Dorothy’s War – Who was Dorothy Higgins ?

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.

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 girl’s school, Caldecote Towers, in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire.

July 1914 Miss Higgins selling roses for Alexandra Day in London. Photo courtesy IWM

On 22nd April 1915 Miss Dorothy Higgins sailed from Folkestone to Dieppe to begin her work as VAD nurse in France. Having safely arrived in Rouen she pens her first letter to her mother. Each aspect of her journey is recounted, providing a particularly vivid description of the French countryside as seen from the train between Dieppe and Rouen.

D Higgins 1915 photo courtesey of IWM

At the close of her letter she writes

I was glad I didn’t make a beastly idiot of myself at the station this morning:  it was hard work not to though. I shall miss you and Father and dear old Alford fearfully.

Dorothy’s War

Research for a local history project has unearthed some interesting bits and pieces along the way, many of which are completely irrelevant to the original project, but most are relevant to Alford. Many people have shown an interest in our findings so they will be shared here for all to see.

In February 2014 research began into Miss Dorothy Higgins, the benefactor of Alford Manor House, who reputedly drove ambulances in France during WW1. One year later we have managed to discover how she spent her war and just about proved that she did not drive an ambulance. A treasure trove of letters, written home to her parents, describe her daily life as a VAD nurse in an Anglo-Belgian hospital in Rouen. Dorothy Higgins sailed for France in April 1915.

One hundred years later we can revisit Dorothy’s war years through her letters home. The full story of Dorothy’s War is the subject of an exhibition at Alford Manor House.