Sunday, 8 November 2015

Sister Nellie Clark

Later this morning I will be going into town to attend the Remembrance Parade in a local market town where  Max will present the wreath on behalf of the Royal Marines.  

He normally does this along with his old friend, and ex Royal Marine, Trent but unfortunately Trent is very poorly at the moment.

*      *      *

This is the WWI memorial stone in the small village of Bilsby, just a few miles from here.   It was paid for by subscription from the villagers.     There are just seven names on the memorial, three of them have the surname Clark.  

The village is very small so there is a strong possibility that they may all have been related.     As I prowled around the churchyard I was unable to locate any markers for them.   Then I began to venture deeper into a very neglected and overgrown corner.

The marker for Cpl Leonard Clark is the pinkish one in the middle.  Luckily, that one is also inscribed on this side, otherwise I would have missed it.    The turquoise coloured insignia at the top is the badge of the Coldstream Guards, with whom he served.

When I visited the churchyard yesterday I was pleased to see that someone had at least made an effort to clear around the front of a couple of the stones - someone who must have had very strong cutters with them, for I was able to get round in front of the stones to take this next photograph...

Here you can see the white war grave stone for W Clark, which had been completely submerged in the undergrowth...Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

There was no marker for Nellie, which added to my intrigue.

I decided to see what I could find out about her.

*     *     *

Nellie's story.    

Nellie was born 6 March 1888 and died in Serbia on December 25th 1914, aged just 26 years.

A trained nursing sister, Nellie Clark volunteered to join Lady Paget's first Serbian Relief Expedition and travelled to Serbia in October 1914.     Their mission was to set up a 600 bed hospital on the outskirts of Skopje, to treat wounded soldiers and to help "gallant little Serbia".

By the miracles of the internet, I have been able to find a photograph of her.

Conditions in Skopje were terrible, but through sheer hard work the hospital was soon established and treating the wounded soldiers and local Serbian civilians.

Unfortunately, within three months of her arrival,  Nellie died of septic poisoning, contracted while performing her duty.    She was the first of the expedition staff to die and was buried in Skopje, Serbia.    The admiration and respect for these brave women was such that almost the whole town turned out for her funeral.

Lady Ralph Paget wrote to her parents that 'she was the best nurse we had.   She was so kind and gentle that she was loved by everyone who had the honour of knowing her and the men she had nursed adored her and were terribly upset when they heard of her death'.

Nellie was the first, but not the last, of Lady Paget's hospital staff to die as typhoid and other diseases took their toll.

So, Sister Nellie Clark, a courageous and determined woman for whom the words of Rupert Brooke seem appropriate:

If I should die, think only this of me
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England

*     *     *

Next year I'll choose another name from a monument and see what I can find out about them.

Image by the guardian.

Lest we forget.


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Dom, I'm glad I found out about her, it was good to learn about the person behind the name.

  2. How very sad that she died so far from home. I look forward to reading more stories of those lost in WWI.

    1. Hello Ms Sparrow, It still surprises me that so much can be found on the internet. My father was a naval historian, all his research was done the old fashioned way - I often think about how he would have enjoyed having access to so much information, just as my mother would have enjoyed tracking down some of the hard to find books from her favourite writers. I'll definitely do some research before next year.


Lovely to hear from you!