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Civilian Beatrice Milner (May 1st 1891 - May 8th 1941) - Nurse
25/04/2024
Second World War Civilian War Dead 1939-1945 United Kingdom Women at war
By Anne-Marie Fawcett

United Kingdom

Civilian Beatrice Milner
3103514
View record on CWGC
GAWTHORPE, OSSETT, WEST YORKSHIRE

Beatrice Milner is the only female civilian commemorated at the War Memorial in Ossett, in West Yorkshire. She is buried almost 300 miles away at Teignmouth Old Cemetery in Devon.

Christened at St Mary's Church, Gawthorpe & Chickenley Heath on March 1 1902, just before her 11th birthday, Beatrice was one of the five children of Abraham Greaves Milner and Annie Maria Greaves.

Copyright - West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records

During WW1 the manufacture of army blankets in West Yorkshire was predominantly done in Batley, Dewsbury, Morley and Ossett. Abraham was in business with his father, manufacturing blankets, at Thomas Milner & Son. His brothers were in the rag and waste wool trade so it's likely that many of the Milners were involved in the production of these blankets which were mostly made from shoddy (scraps of wool and fibre collected by the rag trade).

The children of Annie and Abraham moved on from Gawthorpe. The eldest, Willie, became a skilled boot maker, married and moved to Armley in Leeds. In later years, his sister Fanny moved in with him and his wife. Alfred became the manager of Soham & District Gas Company in Cambridgeshire.

Beatrice Milner became a nurse. I can find no records of her nursing career but I do know it must have begun after 1921 as, at that time, she still lived in Gawthorpe along with her sister Fanny and their father Abraham. Their mother died in 1915; no doubt, they will have done their daughterly duty by caring for her, and subsequently their father prior to his death in 1927.

TEIGNMOUTH, DEVON

Also in 1927, two large Regency villas called Cliffden and The Rowdens in Devon were purchased by Doctors Bertha Mary Mules and Annie Shortridge Mules. The home had been started near Exeter in 1867 and had extended to Cliffden in 1927, followed by further development of The Rowdens in 1940. Collectively, the home went by the name of 'Lareys' and was a retreat for women suffering from psychiatric disorders. Did Beatrice read of the home in the 'Wanted' columns of the local newspaper? Something certainly made her travel the 300 miles south, not an easy trip even now! She took a position as a nurse in the home in Teignmouth, but which year she arrived, I cannot say.

DR BERTHA MULES - PIONEER

Dr. Bertha Mary Mules died on April 6 1963 at her home in Teignmouth, Devon, aged 94. Although she is not a casualty of WW1 or WW2, I believe she deserves a mention.

As a vice-president of the Marie Curie Hospital, founded by medical women in 1929, she took a great interest in its work, playing a large part in the raising of funds to endow the Devon bed at that hospital for the free treatment of Devon women. A plaque over the bed was inscribed: "The Devon bed, endowed by Devonians for the free treatment of Devon women. January, 1932."

Dr. Mules was a most outstanding woman. She was an accomplished pianist even as a girl and was also an artist of considerable ability. It was, however, in her care of the mentally ill that she was most remarkable and showed such foresight, making her establishments almost unique. At a time when custodial care was the rule for mental patients she was a pioneer in the attitude she adopted towards them. She was their friend, no stigma was attached to them, restrictions were few, doors unlocked, and parole was the general rule. To be admitted to one of her houses was to go to a place where love and happiness ruled. Seldom could one enter a place where such devotion by staff and patients alike was shown to the head of an establishment.

Source: rcpsych.ac.uk

HOSPITAL BOMBED

Teignmouth was the target of 21 bombing raids between July 1940 and February 1944, and around 80 high explosives and a thousand incendiaries spread across the town. Local reports recorded that the worst hit were the homes of the working class, 79 civilians were killed and more than a hundred and fifty were wounded. Of their homes, 228 houses were completely destroyed and thousands more were damaged. The Town Hall managed to survive a direct hit, but the hospital was wiped out.

Teignmouth Hospital was opened in Mill Lane in 1925 by Lady Cable of Shute House, but building there was not fully completed until just before war broke out. The hospital had two wards with 10 beds each, four private wards, an operating theatre and X-ray facilities.

On May 1 1941 Beatrice celebrated her 50th birthday (elsewhere her age is recorded as 49). A week later she was killed while on duty at Teignmouth Hospital.

An air-raid alert sounded at 11.30 pm, but the raid did not begin until 2.15am on May 8 1941. The Luftwaffe, returning from the blitz bombing of Plymouth's naval base, dumped their remaining bombs along the coast before heading back to their base. Bombs fell on the women’s ward, children’s ward and the nurses’ quarters; two more fell in the hospital grounds. Beds were buried beneath huge pieces of masonry and the rescuers searched for survivors by moonlight and hand torches.

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

A nurse working at the hospital later recounted:

"I awoke to find my bedroom door falling down, somehow I seemed to be sliding out of bed. The nurses wing in which I was sleeping was connected by a corridor to the hospital. I was out of bed. I didn't have time to dress or slip on a coat. It was then that I realised the hospital had been bombed. Water was rushing everywhere and I had to pick my way over piles of debris and broken glass. Having found that the other nurses were safe, I dashed back to my room and scrambled among the wreckage for my uniform. Partly dressed, I rushed to where the wards had been when I went off duty. Matron, who was the first on the scene , opened all doors, the windows were already blown in. She comforted the patients and waited until the rest of the staff arrived. We stood on a pile of debris calling to other patients hoping they could hear us."

The calm voice of a soldier rang out, "I'm alright nurse!" Then two little boys started to cry and we knew they were safe. Through the twisted frame of a window I saw the rest of the hospital in ruins. Huge blocks of concrete were sticking through the beds. We had hoped that the night staff were alive, but later we knew that they had been buried under the wreckage and that eight patients, seven of them women, had died with my colleagues."

"One of these was my special friend. She was only 16, the baby of the hospital, and we took a great interest in her because she was so young. The night staff nurse was only 26 and the other 21."

"The patients were gradually moved by hard working ambulance men to other hospitals. Although it was hours before some of the trapped patients were released, not a word of criticism from them was heard."

"At Dawn we started the seemingly impossible task of salvaging what remained of the beds and equipment. This great heap of rubble, twisted metal, wood and glass, was all that remained of our modern hospital."

Beatrice Milner, Civilian Nurse, is commemorated in Teignmouth and her home town of Ossett.

Original data: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Civilian War Dead
Ossett Memorial ©️ Author
Source/copyright: devonheritage.org