As we remember the Great War 1914-1918 and commemorate D-Day on 6th June 1944, the following narrative is a brief account of the impact WW1 had on my grandmother Georgiana Phyllis Maud Martin. Fortunately for us, gran was a keen photographer who compiled and annotated a unique pictorial record of her five years in uniform.
4 June 2014
Georgiana Phyllis Maud Martin, known as Phyllis, was born on September 8th 1889 in Plymouth; she was the youngest daughter of Sir Richard and Lady Martin and lived very comfortably at No 7, The Esplanade, Plymouth Hoe. She had a privileged upbringing due to the distinguished family history of high naval command.
Her great grandfather Sir Thomas Byam Martin was Admiral of the Fleet and MP for Plymouth, followed by her grandfather and great uncle also holding the rank of Admiral. The family enjoyed the great tour of Europe, which was very fashionable at the time; Phyllis also joined the swimming club and swam all year round from Plymouth Hoe. She was engaged to George Godfrey Brandreth Paget (nephew of the eminent surgeon Sir James Paget), it was a good time.
Then war came along and changed everything. Her fiancé enlisted into the 1st Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. Tragically Lieutenant Paget was killed at The Battle of Aisne on September 14th 1914. She, like thousands of other young ladies joined the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) to do what was needed in this terrible time.
Nurse Phyllis as, she was now known, collected autographs, sketches and poetry from the injured soldiers she nursed. She also collected a large number of photographs some of which she took herself. Photography was a bit of a passion so much so that she took to developing some of her own photographs.
Phyllis worked in the VA Hospital Millbay, The South Devon & East Cornwall Hospital both establishments in Plymouth, Willersley (Derbyshire), Bray (Co Wicklow) and Longleat in Wiltshire. This is where she described the facilities as very basic with the nurses sleeping in dormitories and having to collect a pail of water to wash themselves by their beds. The nursing didn’t end when the war ended and she stayed nursing until 1919.
When the war was over, like so many others, she had to start her life again. On one of her many visits to Axminster, East Devon to see her sister she met Len Newbery, they fell in love and married, had children and became my Gran and Grandad. The life style that she had chosen was far from her child hood as they became farmers at Fordwater on the Devon, Somerset border nr Chard.
As a farmer’s wife Phyllis had to learn a whole new set of skills, including dispatching and preparing poultry for the table and how to make butter and cream from the milk her dairy cattle produced. She won many awards at local agricultural shows for her dairy produce. Flower arranging was another passion she enjoyed, entering competitions as well as judging at local agricultural shows. Gran died peacefully at home aged 89.
We have fond memories of “Gran” Phyllis with her cherished box Brownie and having to hold a pose for her to take a photo.
The albums of autographs and photographs Gran collected is not unique. It is not just about Nurse Phyllis, it is about all the VAD’s and injured soldiers of that time and subsequent wars and conflicts that followed ‘The Great War’.