurse for an active service post.  She was qualified for nursing: “on-board a barge (used to transport patients from beach to hospital ship), a hospital ship, a train conveying troops to a stationary hospital, road ambulance transfers, and capable of performing a ward sister’s responsibilities in a military hospital.” 

Her application was approved at all levels and so Sister Brown renewed her contract for another 12 months.  However, in spite of repeated requests for progress on an posting overseas, six months had elapsed since her application had been approval and still she had not received any firm indication of when/if she was likely to be posted abroad.  Sister Brown’s disappointment was apparent in her file correspondence and clearly indicated to me she was preparing to resign and return to New Zealand in December.  Volunteer nurses were permitted to resign at any time but QAIMNSR personnel were required to give written notice.  If their departure involved breaking their signed contract, they also stood to lose any entitlement to a War Gratuity payable to them after the war, which Sister Brown had obviously resigned herself to.   The message must have ‘rattled some chains’ because with in days of indicating her intention to return to NZ, as if by magic, a posting to France suddenly materialised from the War Office.  Sister Brown was told she would be embarking for France in September 1917 but, more delays occurred and she finished up waiting in anticipation for five more months over Christmas and into the New Year – 1918.  Finally, on March 2nd, 1918 Sister Brown was given the go ahead to be inoculated and equipped for France.  Sister Brown embarked on 19 March and arrived at Le Harve on 21 March.  A 220 km train journey north followed which took her to the Etaples township railway station, only meters from the Etaples Base Depot that would be her home for the foreseeable future. 

FRANCE and the BAF

Etaples is a very old fishing town and port, which lies at the mouth of the River Canche in the region of Pas de Calais in Picardy.  The Etaples Army Base Depot camp, the largest of its kind ever established overseas by the British, was built along the railway adjacent to the town.  It was served by a network of railways, canals, and roads connecting the camp to the southern and eastern fields of battle in France and to ships carrying troops, supplies, guns, equipment, and thousands of men and women across the English Channel.  It was a base for British, Canadian, Scottish, New Zealand and Australian forces.

Etaples Base Depot camp layout, north-south.

Etaples became the principal depot and transit camp for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France and also the point to which the wounded were transported.  Etaples was the largest of three medical centres (Boulogne and Wimereux being the other two) and contained General or Stationary Hospitals and medical support facilities of each of the contributing nations, all having their own facilities for the treatment of the sick or injured going to the front, and those wounded, injured or sick coming from the front.  Colloquially known as “hospital city” with almost 20 hospitals within its boundary, Etaples Base Depot had the largest concentration of hospitals and associated medical facilities in France.  In addition, there were non-military medical volunteer units such as the British Red Cross, VADs (Volunteer Aid Detachments) and St. Johns plus a myriad of other organisations e.g. YMCA, that supported medical, welfare, transport and maintenance facilities of the camp.  At its peak in 1917, Etaples Base Depot housed 100,000 men and its hospitals were capable of treating 22,000 patients.  It was said if the camp was full it could accommodate half a million men! 

The Base Depot was situated for convenience (it was very close to the English coast) rather than for any tactical advantage or protection.  The Base Depot in essence paralleled the Canche River and railway line.  The Etaples township itself was between the Depot and the river, a mere few hundred meters from the centre of the camp.  There were also stores and equipment dumps, distribution centres, artillery batteries, and other allied hospital facilities outside the camp perimeter that spread northward along the strategic road and railway lines that converged on Etaples.  The railway was the main means of moving equipment, men and the wounded from or to the front.  With its vast mix of sick and wounded, soldiers in training, prisoners, and those simply waiting to return to England or the front, Etaples appeared to be in a constant state of chaos and a very oppressive place.  Accordingly it attracted an unenviable reputation. 

Quite apart from the diseases and general conditions of sickness which soldiers acquired as a result of living in close proximity (10 men to a tent), the number of wounded with quite catastrophic injuries that arrived at the camp was at time overwhelming.  Patients were endless, staff were transient, there were shortages of everything and the demands of living in this tense environment that demanded medical staff work long hours into the night treating and caring for those in their care was exceptionally draining.  Added to this was the run down conditions in the camp that after three years of war were fairly dire.  The camp may have been out of the front line but it was feared almost more than being at the front by soldiers who were required to stay there.  Such was the state of the Depot Camp, most soldiers with injuries said they would rather go back into the field with them, than have to stay in the camp! 

2Lt. Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, MC was killed in action on 4 November 1918 at the Sambre–Oise Canal, France – age 25.

The renowned poet, Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen [Collected Letters.Oxford University Press] described the Etaples Base Depot camp as:

“A vast, dreadful encampment.  It seemed neither France nor England, but a kind of paddock where the beasts are kept a few days before the shambles … Chiefly I thought of the very strange look on all the faces in that camp; an incomprehensible look, which a man will never see in England; nor can it be seen in any battle, but only in Étaples.  It was not despair, or terror, it was more terrible than terror, for it was a blindfold look, and without expression, like a dead rabbit’s.”

No. 46 Stationary Hospital, Etaples

After a rapid orientation to the hospital and camp routine and layout, Sister Brown started work at the BAF’s  No.46 [British] Stationary Hospital (46 SH) which until January 1917 had been an Isolation Hospital for infectious diseases.  Now a much expanded hospital of numerous functions, her first appointment was Sister-in-Charge of the Measles Ward. 

Predictably, in April 1917 Sister Brown was admitted to her own hospital, 46 SH, for observation with a suspected case of Measles.  After two weeks in hospital she was transferred to No.1 British Red Cross Hospital (formerly the Duchess of Westminster’s Hospital) at Le Touquet, about 5 km from Etaples, to convalesce before returning to work.  The hospital itself had been the Le Touquet Casino.  A hostel three minutes walk from No.1 BRC hospital had been opened by the British Red Cross Society as the “Hotel des Anglais” to accommodate visiting family members. 

Serving in any one of the 20 hospitals at the Etaples Base Camp meant those joining a medical staff for the first time had to come to grips very quickly with the seemingly endless stream of bullet, shrapnel, explosive and other injuries (physical and mental) or sicknesses soldiers were afflicted with.  This in itself was hard enough to deal with day to day but week after week, month after month, with limited breaks (a half day a fortnight if you were lucky) took its toll on nursing staff.  Battle shock/combat fatigue (“shell shock”), hysterical paralysis, neurasthenia and disturbed neurosis were all terms that variously categorised  conditions we now collectively call “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Injury” (PTSD/PTSI).  The cumulative effects for even the most battle hardened doctor, nurse or medical orderly in having to deal continually with so many traumatic incidents, sights, sounds, smells and tastes, at times became overwhelming and they too were just as susceptible to ‘battle shock’

Sister Brown returned to duty at 46 SH by the end of April, in time to experience yet another facet of warfare which would deeply affect her.  

Etaples Base Depot was positioned adjacent to the main thoroughfare from the Etaples township to Le Havre, one of three ports into which came all troops, supplies and equipment came.  Etaples was also a railway hub where the various lines converged that serviced the river fishing port and transported troops and equipment to and from the front.  In addition, there were a series of supply dumps and distribution points that paralleled the road and rail, both to the north and south of the Base Depot.  In other words, Etaples Base Depot with anything up to 100,00 men in it was right in the middle of a target rich environment.  This fact had not escaped the attention of the German high command who organised a number of artillery and air raids on the port and the surrounding infrastructure such as stores dumps, access roads and railway in May 1918.  The Etaples Depot hospitals although well marked with very prominent red crosses on the roofs of all medical facilities, were ignored by the German pilots on strafing and bombing runs during daylight attacks.  Whilst the crosses could not be seen at night, the hospitals remained well lit and therefore simply presented identifiable targets for night attacks.  Again, the Depot was subject to collateral damage as a result of inaccuracy whenever the road, rail and supply dumps were targeted.  Four such attacks on 30/31 May 1918 were launched using incendiary bombs directed against the  Etaples Depot camp and surrounding infrastructure.  Bombing and artillery accuracy played a part (by accident or design?) and several of the hospitals and facilities inside the Etaples Base Depot were hit and severely damaged.  The following description of the attacks was penned by a contemporary historian:   

It was a clear, moonlit night and the hospitals – many of them provided by humanitarian organisations – were brightly lit as the nurses moved about the wards caring for their patients; elsewhere the hard-pressed surgeons were still operating on the maimed bodies of the wounded.  At 10 p.m. they heard the sound of approaching aircraft: first the clatter of gunfire and then, after the hospitals were plunged into precautionary darkness, the whistle of bombs falling.  The hospitals were hit repeatedly, and two hours later – when the flames had burned themselves out and the smoke cleared – several nurses had been killed and hundreds of patients had been killed or injured; multiple wards had been severely damaged.  Ten days later the aircraft returned; one hospital was totally destroyed and elsewhere operating rooms and wards were destroyed or damaged.

Among the atrocities of the war, the hospitals there were bombed and machine-gunned from the air several times during May 1918.  In one hospital alone, it was reported “One ward received a direct hit and was blown to pieces, six wards were reduced to ruins and three others were severely damaged.  Sister Baines, four orderlies and eleven patients were killed outright, whilst two doctors, five sisters and many orderlies and patients were wounded.”

Given that literally hundreds of patients were suffering from fractured femurs, many were unable to move to safety during such raids.  Accordingly they were assisted by hospital orderlies who themselves came under machine gun fire from low-flying aircraft pilots watching for just such activity.  Numerous casualties resulted from the attacks with No.1 and No.7 Canadian General Hospitals bearing the brunt of the attacks; No.1 was totally destroyed.

The damage to Etaples Base Depot hospitals after the May 1918 bombings – the two Canadian hospitals in the middle foreground, No.7 CGH on the right is destroyed.

This following description of a shelling while in a field hospital is typical of what nurses experienced under fire, and was recorded in the wartime diary of a QA nurse: 

“This has been a very bad day. Big shells began coming over about 10 a.m. – one burst between one of our wards and the Sisters’ Quarters of No. 44 CCS, and killed a Night Sister asleep in bed in her tent and knocked three others out with concussion and shell shock. Another laid out the QM stores in the Australians and many more have had narrow shaves. Bits came over everywhere, pitching at one’s feet as we rushed to the scene of action, and one just missed one of my Night Sisters getting into bed in our compound. I knew by the crash where it must have gone and found Sister E. as white as a paper but smiling happily and comforting the terrified patients. Then I came on to the shell-hole and the wrecked tents in the Sisters’ Quarters at 44.  A group of stricken MOs were standing about and in one tent the Sister was dying.  The piece went through her from back to front near her heart.  She was only conscious a few minutes and only lived 20 minutes.”

Credit: Sister K. E. Luard, Casualty Clearing Station No 32, Brandhoek, Belgium.

Having survived the May attacks, within a short space of time Sister Brown was again admitted to hospital, this time with Influenza.  Her illness (which was likely brought about by the camp’s conditions and extreme hours of work) foreshadowed the Spanish Influenza pandemic (H1N1 virus) that would soon cost the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians throughout Europe and indeed world-wide, from November 1918 to January 1920.

Sister Brown recovered sufficiently to return to duty at the end of June however her illnesses coupled with the recent air raids and artillery attacks had taken their toll on her.  On 6 July Sister Brown was again hospitalised, this time admitted to No. 24 General Hospital at Etaples, suffering with ‘nervous debility’ brought about by the raids.  She remained in hospital for eight weeks before being evacuated to England in September for four weeks of convalescent sick leave.  During this time Sister Brown would have to await orders from the War Office regarding her continued employment (or not) subject to the outcome of a medical board assessment of her fitness to return to work – whether that would be England or France, the Matron-in-Chief would deliberate on Sister Brown’s circumstances once in possession of a the Board’s report.  In the meantime, Sister Brown was free to take leave; she gave her leave address as: 36 King’s Square, Finsbury and her point of contact, “Mrs Lamond.” 

A Medical Board was convened in October to assess Sister Brown’s condition and concluded she was sufficiently fit to return to France, a prospect she was was not exactly looking forward to, or expecting!  On 8 Nov 1918 (three days before the Armistice!) Sister Brown’s return posting orders arrived at Mrs Lamond’s address; Sylvia was required to report for duty at Etaples Base Depot.  With the advent of the Armistice signing on 11 November 1918 which signalled the cessation of hostilities, Sister Brown submitted her resignation before she left for France, in anticipation of taking a training course in London before returning to New Zealand.

France 1919 – No.6 General Hospital, Rouen

Once back at the Etaples Base Depot, Sister Brown was immediately dispatched to the No.6 [British] General Hospital in Rouen where she was to be appointed the Charge Sister of an Acute Surgical Ward.  For the duration of the war, this hospital managed some of the most severely injured and disabled soldier’s and preparing them for evacuation and long term critical care at permanent military hospitals in England. 

Sister Brown spent five months at No.6 GH proving herself to be competent and capable which was reflected in a performance report written by the Matron in Charge, Matron Gibb, when sister Brown’s tour of duty in France came to an end: 

“Sylvia’s professional ability was very good, her administrative capability and powers of initiative were good. She was good tempered, reliable, energetic, kind to her patients and with those working under her.”

It soon became obvious to Sister Brown that her release from the QAIMNSR was going to be neither quick nor an easy process.  Once the Armistice was declared the outflow of military personnel being repatriated to their home countries was prioritised; serious and then walking wounded first, followed by the longest serving front line troops, and then the rest.  Volunteer Aid Detachment personnel, British Red Cross, St John’s etc were able to close down almost immediately and return home as circumstances permitted.  Any patients that were in their care were to be handed over to the nearest military medical facility.  As a consequence, it would be another four months (late February 1919) before Sister Brown was able to leave Rouen and Etaples behind her forever and return to England. 

While waiting for her resignation to be approved by the War Office, Sister Brown had made plans to remain in England after her demobilization, at least until the end of the year so that she should complete a course of therapeutic massage at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.  These skills would be most useful for her work with babies, young children and convalescing soldiers once she returned to New Zealand. 

To attend the training Sister Brown needed an advance payment of her War Gratuity so she could pay the training course fees.  All enlisted personnel who served overseas were entitled to a sum calculated by their rank and length of service.  The training also meant she would need to apply to have her June repatriation date, altered to November by which time the course examinations would be completed.  While the advanced payment of her War Gratuity had been approved in principle, as Sister Brown’s discharge date approached the Paymaster General’s department found all sorts of reasons (including their own disorganisation and poor communication) why the Gratuity could not/had not been advanced to her.  Fortunately Sylvia was able to borrow the money (Mrs Lamond or her Guardian, Robert Brearley?).  She duly applied to enrol in the Incorporated Society of Nurse/midwife Masseuses (ISNM) Certificate course in January 1919, which was subsequently approved for a May start date. 

One can appreciate the difficulties Sister Brown must have had in trying to arrange this training from Rouen, which would have included amending travel arrangements home to NZ, her finances and expiring any leave due to her, and all by letter with a very  uncertain delivery timetable.  Despite No.6 General Hospital being only a short distance across the channel from London, there was no guarantee Sister Brown’s application would get to the right people for approval and so made life that much more difficult for her  towards the end of her service.  She had requested to defer her NZ repatriation travel entitlement until November 1919 which (predictably) met with uncompromising resistance from both the ‘bean counters’ and the Matron-in-Chief QAIMNSR.  Sister Brown had most respectfully requested just four weeks grace beyond the six month expiration date of her entitlement to a repatriation travel warrant, by which time the massage course examinations would be over and she would be ready to return to NZ. 

The Director of Medical Services informed Sister Brown’s superiors in writing, of the regulations: “Miss Brown will not be eligible for a travel authority after the expiration of 6 months from demobilization.”  Sister Brown had also “begged to request” (a typical letter introduction of the time when making a request of one’s superiors) a single return travel warrant from London to Glasgow before she returned home in December (perhaps to visit with ‘Elizabeth’ and/or some of her former colleagues at the Sisters of Charity?) – another curt response from the acerbic Matron-in-Chief Becher followed: “Travel Authorities were an entitlement for serving persons only.”  Request denied.

Demobilization

Sister Brown’s resignation from the QAIMNS Reserve was approved with effect from 8th March 1919.  Once back in England she would have to be formally “Demobilized” from the QAIMNSR before her discharge from the British Army and War Department would take effect.  Her demob, as it was referred to, was the transitioning procedure from the military back into civilian life, or ‘civvy street’.  This involved completing post war administration for pay and allowances, accounting for and returning all equipment and clothing issued on loan to her (including her QAIMNSR Cape Badge!), undergoing medical examination check, an assessment of her fitness for discharge and work potential, arrangements for travel home to NZ, and the issue of a set of civilian clothing to replace her uniform.  Men commonly received a ‘demob suit’, a pair of shoes, hat, a couple of shirts, tie and socks – women received a very unflattering equivalent. 

The ISTM badge Sylvia was awarded as a qualified Massuesse.

Sister Brown was duly ‘demobed’ at the King George Hospital in Stamford Street, Waterloo on the 7th of April and formally discharged from the QAIMNSR with effect from the 8th of April 1919, the same day her therapeutic massage training was due to start at the School of Massage in the London Orthopaedic Hospital. 

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Sister Sylvia Brown successfully passed her massage therapy examinations as prescribed by the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseuses (ISTM), in November 1919 and was added to the UK Physiotherapy and Masseuse Register with the following qualifications:

  • 1919-20   Chartered Society of Massage & Medical Gymnastics – CSMMG Certificate No.6056  

          This organisation underwent a name change in 1920 and became:

  • 1920-22 – Chartered Society of Physiotherapists – CSP Certificate No.4136

After three and a half years away from New Zealand, Sister Brown embarked onto the SS Orduna at Southampton on 13 December 1919 for the six week voyage that took in the ports of New York and Vancouver via the Panama Canal, before arriving in Wellington.  England, the Army, Etaples, Rouen and the War were at long last behind her. 

Awards:  British War Medal and Victory Medal

QAIMNSR Service Overseas:   348 days (11 months)     

Total QAIMNSR Service:   3 years  185 days

Note:  Cape Badge – Sister Brown wore the QAIMNSR Cape Badge on the right hand side of her cape/uniform while serving with the QAs.  A Badge was issued to all QA’s upon enlistment and was required to be returned when demobilised – many nurses kept their Badge, pleading its loss.  I expect Sylvia would have returned hers.

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HOME SWEET HOME

Waipiro Bay, East Coast Gisborne

Sister Brown left Southampton in December 1919 and arrived in Wellington in February 1920.  She returned briefly to the Timaru Hospital before taking up a six month appointment at Waiapu Hospital Board’s facility at Waipiro Bay on Gisborne’s East Coast.  The Te Puia Springs Hospital had a detached Maternity Annexe and it was to this facility Sister was to take charge of.  The Maternity Annexe was a large house (still standing) located about 7 km NE of Waiapu in Waipiro Bay.  Te Puia Springs Hospital was established in 1907, the Springs being considered to have curative properties for a wide range of ailments.  The Maternity Annexe, built of oregon pine shipped from the USA in the 1850s, was built by J. N. Williams, an early settler and landowning farmer who lived in the adjacent in Tokomaru Bay.  Williams subsequently decided to build a larger residence for his family further west of the Waipiro Bay settlement and so put his accountant Arthur Beale into the house.  The house thereafter was known locally as the ‘Beale Homestead’.

The old Beale Homestead was purchased by the Waiapu Hospital Board for a Maternity Annexe as part of the Te Puia Springs Hospital at Waipiro Bay – 1964.

The Maternity Annexe’s steel slide erected as an emergency escape for babies in the event of fire.

The former Maternity Annexe was renovated in 1964 and given to the YMCA for use as a children’s camp. 

The former Te Puia Springs Hospital’s Maternity Annexe has now been returned to a private residence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Whaling had taken place from the Maori settlement at Waipiro Bay in the mid-19th century.  From the 1890s wool bales were shipped out from the bay, and livestock, stores and equipment landed, most often for J. N. Williams holdings.  In its heyday from the 1900s to 1920s, the township housed the Waiapu County Council offices, a courthouse, police station, post office, school and numerous stores, and had a vigorous social life.  Sir Bob Kerridge of Kerridge Odeon Cinemas’ fame opened one of the first cinemas in New Zealand at Waipiro Bay in the 1920s.

While at Waipiro Bay, Sister Brown received an acknowledgement her War Gratuity had finally been paid in June, however it would be April 1921 before she received the copy of her Record of War Service she requested, and a Certificate of Service from the War Office duly signed by her nemesis, the uncompromising Matron-in-Chief QAIMNSR, Matron Becher.  The Certificate of Service consisted only of her dates of her service in the QAIMNSR in England and France, plus the following inspirational testimonial penned by the Matron-in-Chief:

“Miss Sylvia Brown was on the Nursing Staff of Queen Alexandria’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve from 14 September 1915 to 7 April 1919 and held the rank of Sister.  Her work and conduct being in every way satisfactory.”

A lot of thought must have gone in to preparing that!  There was no mention of Sister Brown’s qualifications, experience, postings or entitlement to medals.  The medals, Sister Brown would probably have received sometime between 1921 and 1923.  These would have arrived automatically via the NZ Secretary of Defence (or she may have had to apply for them?).  Judging from the debacle over her War Gratuity payment and comments regarding a forwarding address in her file, the War Department was obviously confused as to exactly what Sister Brown’s address in New Zealand would be.  The British War Medal found by Constable Wallbank attests to the fact her medals arrived in Nelson and received by her but somewhat amazingly, there is no documentation of any kind on any of her files that either authorises the issue of war medals, or accounts for them as being received and signed for by Sister Brown?  

Nelson Hospital, 1920

While at Waiapu Hospital (the Annexe) Sister Brown applied to be considered for the position of the Nelson Hospital Matron, following the resignation of the incumbent, Miss Julia Beatrice Hurst.  This would be a promotion for Sylvia who by now was eminently qualified and well experienced for such an appointment.  From five applicants received nationally, Sister Brown (37) was selected by the Nelson Hospital Board to replace Matron Hurst, on 6 October 1920, the appointment being reported widely including the Nelson Evening Mail:

NELSON HOSPITAL. – Nelson Evening Mail, Volume LIV,  7 October 1920.

APPOINTMENT OF MATRON AND SISTER.

Out of five applications from different parts of the Dominion, Miss Sylvia Brown, of Waiapu Hospital, Tokomaru Bay, was yesterday appointed by the Hospital Board to the position of Hospital Matron, rendered vacant by the resignation of Miss Julia Hurst.  Miss Brown has had 12 years experience, and among the appointments held, were charge sister at Waipukurau Hospital (H. B.), and sister-in-charge women’s and children’s ward, Timaru Hospital.

In 1915 Miss Brown joined up and served as a member of the QAIMNSR, as sister and matron in England and in France.  On demobilisation Miss Brown qualified in massage and orthopaedic work, and since returning to New Zealand last April, has been in charge of the maternity branch of the Waiapu Hospital.

Nelson Hospital and the administration block c.1906, as Matron Brown would have seen it when appointed in 1920.  The hospital was re-built in 1925.

The hospital at that time consisted mainly of two large wards like the one above with the administration block between the two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matron Sylvia Brown moved into the Nurse’s Quarters at Nelson Hospital temporarily until alternative private accommodation could be arranged.  In this she was assisted by one of her nurses, Freda Vanessa Mabel Woodham (1890-1973), a single lady known to all as “Ness” who was from a long established family at Wakefield, Tasman.  Eight years younger than Sylvia, Ness Woodham had recently gained her Hospital Certificate at Nelson after the mandatory three years of probation whilst in training, and would pass her state examinations in July 1920, no doubt with some guidance from Matron Brown.  Throughout Sylvia’s tenure as Matron, she and Ness  became good friends which endured long after both had retired from nursing. 

Nelson Hospital staff of 1934 at the front entrance of the re-built hospital.  In the centre is House Surgeon, Dr. Thomas L. Parr flanked by Matron Sylvia D. Brown to his left, and Acting House Surgeon Dr. Louis H. Potaka to his right.

As an aside:

Dr. Louis Hauiti Potaka, MB at the time he left Nelson to join Adm. for Byrd’s expedition to the Antarctic.

Just prior to Sylvia Brown’s retirement, an event occurred which deeply shocked all of the medical staff at Nelson Hospital the untimely suicide death in 1936 of the very popular Acting House Surgeon, Dr. Louis Hauiti Potaka, MB

Born at Utiku in 1901, Dr. Louis Potaka, only the fifth Maori medical graduate in New Zealand, was completing his internship as the acting House Surgeon at Nelson Hospital, having started there in September 1933.  Dr. Potaka had gained some international renown in 1934 when he was accepted at short notice to replace the incumbent Medical Officer taken ill, on Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s second British Antarctica Expedition (BAE2).  Dr. Potaka (33) departed from Lyttelton on 26 Feb 1934 aboard Discovery II, spending a year in Antarctica with the expedition before returning to Nelson Hospital in Feb 1935. 

Following a disagreement with the Hospital Board over the doctor’s housing situation, he was dispatched to take up the resident doctor’s position in Murchison. This did not particularly concern Louis as the out-going and affable doctor quickly made friends and became well liked in the town.  A few parochial patients however took umbrage over Dr. Potaka’s unbending treatment regime over which the previous incumbent had been easily manipulated.  These few also held sway with the Hospital Board.  After only 12 months of a three year term completed at Murchison, a deeply disappointed Dr. Potaka found himself moved to Takaka in March 1936 to fill in as a locum GP for the resident Doctor Bydder who was returning to the UK on personal business.  Unfortunately Louis and Dr. Bydder’s obtuse Matron clashed over both treatment and methods.  The long serving Takaka Matron was disposed to pass blow by blow reports to the irate Dr. Bydder, and threatened to leave if Dr. Potaka remained.  Louis very much liked Takaka and had won the confidence of Bydder’s patients in a short space of time.  He had made a number of supportive friends and was encouraged to open his own clinic – which Louis did.   Needless to say when Matron bought this to Dr. Bydder’s attention, the enraged Bydder promptly returned from the UK and reported Louis to the Medical Council, for attempting to undermine his practice and ‘steal’ his patients. 

Dr. Potaka was ordered by the Board to close his practice but initially he refused.  While he had wide support from the local population, to say his removal to and from Murchison and then Takaka had been extremely stressful for him, was an understatement.  Louis complied and closed his practice in Takaka and was subsequently summoned by the Hospital Board to appear before in Nelson, to account for his actions.  For Louis, this must have been the last straw! 

It was October the 2nd, 1936 when a somewhat despondent Dr. Louis Potaka asked a friend to drive him to Nelson as he was in no mood to drive.  Their car had just cleared the top of the Takaka Hill when Louis asked the driver to take a side road on the pretext of a comfort stop.  The car stopped and Dr. Potaka went into the bush.  Several minutes later when he failed to return to the car, the driver found Dr. Potaka dead.  He had apparently taken his own life with a potion of some sort. 

The subsequent inquest heard how it was suspected Dr. Potaka’s health had been seriously affected by eye damage brought about by ‘snow blindness’ – excessive exposure of the eyes to the reflected glare of snow – from which he had suffered whilst in Antarctica. When he returned from the expedition, Louis had been terribly concerned that he was losing his sight and would no longer be able to practice.  Inappropriately, he was seen on occasions to be self-medicating, to try and correct his failing vision.  It is believed the cumulative effects of his depressed state of mind and the amount of drugs he was taking to try and improve his vision, had resulted in a level of toxicity that ultimately killed him.  Louis Potaka’s body was returned to his home in Utiku were he was buried after an extensive tangi.

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Retirement and “Cwm Du”

Sylvia Brown spent 17 years as Matron of Nelson Hospital, accumulating a grand total of 32 years in the nursing profession by the time she attained the mandatory retiring age of 55, in 1937. 

Sylvia had bought a small house overlooking the sea in Wakapuaka Road at what is now 284 Atawhai Drive, Nelson which she named  “Cwm Du” (pronounced Corm Du).  In Welsh this means “Black Valley”.  Not being of Welsh origin as far as I could determine, perhaps the name of the house was a reference to her ancestors?  It may also have been the result of the position of her house just a  few yards from the Wakapuaka Cemetery gates (and death?). 

During the day, this pretty re-entrant lined cemetery with headstones and grave plaques, is a blaze of trees, shrubbery and colourful flowers surrounded by a manicured lawn.  At its furthest point from the road the ground rises steeply into the tree line and culminates with a thick, dark screen of trees in front of the crematorium chapel.  By night this same scene when viewed from Atawhai Drive looks ominously different, even with street lighting.  Matron Brown would most probably have passed this scene on  numerous occasions as she went to or from her house after dark, either on foot or bicycle.  Without no street lighting along that road in Sylvia’s  day, that scene at night would have appeared as a great black hole with little if any detail being visible, ergo a “black valley.” 

One other possibility for the name “Cwm Du” is that from certain places in Yorkshire, one’s line of sight towards Liverpool crosses very near the highest point in the Brecon Beacons, called Cwmdu.  There is also a small village named Cwmdu situated in the heart of the Black Mountains in Powys, Wales, both names being derived as described above.  Whether Sylvia had a Welsh connection in her heritage that meant something special to her, is unknown and would warrant considerably more research to determine.

In the years following her retirement Sylvia Brown made only three trips (by sea) back to England in the years before World War 2.  With the exception of ‘Elizabeth’ Wilhelmina Hay Abbott, any ‘family’ Sylvia had known or felt close to before she left England, were all dead by 1930.  There was probably no reason for her to consider returning to England permanently. 

Sylvia being a private person, lived frugally and apart from a few acquaintances (possible from the church?), lived a very quiet life during her retirement years.  Her most frequent visitor at “Cwm Du” was her long-time nursing colleague and  long-time friend, Ness Woodham with whom she had shared many experiences over the 17 years they had worked together at the hospital.  Sister Vanessa “Ness” Woodham retired from nursing after 18 years and took a private position at Mariri near Motueka in 1938 after Sylvia retired.  As the war started, Sylvia offered Ness a place at “Cwm Du”.  This would have been a mutually beneficial arrangement as both ladies were spinsters, both retired, and would be able to combine their food and clothing rationing as the wartime shortages took effect.   Besides, having worked together closely for the duration of their tenure at Nelson Hospital, they had much in common.  Ness moved into “Cwn Du” around 1940 and remained with Sylvia, nursing her in her death.   

Dr Thomas Parr and Matron Sylvia Brown with nursing staff of Nelson Hospital – 1921

Matron Sylvia Daisy Brown, NZRN died at “Cwm Du” on the 30th of May, 1950 at the age of 66 years and six months.  She was buried two days later without fanfare, fuss, or a funeral in the Returned Services Section of the Wakapauka Cemetery – the “Black Valley” she had so often passed.  Ironically the position of her grave is anything but in the dark – it sits atop the cemetery hill almost directly above “Cwm Du”, bathed in bright sunshine and beside a tree that dapples the light on her grave.

Sylvia had made her close friend Ness Woodham and her life-long school friend in London, Mrs Elizabeth Abbott, the co-heirs of her estate.  Ness, herself 59 years of age when Sylvia died, did not wish to stay at “Cwm Du” alone with the memories of Sylvia all about her.  She was also getting older and decided it prudent to settle closer to town and facilities she would need to depend on.  Soon after Sylvia died Ness bought her own house at 140 Nile Street where she remained living alone for the next 23 years.  Sister Freda Vanessa Mabel Woodham, NZRN (Ret’d) passed away at her home at the age of 83 on 29 March 1973 and was buried in the same cemetery as her former colleague and close friend, Sylvia Daisy Brown.

Sister Sylvia D. Brown’s grave at Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson – front row, 2nd from left.

The grave plaque of Sister Brown before ……before  

   … and after refurbishment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But for the small snippets of fact and lots of  guesswork, there is little else to show for Sylvia Brown’s 66 years, 30 of which were lived in Nelson.  Sylvia Brown had chosen to live in relative obscurity and to die in a place not of her birth.  

The unresolved questions of Sylvia Brown’s early life, the identity of her father, and what had made her decide to live in New Zealand for the rest of her life, remain open to speculation and will now probably never be answered.  The one thing however that needs no speculation is the undeniable fact that Sylvia Daisy Brown was a devoted nurse whose character and demeanour exemplified her caring and compassionate nature and kindness toward all those whose lives she touched.  

Roll of Nelson Hospital Matrons

Sylvia Brown’s name is but one among many who have been appointed Matron of the Nelson Hospital.  All have made their own mark during their tenure but it is Sylvia Brown’s circumstances and her war service that sets her apart from others.  Having come from a questionable beginning, to experiencing the worst of man’s inhumanity to man, Sylvia Daisy [Morrell] Brown on her own cognisance studied hard, worked hard and trusted in her own ability.  She had survived and risen to the top of her profession without the support of a resident family.  For these things alone, Sylvia Brown deserves to have a place of honour and remembrance in the Nelson Hospital. 

“non sibi sed omnibus”

(not for myself, but for all)