28 Nov

Mactaggart Women and WW1

Allanna Brough, Archive

Last week I told the story of Marion McKersie and her three daughters who all played their part in WW1 through their involvement with the British Red Cross and it was such an incredible story that I decided to do a bit more digging to see what else I could uncover.

As I mentioned in my last blog article, the majority of original shareholders in the Picture House were men. These men were people of power and wealth and high standing within the Campbeltown and wider community of Kintyre. Many of them were business men, property owners, some were Distillery owners, and some were bankers. Others held much influence in the town as lawyers, Procurator Fiscals, J.P’s and Provosts.

When I start to research a person, I look beyond the individual to the other family members. It gives a much better insight into their life when you have information about siblings, spouses and children.

And that’s exactly what I did with the children of the original shareholders, in particular, the female children…

Basil Hamilton Mactaggart and Alice Mactaggart were the daughters of Henry Dundas Beatson Mactaggart. (Henry was an original shareholder who bought 50 shares in 1912.)

Basil Hamilton Mactaggart was born in 1891 in India. In 1916 aged 23, she was assigned to a British Red Cross VAD unit and sent to France. She served in the No.1 Red Cross Hospital at Le Touquet until 1919.

Le Touquet was a Base Hospital. The Base Hospital was part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. They were manned by troops of the Royal Army Medical Corps, with attached Royal Engineers and men of the Army Service Corps. In the theatre of war in France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast. They needed to be close to a railway line, in order for casualties to arrive (although some also came by canal barge); they also needed to be near a port where men could be evacuated for longer-term treatment in Britain.

There were two types of Base Hospital, known as Stationary and General Hospitals. They were large facilities, often centred on some pre-war buildings such as seaside hotels. The hospitals grew hugely in number and scale throughout the war. Most of the hospitals moved very rarely until the larger movements of the armies in 1918. Some hospitals moved into the Rhine bridgehead in Germany and many were operating in France well into 1919.

Alice Mactaggart was born in 1887 in Somerset. In 1915 aged 28, she too was assigned to a British Red Cross VAD unit and sent to France. She served as a Nurse/Chauffeuse at Military Hospitals until 1919.

From the beginning of the war until the armistice, trained nurses were always available to be sent out by the Red Cross. The VADs were posted by the Joint Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John at Devonshire House. Special Service VADs were also sent to Red Cross hospitals, both in England and abroad. After the first few months, the general rule was that nurses were only sent abroad after they had served for at least two months under the Joint War Committee in an auxiliary hospital at home and had received a favourable report. The quality of care by the Red Cross meant that every nurse employed to carry out work in a hospital overseas came up to the standard of a sister, staff nurse or even a matron in an average London hospital.

Margaret Mactaggart was cousin to Basil and Alice. Margaret was the Daughter of John Norman Mactaggart. (John Norman was an original shareholder who bought 35 shares in 1912.) For six months in 1916, Margaret worked as Clerk to the Quarter Master at Percy House Isleworth Auxiliary Military Hospital. This was the same Hospital where Victoria Isobel McKersie was posted.

Auxiliary hospitals were usually staffed by a commandant, who was in charge of the hospital except for the medical and nursing service a quartermaster, who was responsible for the receipt, custody and issue of articles in the provision store and a matron, who directed the nursing staff members of the VAD unit who were trained in first aid.

From the code of practice for all VADs:

“You are being sent to work for the Red Cross. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience, your humility, your determination to overcome all difficulties….Give generously and wholeheartedly, grudging nothing but remembering that you are giving because your Country needs your help…..Let our mottoes be:”Willing to do anything” and “The people gave gladly”…

Katharine Furze, Commandant in Chief, B.R.C.S., Women’s VADs

I can’t help but imagine how proud Henry and John Mactaggart must have been of their Daughters.


Picture credit: Google images

Further reading about the role of women volunteers during WW1:

www.iwm.org.uk: Diary of Lois Thorpe, an ambulance driver at the Front.

www.iwm.org.uk: An account by Dorothy Field, a VAD Nurse.

www.museumstjohn.org.uk: Veronica Nisbet’s Scrapbook, a lass from Newcastle who served as a VAD in France.

“Among You Taking Notes” the war time diary of Naomi Mitchison.

Independent Women? November 28, 2017 Albert Victor Gardner December 8, 2017