Researched by John Mills. Flora Sandes was the only woman to officially fight on the front line during WW1, having joined the Serbian Army.
Flora was born on the 26th January 1876 in Nether Poppleton, near York, the youngest of eight children. From an early age she exhibited an adventurous nature, a real tomboy, somewhat surprising for the daughter of a vicar! At the aged of 9 the family moved to rural Suffolk. Even her middle class upbringing didn’t dull her desire for adventure. After school she trained as a stenographer in London and scrapped together all her money, and together with the proceeds of a legacy from an uncle she went off to see the world travelling to places like Egypt, Canada and America.
Flora was 38 years old when WW1 broke out and was living in London at the time. She enlisted as an Ambulance Service Volunteer and just 8 days later she was on her way to Serbia with the first volunteer unit to leave Britain. She worked in Military Hospitals and by October 1915 was fluent in the Serbian language. She eventually enlisted in the Serbian Army, one of the few countries in the world that accepted female soldiers. She soon made a name for herself, rising through the ranks to Sergeant within a year. It wasn’t just soldiering that Flora matched her male counterparts. She could hold her own racing cars, shooting, smoking and drinking.
She survived the front line fighting, received a terrible shrapnel wound in November 1916, and even the Spanish Flu. She received Serbia’s highest Military decoration, the ‘Order of the Star of Karadorde’. When the war ended Flora stayed in the Army until 1922. She married in 1927 to Yuri Yudenitch, a soldier 12 years her junior whom she had served with. They lived for a time in France before settling in Yugoslavia. In April 1941 when Germany invaded Yugoslavia Flora donned her uniform prepared to fight for the Yugoslav Army. She was 65 years old! Germany’s victory, however, was swift, just 11 days. Her husband died of heart failure the same year.
Flora was alone and penniless at the end of WW2. She moved to live with her nephew in Jerusalem and then to Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe). She eventually returned to Suffolk and died on the 24th November 1956 aged 80.
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Submitted by Robert Amis. Captain Henry Amis (Robert’s grandfather) was commissioned into the 5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant on 12 March 1915, Henry Amis transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Family legend has it that 2Lt Amis was prone to crashing, which may account for his transfer back to the Yorkshire Regiment. The then Captain Amis was again serving with the 5th Battalion when on 28 October 1917 he was wounded and evacuated, suffering from the effects of mustard gas. Once he had recovered, he returned to the front line where he faced Germany’s final throw of the dice, the so called ‘Kaiser’s battle’ which was unleashed on 21 March 1918. Henry and the 5th battalion were in the thick of the fighting; trying to hold back the German advance. On 27 May 1918 he, along with 24 other officers and 638 Other Ranks, was declared missing. Amongst the papers donated to the museum by Robert is the diary of Captain Amis’ girlfriend, Dorothy Beckton. On 10 June 1918 she wrote… ‘Telegram saying my H G missing. I felt a sort of stunned at first…A horrible time of despondency, but there is really no need. I think my darling boy is almost sure to be a prisoner in Germany. It is rather heavy waiting but as soon as I can hear that he is safe, will be alright. And we shall be able to make up afterwards. I hope they will treat the dear old…
Alfred Myers came from a large family in East Cleveland and before the war worked with two of his brothers in the ironstone mines. A member of the Independent Labour Party and a devout Wesleyan Methodist, he played a key role in his local community. He was a tenor in the Wesleyan Carlin How choir, a Sunday school superintendent and trustee of the local church. Myer’s service record survives and records the process of his arrest and sentencing in cold, hard terms. One month after his posting he was arrested and court-martialled. Initially he was sentenced to death but this was commuted to 10 years imprisonment. At his hearing for exemption from compulsory military service, Myers asserted his belief in an international brotherhood of man, and stated that he ‘could not conscientiously kill, nor assist in killing’. But like so many others he was only granted exemption from combatant service and was sent to the Non-Combatant Corps at Richmond Castle. In the cells at Richmond, Myers’s tenor voice was put to good use. With two other conscientious objectors, Brocklesby and Gaudie, he sang the hymn ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ in three-part harmony. Myers’s performance wasn’t as perfect as the other prisoners hoped, however – they had to bang on the cell floor to keep him in time. Following his ordeal with the rest of the Richmond Sixteen in France, Myers was sent first to Dyce Camp, near Aberdeen, and then Maidstone prison. Others of the Richmond Sixteen were also…
Jane Metcalfe visited the museum and outlined the story of her father, John Smith. He was born in Dundee, Forfar in 1883. After working as a boilermaker, he joined the Royal Engineers on 1 September 1909 and remained in military service until 31 January 1930. He spent time at Catterick Camp one hundred years ago at the time of the garrison’s founding. During the First World War John served in Egypt, before being transferred to the British Expeditionary Force in France. He became a Lance Corporal, and was promoted to Sergeant in April 1917. His record was ‘Exemplary’, and he was described as ‘Extremely honest, sober and reliable. A good organiser and very good in charge of men.’ 1852361 Sergeant John smith was awarded the 1914 Star, the British War medal, the Victory medal, the General Service medal and the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.