Fiona Hall, Communications and Retail Manager at the Green Howards Museum submitted this story about one of the most important women of the First World War (in fact of any) era.
I’m intrigued by this local hero – a complex character.
There’s not enough space here to describe the many achievements of Gertrude Bell, and that’s not the point of this entry. Although I do recommend you take some time to acquaint yourself with her if you are not already familiar with this fascinating woman – archaeologist, mountaineer, one of the first women to gain a degree at Oxford (a First in History) but an anti-suffrage campaigner, the first to work for British military intelligence, colleague of TE Lawrence, and also the first to write a government white paper.
She was born in 1868 into the sixth richest family in England, the granddaughter of the industrialist Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, and lived in Redcar.
When war broke out her request for a government posting to the Middle East was denied. Instead she volunteered with the Red Cross, taking charge of the missing and wounded office in Boulogne. Meanwhile her brother, Maurice, a career soldier and Boer War veteran was commanding the 4th Bn The Yorkshire Regiment on the western front. Imagine working in the environment Gertrude was working in- with the very possible chance she may have to ‘process’ information about the fate of her own brother. Maurice was in fact invalided home in 1916 and died in 1944.
In 1915 she hears of the death of the man she loves as part of casual conversation at a dinner party. A married man, Dick Doughty-Wylie was killed in the Gallipoli campaign.
Despite all this, she goes on to be a key player in the political administration of the time, writing a masterful report ‘self determination in Mesopotamia’ and is pictured in a publicity line up photo on board a camel with the pyramids in the background in an image featuring both Lawrence and Churchill at the 1921 Cairo Conference.
This resident of Redcar died from an overdose of sleeping pills in July 1926 and is buried in Baghdad. There is a stunning stained glass window in her memory in St Lawrence Church East Rounton. The family’s arts and crafts country home, Rounton Grange, wasdemolished in 1950. It was hoped at one stage her childhood home, Red Barns in Redcar might be converted into a museum but appears to be earmarked for redevelopment for housing.
Explore more memories from the ribbon
Ruth Kendon came into the museum and told us the story of her father, Reginald Howes. Reginald Howes (1889-1977) attended the University of London Officer Training Corps (OTC) between 6 May 1915 and 20 July 1916 before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Yorkshire Regiment on 21 July 1916. He served with the 4th Battalion as temporary Adjutant and Intelligence Officer, and was wounded on 15 September 1916 at Kemmel, just south of Ypres. Ruth remembers him saying he was wounded on the day tanks were first used. Howes was awarded the Military Cross in March 1918, for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” on the Somme, during the Kaiserschlacht offensive and promoted to Captain the following month. He was taken prisoner on 27 May 1918 and released on 14 December 1918. Ruth kindly donated a number of items which belonged to her father to the museum for safekeeping.
Sgt. Ernest Brooke was born in Brighthouse, Yorkshire in 1886. In civilian life Ernest worked a railway signalman. Ernest’s medal records show he was entitled to the 1914 Star indicating that he was an ‘Old Contemptible’, part of the original British Expeditionary Force that fought in France and Belgium from August 1914. Ernest served with the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment until his death on 4th January 1918. The New Year 1918 that at 11pm (German midnight) on the 31st December 1917, ‘…all guns of artillery fired one round each, whilst machine guns fired two belts of ammunition each ‘to usher in the new year’. The following day, the 2nd Battalion were relieved from the front line and relocated to ‘Hedge Street Tunnels’. On the night of the 4th of January, a fire broke out in the area of the tunnel being occupied by the Battalion, resulting the loss of a further 20 lives from the 2nd Battalion – one of those lives being Ernest Brookes’. In accordance with his wishes, Ernest’s outstanding pay and War Gratuity, totalling £29, 7shillings and 19d to his mother, Hannah.
Story submitted by Mrs Drury, a resident of Richmond. Nancy Bainbridge was born in Weardale, County Durham in May 1894. She was one of eight children whose parents were hardy hill farmers. Nancy was a very practical person and joined Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in 1914. Nancy served at a military hospital in East Anglia where the nurses received casualties straight from the Somme. Her upbringing on a farm had afforded her some preparation for the ensuing, distressing sights and sounds. She described how the men arrived with mud and tufts of grass in their wounds. The nurses found out the hard way that soldiers’ skin, subjected to the mustard gas attacks in the trenches, could not be washed with water as that inflicted pain. Nancy received many deathbed requests. After the war Nancy worked as a private nurse in families with disabled soldiers and patients with other conditions. She married Captain Jack (John Adam) Bell. Nancy had a brother William, also a hill farmer and ten years older. He joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, but saw little service because, when detailed to chop an officer some sticks, a splinter blinded him in one eye. Another sibling, Violet, worked in Barnard Castle’s recruiting office. Her soldier husband Harry Raine was awarded the Military Cross. The medal was presented to the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle.