ERO’s Curiosity Cabinet: First World War albums of Nurse Kathleen Morley

In the first of our new Curiosity Cabinet series, Hannah Salisbury shares some of the fascinating things to be found in some recently accessioned First World War albums.

In a parlour there were three

A maid, a parlour lamp, and he

Two is company without a doubt

That’s why the parlour lamp went out

These rather cheeky lines were written by Gunner J. Frank of the Royal Garrison Artillery as he recuperated at Hylands House Hospital in Chelmsford, after being wounded at Ypres in August 1917.

This little trace of Gunner Frank is preserved in an autograph album which belonged to Kathleen May Morley who volunteered as a nurse and worked in several hospitals, including Hylands.

Three albums which were kept by Kathleen during the war years have recently been accessioned into our collections. Two are autograph albums filled with poems, drawings, and notes from men she nursed. The third is a photograph album, and includes pictures of Kathleen as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), her colleagues, and her patients.

Kathleen was from West Ham, and had grown up in a middle-class household, in a house opposite Ham Park. Her father was the Borough Surveyor for West Ham, and the 1901 and 1911 census returns show that the family had live-in servants. Kathleen was born in 1891, and would have been 23 when the First World War began. She volunteered as a nurse in 1915, and worked in military hospitals in Richmond, Lincoln, Wanstead, Woodford, and at Hylands House in Chelmsford.

Kathleen in her VAD uniform in 1915

The notes and sketches provide fascinating insights into hospital life and interactions between the patients and staff.

This cartoon, by Private George P. Clark of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, shows a conversation between a patient and the Medical Officer:

Patient: And is the operation likely to be fatal, Sir?

M.O.: Dear me, man! – considering the Government is giving you this operation free, I consider your idle curiosity most unseemly!

Other poems escaped from hospital life altogether, such as this one by Signaller James Watt of the 13th Royal Scots:

I’d like to be a hairpin

To bind a lady’s hair

Among the transformations

And the pads I’d nestle there

But if I were a hairpin

In Mabel’s tresses black

You bet if I slipped down her neck

You’d never get me back

Not everyone, however, rated their literary talents; J.E. Watson left Kathleen ‘A few lines by a bashful poet’ when she was at Woodford Military Hospital in May 1915.

Others, however, were only too happy to share their poetic talents. This little verse was written by Private W. Harris of the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards:

Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s wife

His ass thou shalt not slaughter

But thank the Lord ‘tis not a sin

To covet thy neighbour’s daughter

Some of the soldiers who appear in the albums were very far from home. Signaller W. Cowlishaw of the 1st Canadian Artillery Brigade left this message for Kathleen on 15 June 1915 at Wanstead Park Military Hospital:

 I wish that I was able, just by your side to stand

And in the good old English way to shake you by the hand

But, as the sea’ll divide us, well, this I cannot do

So to prove that your [sic] remembered still

I’ll write these lines for you

Perhaps the cheekiest poem in the albums was by an Australian, Private C.V. Jordan from Melbourne, who describes himself as ‘the Chair King’:

Our eyes have met

Our lips not yet

But by jove kid

I’ll get you yet

There do not seem to be any American troops represented in the albums, but their influence is clear in this sketch by R.G. Beynon of the 16th Royal Fusiliers. One wounded soldier asks another “How did you get your packet mate?” “Learnin’ baseball orf the Yanks” replies his companion.

A great deal of affection and respect for Kathleen from her patients is evident throughout all three albums. F.E. Jenkins wrote this glowing review of her healing powers:

A good tip

When you’re feeling down & poorly

And you’re looking pasty white

Try my remedy – Nurse Morley

She’ll fix you up all right

Several of the patients who appear in the photograph album shared in Jenkins’s gratitude to Kathleen; this unusual bedside portrait is signed ‘Yours Gratefully H W Sheald’.

Altogether, the albums provide a fascinating record of life in the hospitals in which Kathleen worked throughout the war.

The two autograph albums and a small selection of pictures from the photo album will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout January and February 2019.

4 thoughts on “ERO’s Curiosity Cabinet: First World War albums of Nurse Kathleen Morley

    • Glad you enjoyed the read! There is a fascinating book in the ERO library about the Middlesex military hospital in Clacton, written immediately after the war by the two doctors who had been in charge of it. It’s full of life and personality and offers really interesting insights into hospital life.

  1. William was not really a long way from home, thouigh he was a Canadian soldier. I am also Canadian and my Gray family was originally form Essex and I have researched the family at the Records Office. I checked, and William Cowlishaw was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, on the 9th September, 1889. He was therefore older than most of the soldiers. He signed his attestation papers at Valcartier Quebec on 23rd September, 1914. I am delighted to report that Signaller Cowlishaw survived the war, though he was hospitalized a few times from illness or injury. He served a total of 5 years and 50 days.
    In 1918, while still a soldier, he married Dorothy May Scoley in Greenwich, England. It appears that they chose to remain in the UK, as his war documents that he was given permission and leave to travel back to England at his own expense for demob.
    The record shows his medical record and treatment at Colchester after injury by a shell explosion. Cheers from Canada!

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