In preparing for our exhibition about First World War nursing, one of the nicest things we have found is the interest and support of the families of these brave women. The exhibition will tell the story of one field hospital in northern France, run by the Duchess of Sutherland, and we have tried to trace as many of the relatives and descendents of the people who were there as possible. I admit that we didn’t expect to find many – or even any! – family members who remembered the staff at the hospital in the oatfield. In the summer of 1915, the Duchess herself was middle-aged, as was the artist Victor Tardieu who painted the hospital camp in a set of beautiful oil paintings that form the heart of our exhibition.
How wrong we were! First of all, the dealer who sold us the paintings, the erudite and extremely kind Philip Athill of Abbott & Holder in Museum Street http://www.abbottandholder-thelist.co.uk/ put us in touch with the grandchildren of the surgeon who had worked at the camp. His grandchildren (one of whom is a doctor herself) remembered their grandfather clearly and fondly. Best of all, they have loaned us two albums that contain numerous photographs of the hospital camp taken by their grandfather, a keen amateur photographer. These have added a wonderful dimension to the exhibition, as many of the photographs capture everyday life of the nurses and their lives at the camp.
We are also thrilled at the enthusiasm of the family of the Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland. Her granddaughter, the Countess of Sutherland, kindly shared her memories of her grandmother, with whom she was very close. It was a real thrill to meet someone who knew well Millicent Duchess of Sutherland, and who was able to confirm that she was indeed an extremely strong-willed and determined person!