Tag Archives: World War One

#FamilyHistory… was your relative a VAD nurse in the Great War? #nursing

Diaries, notebooks and sketchpads are dynamite for family history researchers as an insight into the lives of an ordinary people in your period of interest. If you are interested in filling in the life of a relative who served in a VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachment] during World War One, autograph and memory book of Cheltenham VAD nurse Dorothy Unwin may be of interest. Held at The Wilson art gallery and museum, it provides a very personal view of the war.

The book includes photographs of herself, the wards she worked on, soldiers and staff. Most poignant are the comments given to Nurse Unwin by patients.

Some soldiers write only their name, number and the date but some offer more information. Private Clapton of the 1stGloucestershire Regiment was ‘wounded in shoulder’. Percy Bedford of the 14thCanadian Battalion was ‘blown out of trench at Ypres 25 April 1915’. Many messages are of thanks. Patients are pictured playing sports and performing in plays and revenues. It offers a powerful insight into the men who fought in the Great War and also the daily life of FAX nurses.

Vera Brittain, who would go on to write Testament of Youth, was reading English Literature at Somerville College, Oxford when in the summer of 1915 she delayed her degree by a year to volunteer as a VAD nurse.

Initially she worked in Buxton, later in London, Malta and France and spent much of the war as a nurse. Her fiancé Roland Leighton, close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, and her brother Edward Brittain were all killed in the war. Their letters to each other are documented in the book Letters from a Lost Generation. In one letter Leighton speaks for his generation of public school volunteers when he writes that he feels the need to play an “active part” in the war.

Search your local archives for similar VAD accounts relating to your local area. Via Discovery at the National Archives, you can also search the journals, memoirs, correspondence and photographs of VAD nurses working in the UK and abroad.

As well as Dorothy Unwin’s autograph and memory book, and local Cheltenham history, The Wilson art gallery and museum in Cheltenham has a First World War archive including propaganda posters, postcards from the frontline, correspondence and possessions of individual people, and albums from local Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals.

The Imperial War Museum has a collection of First World War VAD uniforms, photographs of wards, rest stations in France, VAD hospitals, recruitment posters

If you’re searching for relatives and want to search online safely try the Lost Cousins website, which matches you with other people researching the same ancestors. It’s worth signing up for the Lost Cousins newsletter too.

This post is inspired by an article in the March 2018 issue of Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.

If you want to read more about family history research, try these articles:-
Searching the bastardy records #foundlings #orphans
Researching European records
Where to start your #familyhistory search 

WDYTYA the Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell

Don’t know where to find the records you need to start investigating your own relatives? Try the Who Do You Think You Are? The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell
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And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
The memory book of #WW1 Cheltenham nurse Dorothy Unwin #familyhistory https://wp.me/paZ3MX-6T via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#FamilyHistory #Mystery ‘Fred’s Funeral’ by Sandy Day

None of us have the luxury of hearing what is said about us after we are dead. In Fred’s Funeral, Canadian author Sandy Day tells the story of one soldier, returned from the First World War, who felt misunderstood and sidelined by his family. Only when he dies in 1986, seventy years after he went to war, does he observe his own funeral and find out what they really think of him. Sandy Day

Fred Sadler has lived his post-fighting years in one institution or another. Clearly he is suffering from some form of shell shock or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but this goes undiagnosed. There are periods of living in boarding houses, his family is unwilling to have him live with them, until his behaviour deteriorates and he is sent back to hospital. Now dead and trapped as an unwilling ghost, Fred observes his funeral presided over by Viola, the sister-in-law he always disliked. As the mourners sit around and share memories of Fred, he watches, frustration mounting, as he is unable to correct their observations. They portray a ‘Fred Sadler’ which he does not recognise. I kept expecting something to happen; a true memory of the war, an event, which would explain Fred’s illness and set the record straight with his family. But it didn’t come. The story is told in linear fashion; the anecdotes of Viola and the remaining family are interchanged with Fred’s reaction to these stories plus a few flashbacks to the war. Clearer signposting of these sections would make reading easier.

Day clearly captures the time and place of post-Great War Canada, a subject which is new to me. However I found the repeated digressions into the extended family history and details of the lifestyle a distraction from the main story [so many cousins, great-great grandparents and houses]. I so wanted to cut some of these unrelated sections to allow a stronger novel to push its way to the surface; simpler, more powerful. The inclusion of so many family details makes me wonder if the core of Fred’s Funeral is a memoir, inspired by a real family, from which the author feels unable to cut some relations and take the leap into pure fiction.

The portrayal of Fred’s experience at Whitby Hospital for the Insane is heart breaking, as is the disinterest of his family. For them, Fred is an embarrassment. It is a sad indictment of our treatment of soldiers returning from war and our ignorance that the effect of fighting can last a lifetime. It is easy to assume that in the 21stcentury this has changed, but the modern day strand of Day’s story suggests it hasn’t. It is as if Fred’s life has paused. “He banished feeling anything long ago. He feels timid. He feels tentative, like every step he takes is on a thick layer of ice and at any moment, he might crash through into a frenzy of drowning.”

At the end of the novel, there is no ‘reveal’, no surprise, and I felt a little let down. Overall, this is a thoughtful examination of how family tensions, petty jealousies and misunderstandings can spread down the generations. Gossip and guesses are transformed into ‘truth’.

Day also writes poetry and this shows in her neat turn of phrase. For example, cousin Gertrude puts on her eyeglasses which “magnify her grey eyes like two tadpoles in a jar”.
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Deadly Descent’ by Charlotte Hinger
Blood-Tied’ by Wendy Percival 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FamilyHistory #Mystery FRED’S FUNERAL by Sandy Day https://wp.me/paZ3MX-6h via #AdoptionStoriesBlog