Gertrude Bell

Timelines: Ribbon of Remembrance Gertrude Bell
Announcement Date: October 26, 2018

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.

 

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Explore more memories from the ribbon

  • Percival Charles du Sautoy Leather

    Teresa Maxwell came into the museum to tell us about her grandfather, Percival Charles du Sautoy Leather. Captain Leather was born at Cramond near Edinburgh on 28th March 1867. He graduated from New College, Oxford in 1886. He worked as a Tea Planter and Stock Broker. Captain Leather original saw service as a Captain with the 3rd Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers but was transferred to the 4th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment on 5th September 1914 and he joined his new Battalion in France on 8th May 1915. It was not long before he was in action and he suffered the effects of a gas attack on 23rd May 1915 and was wounded again at Sanctuary Wood in June 1916. His wounds ended his military service and he relinquished his Commission on account of ill health stemming from his wounds and was granted the honorary rank of Captain from 15th November 1918. After the war Percival lived at Maison Dieu in Richmond where he died on 4th October 1944.

  • Edward Barker

    Edward was the Great Uncle of Robert Raw and Margaret Hird, who visited the museum during one of our Ribbon of Remembrance drop-in days. Edward, born in Richmond (he lived for at time along Frenchgate and then at 3 Maison Dieu) worked as a plumber for the North Eastern Railway, and enlisted after the outbreak of war in York. He became a Private in the 17th (Service) Battalion (NER Pioneers), a group whose skills were vital in constructing and maintaining the railways that developed behind the lines which kept the troops equiped and fed for the duration of the war. Edward was killed on 2nd November 1917, during the period where the battalion were working on light railways in the Ypres sector and suffered from shrapnel and gas shelling as well as high-explosives. Edward Barker is buried in Bard Cottage Cemetery, Belgium.  

  • Flora Sandes

    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…