Aunt Nell's Box: One Woman's War
2nd and 9th August 2017
Ellen Frances Anderson was born on 23rd February 1885, the eldest child and only daughter of James Drummond Anderson, ICS [Indian Civil Service] and his wife Frances Cordue. She was a Cambridge bluestocking, reading Classics at Newnham before the First World War, though of course, like all female undergraduates of the time, unable formally to receive her degree until many years later.
She enlisted as a V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse) in August 1915 - her contract, initially to serve only in the United Kingdom, is dated 6th September. She was posted to the 1st Eastern General Hospital, Cambridge. In April 1917, she received a letter from the War Office telling her to "hold yourself in readiness to proceed abroad on active service at twenty-four hours' notice with the British Expeditionary Force, France". Her medical certificate, stating that she was "in a fit state of health to undertake nursing duties in a military hospital abroad" and detailing her vaccinations for typhoid and para-typhoid, is dated 12th April. She was posted first to Stationary Hospital No. 14 at Wimereux, and then to 55 General Hospital, Boulogne, where she served until January 1918.Thereafter, she served until January 1919 at No. 11 Stationary Hospital at Rouen. During her service in France, she was nursing men who were admitted directly from the Front, many of whom had been severely gassed. She was secondarily gassed through breathing the fumes from their uniform and their breath, and for the rest of her life, suffered from asthma and what was euphemistically called "a bad chest". After the War, she returned to teaching, and was for a time at St Felix School, Felixstowe. She later returned to Cambridge, where she continued to coach private pupils, and where she died in 1956. She never married.
"Aunt Nell's Box - One Woman's War" contains an extraordinary archive of letters, both from her family (three of her brothers were with the BEF) and from many of the men she nursed and their families. It also holds a collection of memorabilia, trench art, newspaper cuttings, photographs, and even a sheet of WW1 toilet paper (used to wrap a small collection of tunic buttons). Its contents will form an important part of the "Crieff Remembers" Exhibition - though she herself had no connection with Crieff, her niece is a local resident and has a close interest in the archive.
From this treasure trove, John Cummings, an historian as well as a leading member of Crieff Drama Group, has compiled a "dramatic collage" telling the story of Nellie Anderson and her family through letters, articles and items from the wooden box in which they had been stored since the end of the War until a chance discovery sometime in the late 1980s.