WW1: Dorothy’s War

dorothyhigginsfor-web- Miss Higgins is well remembered by many people living in Alford, descriptions such as quirky, eccentric and forthright are swiftly followed by often repeated anecdotes to illustrate the point.

Few people escaped her determination to ensure that everything met her high expectations. Colleagues were summoned loudly in the street by their surname, young relations had their letters returned with the spelling corrected, and woe-betide anyone who did not keep their garden tidy.

In 1967 she gave Alford Manor House to the town and was instrumental in the creation of a trust to preserve it. Alford and District Civic Trust continue to manage the property today. During the World War 1 exhibition Dorothys letters provided an insight into her work, which shaped the rest of her working life, and her plight as a VAD Nurse. The Trust found funding for five of the original letters to be displayed during the exhibition as a loan from the IWM.

As soon as I discovered the letters at the IWM I became immersed in Dorothy’s world, she was so desperately homesick for Alford during her first few months abroad. Having unearthed more letters at the Lincolnshire archives I obtained copies of all of the letters and set about transcribing her four year ordeal. The letters were fully transcribed and can be found as early posts on the blog page “tales from the past”  , follow the link for the first post, the letters follow on.  A very brief overview of her life continues below.

Dorothy Emily Higgins was born on 21st August 1892, at Belsize Park in Hampstead, London. The daughter of Frederick Higgins and his wife Agnes Louisa (Lamb), she had an older brother John and a sister Agnes Mary, unfortunately a younger brother, Charles, died as an infant in March 1896. Frederick, like his father before him, worked as a land agent. He was born in 1844 at Alford Manor House, one of nine children born to John and Mary Higgins. Dorothy’s childhood home was in Park Lane, Alford.  She attended Miss Tate’s girls’ school, Caldecote Towers, in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire.

Dorothy was a very keen sportswoman, she was a founder member of the Alford Ladies Hockey Club, and she also particularly loved to shoot. May 1912 she had the honour of kicking off an Alford football match in aid of the Titanic Relief Fund.

Dorothy Higgins London 11 July 1914 Alexandra Day IWM
Dorothy Higgins, London, 11 July 1914 Alexandra Day –  Courtesey IWM

After her 4 years of service in WW1 Dorothy returned to Alford but, by then a very independent young woman, she quickly headed to London to work. While working as a Radiographer at the Royal Free Hospital she met radiologist Dr Dulcie Staveley. The two colleagues shared a flat in Gloucester Place for many years before retiring to Ivy House in Alford.

Miss Higgins went on to adopt quite gentlemanly attire, with short swept back hair and no make-up, she created an ambiguous persona. Pictured right, in July 1914, her outfit provides a striking contrast to the suits she chose to wear in later years.

Dorothy Higgins
Miss Higgins receiving a bouquet  – Courtesey of the Staveley Family

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