Tag Archives: Women

This is a blog by Project Officer Frances Casey

The Mitford name is most famously associated with the six extraordinary daughters of David Freeman Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale (1878-1958). They were Nancy, the author of witty tales of family life; Pamela, whose love of farm life led John Betjeman to refer to her as the ‘Rural Mitford’; Diana the beauty and wife of the heir to the Guinness family, whom she later divorced in favour of Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists; Unity whose torn love between Hitler and her country led her to shoot herself at the outbreak of the Second World War; Decca the communist, who tried to donate her share of the family’s remote Scottish island, Inch Kenneth, to the Communist Party; and Deborah (Debo), the only surviving child and current Duchess of Devonshire. It would be understandable to assume that the stories of the male members of the family could not compare, but the family’s war memorials tell us an equally interesting story of the Mitford men.

Pew to Maj C Freeman Mitford (ukniwm 31692) and tablet to Major T Mitford (ukniwm 31693), ©ukniwm

In St Marys Church in the Oxfordshire village of Swinbrook, memorials to the Mitford family are mounted on the walls and, on closer inspection, the family pews can be found.

One of the pews was donated by David Freeman Mitford from his winnings on the Grand National in 1918 and was used by the family during services. The other is an ornately carved oak pew, dedicated to David’s elder brother Major Clement Freeman Mitford, who died in Flanders, aged 38, on 13th May 1915. This pew also remembers David and Clement’s father, Lord Redesdale (1837-1916), whose last year was overshadowed by the loss of his eldest son.

David’s daughter, Pamela, remembers her father crying openly when he heard of the death of his brother (The Mitford Girls, Mary S Lovell, 2001, pg35). As well as dedicating the pew, David organised an expedition to retrieve Clement’s battlefield cross from Belgium, now mounted in St Mary’s Church, Batsford, the family estate in the Cotswolds. On behalf of his father, David also erected commemorative wrought iron gates at the entrance to Vlamertinghe, the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery where Clement is buried. Clement’s death was to dramatically change the course of family history. He died before the birth of his only child, Clementine, in October 1915. As a girl, Clementine could not inherit the male Redesdale title. This was to pass to David, whose daughters would then become the titled ‘hons and debs’ of literary fame.

Swinbrook Cross, ©ukniwm 31691

On the wall above the pew dedicated to Clement hangs an oval tablet in memory of ‘a very perfect son and brother’, Major Thomas David Freeman Mitford, who died aged 36. Tom Mitford was David’s only son. According to Mary S Lovell, he was adored and teased in equal measure by his sisters, who would delight in making him ‘blither’ (giggle) during sermons in Swinbrook Church (Lovell, 2001, pg50).

The tablet records how Tom ‘died in Burma on Good Friday 30th March 1945 of wounds received in action on the previous Saturday’.  Devastated by the death of their son, David and his wife Sydney placed another tablet to Tom in Holy Trinity Church, Horsley, their estate in Northumberland. The tablets to Tom and the pew to Clement bear the Mitford motto ‘God Careth for Us’.

As well as the family memorials, David ensured that both Mitford men were remembered for their community role and had their names included on the Roll of Honour inside Swinbrook church and on the cross in the churchyard. Sydney, Nancy, Unity and Diana are all buried in Swinbrook churchyard.

Learning her Job at a Steelworks

It is sometimes claimed that women are not commemorated on war memorials. This is not true but you do have to look a bit harder to find them, only because their casualty rates weren’t as high. However, their contribution to the war effort is not as visible. This is set to be addressed by Sheffield Council who have announced that they will be working with women who worked in the steel industry during WW2 to create a memorial to recognise their efforts. 

Four ideas have been proposed: an abstract sculpture, a bronze sculpture, a garden of remembrance or commemorative plaques.

It will be interesting to see what they choose.

by UKNIWM office volunteer Richard Graham

The National Portrait Gallery has recently acquired a portrait  of this celebrated nurse who, though rebuffed by Florence Nightingale, made her own way to the Crimea to assist the British soldiers. She was one of a number of civilians who, like Miss Nightingale, seem to have distinguished themselves far more than the British commanders: others were Alexis Soyer the chef, the railway contractors Peto & Betts, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed a prefabricated hospital. After the war, Mrs Seacole spent some years in Jamaica but then returned to England in 1870, shortly after which she became the personal masseuse to Alexandra, Princess of Wales. She died in 1881 and is buried at St Mary’s Roman Catholic cemetery at Kensal Green in northwest London. Despite being a well known figure during her later life, Mary Seacole’s achievements were largely neglected during the first half of the Twentieth Century. More recently, her life has been looked at with renewed interest and respect, and this portrait is the first of her to be acquired by the NPG.

The UKNIWM database has over 300 records of memorials commemorating casualties of the Crimean War. One notable one is John Bell’s Guards Crimean memorial.

Guards Crimean War Memorial

Guards Crimean War Memorial

This depicts guardsmen of the then three regiments of foot guards and is an early example of a memorial featuring other ranks.

The dispatches of William Howard Russell in The Times had made the British public aware of the conditions ordinary soldiers had to endure. Queen Victoria herself showed her concern in several ways: the institution of the Victoria Cross for which all ranks were eligible, the promotion of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley in Hampshire and her patronage of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum at Wandsworth for daughters of soldiers who died in the war come to mind.

Following up on the story we covered yesterday (the new award issued to members of the Air Transport Auxiliary who served during the Second World War) there is an interesting interview on the BBC website with Margaret Frost, one of the women pilots who served in the ATA.  Click to read the full interview

Margaret said:

“It is marvellous to get the recognition but I also feel very embarrassed about it all really because there are so few of us left.  I should think that the original girls who started it all would be turning in their graves now at all the fuss.  When the war was all over people just went their own way and didn’t want any recognition. That was just the way it was.  Nobody wanted any fuss they just did what was needed doing at the time and after the war got back on with their lives.”

This is typical of the attitude of many others after the Second World War and can also been seen in the approach to war memorials.  We have written before about how people’s attitudes to memorials changed markedly after the Second World War.  The desire to erect elaborate memorials, such as had been seen after the First World War, was replaced with a preference for ‘functional’ memorials or even none at all.  Click to read full post

Pauline Gower (far left), Commandant of the Women's Section of the ATA with the eight other founding female ATA pilotsMembers of the Air Transport Auxiliary – pilots who ferried planes in the Second World War – are to receive a new award recognising their contribution to the war effort.

Read more from BBC News

The ATA was made up of trained pilots who were ineligible for a combat flying role.  This included men who were too old or unfit,  women and foreign nationals.  Among them were pilots like Stuart Keith-Jopp, a 50-year-old First World War veteran who’d lost an arm and one eye.  In all 1,152 men and 166 women served as pilots, with a number of engineers and ground crew.  Thirty different nationalities were represented.

The ATA ferried training aircraft, fighters and bombers around the country on behalf of the RAF, often flying aircraft they had little experience with.  The most qualified pilots were expected to fly up to 147 different types of aircraft.  They had no radios and little in the way of instruments, making flying in bad weather particularly hazardous.  German fighters were also a very serious threat as the planes were invariably unarmed.

Over 150 members of the ATA were killed and a small number of war memorials record their service.  These include a tablet in St Paul’s Cathedral, unveiled in 1950 and a recently unveiled memorial stone at Manchester Airport Memorial Gardens.

The photo above dates from 1939 and shows the first nine women pilots in the ATA.  At the far left is Pauline Gower, the Commandant of the women’s section.  She was a commercial pilot before the war and was instrumental in the decision to allow women to fly in the ATA.  Sadly she died in 1947, shortly after giving birth.

The other members (left to right) are Mrs Winifred Crossley, Miss M Cunnison, The Hon. Mrs Fairweather, Miss Mona Friedlander, Miss Joan Hughes, Mrs G Paterson, Miss Rosemary Rees and Mrs Marion Wilberforce.  

The founding members all survived the war, with the exception of Flight Captain Margaret Fairweather, who was killed in August 1944.  Margaret had been the first woman to fly a Spitfire.  Her husband, Captain Douglas Fairweather, was also an ATA pilot and was killed four months before his wife.  They are buried together in a joint grave tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

This post is prompted by a newspaper article, sent in by member of the public, which appeared earlier this month in the Yorkshire Post.  The article deals with plans to add the names of those who died in the two world wars to Featherstone’s war memorial, as these were not included when it was built after the First World War.  (Click here to read the whole article).

Despite the comment in the article from a local historian, “No one knows why the memorial has no names on it, even the smallest village memorials always seem to have names,” it is actually not that uncommon to find memorials with no names.  There are several possible reasons for this, including the follow:  

  • There may have been a shortage of money (inscriptions were paid for by the letter), which is the same reason initials are often used rather than full first names.   
  • There might have been a desire not to accidentally exclude anyone.  Names were collected in a variety of ways and often someone who might have been included was missed.  This is one of the reasons we regularly receive enquiries from people seeking to add missing names (often relatives) to their local memorial.
  • The memorial may not have been large enough to bear all the names.  You are actually more likely to see names on memorials from smaller communities.  Larger communities often had a memorial without names but collected them together in a Book of Remembrance that was kept on display in a prominent location, such as the town hall.

The second interesting point from the article was the following:

“One soldier will be omitted. His details were traced from the single fact that he was known to have a brother called Norman. From that sliver of information, his identity was eventually unearthed.

But he fought in the Spanish Civil War and rules dictate that only those who died serving the Crown should appear on war memorials in this country.

There are many commonly held assumptions about who can and can’t appear on war memorials, but the simple truth is there are no national rules (or even guidance) about this.  Whoever erects a memorial can decide whom they wish to commemorate.  Among the enormous variety of war memorials in this country are memorials to the following: those who served but didn’t die; women; civilians (including babies); animals; foreign nationals (including those from enemy countries); and memorials to those who fought in conflicts abroad in which the UK played no official part, such as the American Civil War and Vietnam.

This also includes 44 memorials to the Spanish Civil War.

While the UKNIMW records all UK memorials to all conflicts, there are some projects that focus on a narrower field.  One of these is the Anglo-Boer Memorials Project, which was established to record, catalogue and photograph all Anglo-Boer War memorials in the world.

There is a very interesting essay available on their website entitled ‘A Survey of Memorials to the Second Anglo-Boer War in the United Kingdom and Eire’, by Meurig Jones.

This includes details such as the following;

“Memorials take many forms; cross, statue, building, plaque/tablet, book , fountain and so on. Over two thirds of memorials are indoor, mostly in churches and are plaques or tablets. These are the most traditional form of memorial and perhaps the most cost effective. Very few memorials (about 6%) can be considered of a practical nature; buildings, drinking fountains and furniture.”

“…memorials for only one person form nearly 52% of the total memorials recorded. The majority of  these are to men of officer rank [because] their family, work, club or fellow officers were richer or had easy access to the sums of money needed to create a memorial.”

“Almost all the regular army units erected memorials to their dead, as did many of  the volunteer units.”

“Cottage homes were a popular form of memorial because they were practical and could directly benefit soldiers invalided  from the War.”

“During the war British women were employed as nurses, not a new role, but their employment was on a more formal basis than ever before and received greater official and public recognition than before. Approximately 1,800 women served in south Africa as nurses. Twenty-nine nurses died during the war, all succumbed to disease in one form or another.”  Their names appear on both unit and local town memorials.

“There are nine memorials which celebrate the peace that brought the war to an end. These are different types of war  memorials in that they look forward, post-war, to peace, and do not remember people and events that occurred in war.”

Click here to read the full essay

There are many misconceptions about war memorials.  How much do you know?  Challenge your knowledge with these True or False statements.  Click ‘continue reading‘ to find out the answers.

1)  Someone can only be named on a memorial if they’re not buried in the UK

2)  War memorials can also commemorate those who didn’t die in wars

3) All war memorials are legally protected

4) Anyone can erect a war memorial

5) You don’t find women named on First World War memorials

Click ‘continue reading‘ to find out the answers…..

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A member of the Women's Land Army Timber Corps strikes a tree with an axe during training at the WLA training camp at Culford, 1943A memorial to the Women’s Timber Corps, nicknamed the ‘Lumberjills’, was unveiled on 10 October 2007 in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park near Aberfoyle in Scotland.


The Women’s Timber Corps were part of the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War and were posted across the UK to undertake the strenuous work involved in timber production.

The new memorial is a life size figure of a member of the Timber Corps.

On Friday I went to the unveiling of a memorial to  Yvonne Green, a Canadian woman who served as an auxiliary firewoman during the Blitz in London.  She was killed by German bombing while on fire watching duty at Chelsea Old Church on 17 April 1941.  That night would prove to be one of the deadliest of the Blitz, with over 1,000 Londoners killed and double that number seriously injured. 

The memorial and service were organised by a charity called Firemen Remembered, which erects plaques to members of the Auxiliary Fire Service who were killed while serving in London during the Second World War.  Yvonne’s memorial is the 15th plaque they have erected to date.

Click to see details of memorial to Yvonne Green

Memorial to Yvonne Green

The unveiling and dedication service was very moving, not least because Yvonne’s daughter, grand-daughter and great grandson all attended, along with the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea and representatives of the local fire service.

Two things particularly struck me about the day.

Firstly, the day previously that very same church had seen the funeral of a woman called Winifred, who had been due to be on fire watching duty on 17 April 1941. Yvonne had swapped duties with her and although Yvonne had sadly been killed, Winifred subsequently survived to be nearly a hundred years old.  It was a poignant co-incidence that her funeral should fall the day before the unveiling of Yvonne’s memorial.

Secondly, several letters written by Yvonne to her mother in Canada are stored in the archive of the Department of Documents at the Imperial War Museum where they are available for anyone to make an appointment to view.  When I spoke to Yvonne’s daughter, Penelope, she told me that she’d carried these letters around for fifty years.  They were extremely precious to her, but eventually she’d made the decision to donate them to the museum.  Since doing so they’d been used in the research for several books.  Penelope was delighted that something that had meant so much to her was now proving valuable to so many others.