17/05/1915                                                                                                                         Rouen

My Dearest Father

I am sending you some photos I had taken at a funny little shop: they are pretty weird, but rather amusing. I used one of each for you and one of each for mother. The one in the outdoor uniform is not so bad, but the other is a poisonous libel!

Have you seen much of the Scottish Horse officers and their wives? Are they as nice as the Scouts?I suppose Captain Hadfield has had the bullet extracted from his thigh by now: I expect he’ll have a slight limp for life. How is John Budibent ?

I hope the letters and cuttings I returned have got home safely. I have had a letter from Colonel Sandall fairly recently and also one from Mr Clayton-Smith. I am so sorry to hear that Mrs Rawnsley has broken her arm; it is indeed rotten luck. It will keep her in England for some little time. How is Claythorpe going on? I suppose you have got some little pigs there now, and how many calves were there altogether?

Wasn’t the Lusitania devilish and diabolical. I hope bluffing boasting America, who up to now has been all swank and talk and no deeds, will really wake up now. I’m jolly glad enemy aliens are to be interned: the time is late now: it ought to have been done last September. I was horribly shocked to see that Newton Woodwiss is killed: poor boy it seems such a little time since I was dancing with him, and he was a nice lad despite his little affectations. I saw about poor Tommy Garfit too. Have you seen Betty Fenwick-Owen’s baby and is it a nice little thing?

This is a very scrappy letter so far but I am answering some of yours, and that makes it rather disjointed. I wish I could come over in a little biplane and do a little rook shooting and have a look at you both, and the garden and then fly back. It would be ripping.

I went up to the camp again yesterday to see Teddy Tomlinson and as I was crossing the Rue Jeanne D’Arc I casually glanced at the 3ASC Tommies , and behold the middle one was Charles Lacey. Mother will probably know better than you who that is. He was Tom Parker’s butcher –boy who enlisted last October. He is here at Rouen at the docks cutting up frozen meat. He has been all over the place, Bruges, Ostend, Dunkirk, Amiens, Boulogne and other places that I can’t remember. He looks awfully fit and rather less “soft” than before. He still has the same crazy smile! I asked him how he liked it, and he said well enough, but he wouldn’t mind a fortnight’s holiday.

He has applied for exchange into another regiment as he is tired of cutting up meat and wants to do a bit of fighting. He was more astonished to see me and stood open mouthed for several minutes, and declared he wouldn’t have known me in uniform. I chatted to him for some minutes and then went up to No 9 and found the boy much better. His temperature is much steadier and he was lying outside in his bed in the sun with an awning to shade his head. It was a gorgeous day and beside him was a Canuck (Canadian RE man) who had had a mild attack of gas but was well on the way to recovery: he simply sounded as though he had a bad cough and cold in his throat and chest. I sat for half an hour between their beds on a camp stool and talked to them. It is quite true that the Boches crucified a Canadian sergeant : the soldiers all tell one so, not one or two. Wasn’t it a ghastly thing. I came back from the hospital on Tuesday with a lot of wounded who were going to England. They were all wounded in the upper half of the body and able to walk and sit and more or less take care of themselves. They were as merry as sandboys in their clean bandages and bloodstained uniforms. Each man was labelled like a parcel. I gave them some cigarettes and chatted with them and they were awfully interesting. Of course one has to take some of their statements [with a pinch] but still the whole conversation was really thrilling, I have come to the conclusion that the English Tommy is one of the most charming characters in existence. They are simply delightful. Tomlinson will quite possibly be sent to England towards the end of the week so the sister told me. I saw a military funeral as I was going up: a Highlander, with a pipe playing “the Flowers of the Forest”.

Tuesday. It poured with rain at intervals yesterday and again this morning, and it is quite cool. Funnily enough, I was talking to one of the girls here who lives at Cheltenham and looking at her paper, and found an account of Kathleen Richardson’s wedding. Please thank Mother very much for the overalls which arrived last night. She would do well to put “On active service” on the outside of parcels and also their contents, though the latter isn’t so necessary. I went with Miss Brodie on Sunday Morning to the Indian Post Office here and bought two sets of stamps ( Indian surcharged BEF ) and had one set stamped with the FPG post-mark and the other left plain. They are great treasures. One of the Belgian girls here is also going to get me a set of Belgian stamps marked with their special Havre postmark.

How is Mother getting on with her maid hunt. I regret Robert’s departure but I don’t care about the rest. On that Jo. c from the 5th W. Yorks. A. Gaunt was the subaltern who arranged the matches with me. C.E.Ward the colonel, BS Bland, a Cambridge half blue hockey, and a captain in the regt, DP Mackay another Capt. ( I had tea at his digs with Mrs Wood and Edith, and W Goldie, the very charming Major.

Tell Mother that I certainly think Whiteley’s bill is very heavy, but I know shipping rates have gone up immensely since the war. I enclose the bill. I’m so sorry her coat and skirt was not a success. I hope she enjoyed Jean Stirling Mackinlay: I would have loved to take her to it. What a pity there has been trouble at Woodthorpe: it seems all the more sad as there have been Kelks there for hundreds of years. I got my wee lamp all right, many thanks for it.

I must stop now, as I’m busy.

Best love to you both

Your loving Dorothy

08/05/1915                                                                                                                                                         Rouen

My Dearest Mother

Thanks awfully for your letters you are a brick to write so often and such lovely long ones too: I’m afraid your poor thumb must have been very painful after 6 sheets, even though it was written in bits. I have just received your letter and Molly’s enclosed. I have written to hr more than 3 times in 9 months: she is talking through her hat ! I’m sorry she has been so seedy: it is most unfortunate in such a benighted place.

I hope you are better again now: it is horrible being seedy like that. The weather here has been awfully trying: it has been trying to thunder for about 5 days and has been very hot and absolutely airless: we have had one or two small storms, but they haven’t cleared the air a bit.

How tiresome of Roberts to want to go: servants really are fools. However perhaps she may change her mind.

Of course I mean to write often: as I can’t talk to you I must do the next best thing, and that is, write. How amusing that my letter should have been censored. Do keep them all as I am longing to see a censored letter, and then you can show it to me when I come home!

Poor old Wilson; I hope he is better now: Gladys told me he was dreadfully ill, and that Greenwood’s accident had preyed on his mind.

I’m glad to hear that Captain Hadfield is going on well. I’ll tell you something about the 5th Lincs presently, but I want to answer your letters first.

As far as I can gather, your letters to me are NOT censored, and the penny stamp is quite all right.

Fancy Holmes selling his business: it ought to give Armitage a help on. What is Billy Allis going to do: just farm or is he going to keep on the coak and corn game? And where is AA going to farm? Is Vamplew’s a motor bus? He told me he was trying to get one.

The garden sounds absolutely top-hole: I long to see it. There are some pretty public gardens here with lilacs and chestnut- trees, white and pink rhododendrons and lots of people have Kerrya japonica in their gardens. Lilacs grow everywhere, both the ordinary and the Persian, and really are a sight. Have those boxes of seeds come up yet, I mean the ones I left in my little frame ?

I’m glad Nanny got my card all right: please give her my love next time you see her. I sent one to Lib and Nurse and Mrs CHH and lots of people, including the Sandall family, and had a card from Cecile a few days ago. I would willingly send a card to Mrs Ernest Reed, but I’m not quite sure whether to address her Caroline Street or Pump Square. I must send one to Mrs Sparrow Smith too or she would be awfully upset. Let me know how to address them both, next time you write and then I can send them off.

I’m glad the Nemesia were all right, are they still flowering? Do you see much of the Scottish Horse officers? Miss Brodie tells me there is tremendous rivalry between them and the Lovat’s Scouts, as being the representatives of Lowlands and Highlands!

You seem to be having a rotten time with spring-cleaning I’m not sorry to miss that!

It is pleasant to hear that Alford has not forgotten me and takes an interest in my adventures.

I thought Mrs Glenford had been to Lincoln once and had been sent back: I suppose that was owing to that muddling juggins, Dr Elliott. I’m sorry the Parkers have gone : they were nice people.

ALL our nurses are English: we have a Belgian girl Mlle Freisey ( I’m not sure if that’s how she spells it) as house keeperand she helps in the wards sometimes, but she is the only foreign woman in the place except a few laundry women and the cook. All the doctors are Belgian army men, one captain; 4 Subalterns; there is a colonel doctor who is in Rouen and comes in now and then, but he’s not regular staff. Most of us are Red + and wear the uniform of our society, but a few are St Johns and wear their own kit, and about two wear odd uniforms. We have just got a new one who wears Salisbury infirmary uniform! Our hospital will hold nearly 300 I believe, but we haven’t got that number in at present, as two large drafts went off to Grival this week, and our new ones aren’t going in till next week. Grival is the convalescent  home, about 25 miles from Rouen. It is a big school and has been given over to the chief: it will hold 300 and has about 200 there I think. I haven’t been there yet, but I hear it’s a lovely place right in the country.

I’m glad to hear my coat has been sent off: I want it badly. It wasn’t the girl I crossed with that has a brother in the Scouts and is Major Baillie’s cousin: it was the energetic one who couldn’t wait till Thursday, and crossed on Tuesday night. Don’t you remember, Mrs Macdonald said “Miss Brodie’s going across tonight”. She is a nice girl: I believe I’ve told you about her in my last letter. Miss Anwyl (pronounced as its spelt “anwil” its Welsh for darling) is a nice girl: she is 27 though she doesn’t look a day older than I do.

What an unnecessary lot of kit for EB to have. It sounds positively absurd. I get on quite well with what I have. I am going up to the camps this afternoon with Miss Brodie: she has been up several times and has got to know her way about, as she often goes up to see Scottish people. I met a 4th Lincs Tommy last night and spoke to him. He was a nice lad and came from Sleaford, and he told me that there were about a dozen 4th and 5th Lincs. men up in the camps. It’s no use my telling you all about the camps, as it wouldn’t be allowed to pass: suffice it that near Rouen are camps and hospitals with English Soldiers therein. All details will have to be stored in my memory for the present. He seemed to think that there was an Alford man up there, and they are always so delighted to speak to an “English Lady” let alone, one from Lincolnshire, that I determined to go up and rout them out. That is why I am going up.

Monday 10th

I now have lots more to say, but it must come in sequence. I went to the camp on Saturday night, and found 4 men from the 5th Lincolns. They are not really sick, but have boils rheumatism, and so forth: too sick to be useful up at the firing line but not bad enough to encumber the ground of a hospital or convalescent home. I also found my friend of the 4th Lincs. and I asked him to take down my address, as I wanted them to let me know if any Alfordians come down, so I wrote it on a bit of paper, he read it and said, “Is it MrFrederic Higgins of Alford”?  So I said , yes and told him I was is daughter and he said that he knew Father very well, as he was in the office of the Farmer’s Association ( I think at Lincoln) and used to supply F with manure and has seen F in the office: he said, F was on the committee , and he remembered him perfectly. He as a little fair haired man: a nice little chap. The others were from various companies but none from Alford: one used to live at Alford and play footer: he talked of Blakey, and Doggy Taylor and others. His name was Walker, and he is in the Louth Co. now. They were all delighted to have a chat and I too enjoyed it very much. One of them, I think he was a Whitworth, had been all through the S. Africa war: he had both medal ribbons on his tunic. He was a Grimsby man, but in Capt. Hadfield’s lot. The Alford man was Porter (not Freer, but the one who played footer and cricket: wasn’t he a clerk in the SBC’s office?) he isn’t in the Lincs. Regt. But in the Derbys or Sherwood Forresters, anyway some terrier regiment of the N Midlands DVN. But he was out and I didn’t see him. I believe he’s working in one of the military offices, protem.

On Sunday morning I got your letter, and Miss Brodie wanted to go up again to the camps, so after lunch we set out and she went to her hospital and I went to mine. I found Teddy Tomlinson and was allowed to see him for about quarter of an hour. He has been moved to no2 ward. I don’t think I ought to go into details about his health, as the matron was going to write to his mother last night. He was very glad to see me, I think, and said he felt fairly well in himself, but his temperature was up and down a good deal. I am going up again on Tuesday: the sister told me there was no cause for anxiety. She was awfully nice to me. I took him up some papers, including the Lincs. Standard. They are not quite sure what is the matter with him, but it’s not pneumonia as far as they can tell. He’s living on milk, eggs & bread [?]

I expect I shall know more when I go on Tues, I will then write again. Miss Brodie and I get ragged awfully by the girls here as when we see respectively a Seaforth, or a Lincoln we rush up and speak to them. Poor devils it seems to give them pleasure, and we like to know how our own men are getting on. I was so glad to be able to see Tomlinson and do what I could as they are decent people, and very staunch friends of ours. The camps are a beastly long way here it is a hot dusty journey: you can tram part of the way, but not all. Of course we always go up in uniform and the Tommies are absolute gentlemen: they often salute us or if we ask the way or speak to them, always address us as “sister” a title that of course we have no right to; it is delightful seeing them. Often when one is travelling up on the train with them one’s knowledge of French comes in useful, to assist them in struggles with money. The difficulty is that French tram conductors and shop keepers will treat an English Robert as a franc and so poor Tommy generally gets done out of 2d in the shilling, unless someone is handy to help him with his explanation.

Yesterday as I was coming back from church I met M. Bertrand (my old fencing master) in Khaki. Of course we greeted each other warmly: he is a captain in the British Army: I asked him what regiment, and he said “general service”, no regt. He does anything but fight!! I expect he has got the job because of his perfect command of French and English. He goes up and down in charge of troop or hospital trains. He tells me that he is often in Rouen and hopes to see more of me, which will be jolly. I must dry up now, as someone is waiting to take them to the censor;

Best love to you both

Your loving daughter Dorothy.

02/05/1915

My Dearest Father

I was so delighted to get your long letter and Mother’s of the 27th. I have been to church this morning as I do not give sun-cure or hot air baths on Sunday. We went for a stroll (3 of us) on the quays after church and met a Tommy from the first Lincolns. He nearly cried with joy when I stopped and spoke to him and told him I came from Lincolnshire too and he read my shoulder badge. We had quite a pow-wow and he told me where all the various battalions were and how they were getting on. He himself had been wounded through the back of his ankle, but was still medically unfit. He came from “the city” he told me with pride, so I told him I often went there, especially to play hockey. The 5th are near La Bassee Canal. He said “it is a treat to speak to an English lady : there isn’t many about Rouong”. He was an awfully niceman and I was awfully bucked to meet a compatriot, so to speak. He wrung my hand fervently at parting and said it was real nice of me to have noticed him.

Yesterday I went out for a motor in between tea and supper.A new man has just been attached to the hospital, I don’t know how long for. He is a Belgian Baron of some sort, quite a gentleman. He has been in England a good deal and speaks a kind of broken English, and is quite English looking, and has decent manners. He has been attached because of his car I think. It is a huge Peugeot about 40 horses in power, and holds 7 people: an open touring car, a regular beauty. It goes 60 miles an hour without turning a hair. So he took 6 of us out for a run through La Foret Verte, an enormous state forest north of Rouen. It is absolutely lovely, nearly all beech trees and a few pines. There are heaps of roads through it and one can really go for miles through it. I believe it would take nearly a day to walk through it in its thickest part. The country round is practically one vast apple orchard. We always have cider to drink here, as well as boiled water. The cider is quite nice, but very very weak: not a bit like English cider. You’d have to drink gallons in order to get screwed!!

The wild cherries were a sight in the forest and we stopped at one place and picked bluebells and primroses.

I must stop now as I want to write to Mother as well. I hope He is behaving himself nicely. How is the farm going on? I went to the Credit Lyonnais and it being a very hot day, I specified that they should bring me a man who spoke English, as bank terms confuse me so much in English, I didn’t feel equal to struggling with them in French. I found that all was in order and I put in some of the money I had left from your £10 and they gave me a cheque book and pass book, and I signed my name at least ten times. The man would call me (H)eejins, so I had to gently suggest to him that the ‘g’ was hard and not soft!

My best love

From your loving Dorothy.

Dorothy’s War – first letter from home.

27/4/1915                                                                                                                                            Rouen

My dearest Mother

I was so delighted to get your letter yesterday: it was the first I’d had since I got here and was an absolute oasis.

I have been put in charge of a new departure thay have started now it is getting hot; it is heliotherapy or sun-cure. I manage it almost entirely myself, and my duties consist in collecting certain patients whose names are given me by one of the doctors and then I have séances, through the day in the courtyard and they sit in the sun and expose the injured part of their anatomy to the sun for a certain time. I keep a kind of case book of the whole lot and when I am not doing that , I do my ordinary work in the ward. Of course I get my time off just the same. If one is free after lunch the great thing is to trot down to the Censor’s office to take one’s letters before 3pm. Whoever is going, collects anyone else’s who is on duty, or has a desire to go elsewhere, and so anyone going to the Censor’s office generally  has a sheaf of letters. The posts are put out in the dining room and I was so bucked to see yours yesterday morning. I must dry up now and go to bed I’ll finish this to morrow.

28th I am sitting frizzling in the sun and looking after my sun-bath patients : it is very hot.

I wonder if my overalls have come from Hobson’s yet?  I hope so, as I shall soon want them. Perhaps you can send out my baby flash lamp when you send the overalls as I’m not in any hurry for it. I’m jolly glad Mrs —– isn’t coming here: B may say what she likes, I think she is a most objectionable woman. I’m sorry to hear about poor Captain Hadfield : it is rotten luck for him. I hope he isn’t seriously wounded.

I had a bath at the hotel last night: it really was a most comic affair. They brought me a big can of hot water and a bath which was not a yard across: it was called a bain de siege but I’m hanged if anyone but a baby could have sat in it. I suppose it could have been done if I’d stuck my feet out but I was in mortal terror of upsetting the whole thing as my room is somewhat smaller than Father’s dressing room !! So I stood and scrubbed myself in sections : it was a most complicated performance. The cream of the whole affair was that I was shouting remarks about my struggles to Mrs Garrard whose bedroom window is just above mine, and this morning I discovered that an English officer is sleeping next door to me and his window is next to mine and as he, I and Mrs G all look out the same way he must have heard our conversation and been tremendously tickled! The hotel really is awfully nice and we are very comfortable there.

Three of us took a tram into the country the other day and found some lovely beech-woods with hazel-trees in between. There were not any wild flowers there however, except a few wood anemones, and a darling baby solomon’s seal about 10 inches high, evidently wild. Coming home I saw a lot of stitchwort and yellow horned poppy which grows in some parts of England, but not round home.

It is beginning to be quite hot: I shall be glad when my thin coat arrives. How dreadful about poor Greenwood: I had a long letter from Gladys yesterday and she told me all the details: I suppose he wasn’t a very expert motorist.

I must go out now as I have several things to do. Of course I love having your letters, but be sure and not hurt your poor thumb, as I wouldn’t like you to do that. How is the garden ? Are Clara and the double cherry out yet ? and how are all the things in my garden and rock-garden and all the anemones ?

Thanks awfully for sending me the photos

With the very best love to you and father

Your loving daughter

Dorothy.

Dorothy’s War – Life in Rouen

L’Hopital Roi Albert I, Rue St Lo, Rouen.
L’Hopital Roi Albert I, Rue St Lo, Rouen.

The letters that follow over the next four years are separately addressed to her mother and father, offering different aspects of her life abroad, according to their own interests, and letters received. She wrote by flashlight, as all lights had to be extinguished by 9.30pm. In her Father’s first letter Dorothy explains that her letters will be censored by the English military censor. She continues to elaborate that she is therefore unable to share much of the exciting news that now comes her way or her letters will bear the stamp of the censor “how swanky”. After a short bout of illness, caused by her inoculations, Dorothy returns to form writing long letters home. However her enthusiastic tales of destroyers at work immediately fall foul of the censor’s stamp rendering many lines of her next letter illegible. Her feelings on hearing the news of 7th May 1915 remained very clear

Wasn’t the Lusitania devilish and diabolical, I hope bluffing , boasting America who has been up to now all swank, or talk and no deeds, will really wake up now. 

Miss Higgins’ work began at the Anglo-Belgian hospital, King Albert I, founded by Miss Dormer Maunder. The building was previously a school for boys. The French authorities had made the site available to the Belgians, funding was by private subscription. Due to a shortage of accommodation Miss Higgins and eight other nurses stayed at the Hotel Normandie, paying 40 francs per month for their accommodation. The British army offices were housed in the Bishop’s palace in Rouen and Sunday services took place in a small chapel of the palace, behind Rouen Cathedral. At her first service Dorothy notes that there are only 18 women present among the congregation which numbered well over 100 officers and Tommies.

Away from the front line and receiving men who have already healed from their initial wounds Dorothy appears to have been shielded from the horrors of war during her early days in France. She describes how the nurses stroll around the town in the afternoons, wearing Red Roses in honour of St George on April 23rd. They take tea at Potins “the swank café” and “a topping place, never have I had such chocolate or such éclairs”, English papers are available and Rouen is declared to be “a ripping place”.

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 was the subject of an exhibition at Alford Manor House in 2015.