As General Currie, an unknown in Feb 1915, arrives in France, Julia, Lady Drummond, known socially but not for anything else, sets up shop in a small office at 14 Cockspur Street in London in mid February 1915. By May 1917, Arthur Currie will be a national hero known not only to all the Canadians in the field but to all Canadians. Long before that, Julia Drummond will achieve the same recognition. But more, she will become beloved.
For while Currie had solved the challenge of the World War 1 battlefield, Julia Drummond solved the problem of how to support the men. Her insight and organizational skills meant that Canadian soldiers in Europe, alive or dead, wounded or fit, at the front or on leave, in their units or as prisoners would have someone looking out for them and for their families back home.
She had arrived in November 1914 probably with her daughter in law to be close to her son Guy who was in the first contingent. She had taken rooms at Browns Hotel. But with her son in France, what was she to do?
Here is how Iona Carr, who wrote the history of her work described the big idea:
For some time she waited. In the bustle of war, womanly schemes do not easily gain serious attention, and people then were only beginning to suspect in womankind the latent powers that later were to be so gloriously proved. But one day the necessary authorization came. The Canadian Red Cross Society represented in London by Col. Charles Hodgetts, Chief Commissioner, approved the plan to establish an Information Bureau as one of its activities and Col. Hodgetts, then and thereafter its friend, gave Lady Drummond a free hand to organize and direct it and left the way open for the widest ex- pansion of the work. So on 11th of February, 1915, the day after the First Con- tingent landed in France, 3 ladies were put in possession of a couple of rooms in the Canadian Red Cross Society's head- quarters in London, at that date 14 Cockspur Street. They were Lady Drummond as head and director. Miss Erika Bovey and Miss Ermine Taylor, and the alliance was known as the Information Department, (later known as Bureau) Casualties and Prisoners. Looking back down the long avenues of memory, more than four years of steady and, to the personnel, satisfying work, it is amazing to realise how much grew from that modest inaugura- tion. One is convinced, by results, how truly that ambition was justified; an ambition at once so great, since it comprised so wide a field, and yet so simple, for all it sought was the privilege of being a friend to every fighting Canadian, and to his people. At the front — so it must be — the individual was merged in the whole. In this merging by self-forgetfulness he found strength, courage and inspiration. But when he should come back, wounded, the natural human craving would assert itself, and away from his usual environment of home and familiar surroundings the sick man would have a desperate craving to be of particular interest to Somebody.
Key to this idea was the idea of a "Visitor" a woman who would become the surrogate family member to the Canadian. By the end of the war thousands of women would play this role.
Here is how the role was defined:
The Canadian Red Cross Society has opened an Information Bureau at its London Office, 14, Cockspur Street, which will collect and distribute information concerning the sick, wounded, missing and prisoners of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
This work will be carried on with the co-operation of the Canadian War Contingent Association which has kindly undertaken to assist in the arrangements to be made for visiting the Hospitals.
A large number of voluntary visitors will be enrolled to carry out this work, both in the United Kingdom and abroad.
By special arrangement, the Hospitals will at once inform the Information Department of the arrival of any sick and wounded from the Canadian Contingent, this notification being forwarded to it on a distinctive blue postcard furnished by the Society.
In the case of the missing, inquiries will be made abroad through branches of the British Red Cross Society in Paris, Rouen, and Boulogne; in Great Britain and Ireland through the Press and other Agencies. The British Red Cross Society has kindly undertaken to further these inquiries by adding the names of Canadian soldiers who have not been traced, to the weekly list of wounded and missing in Wednesday's Morning Post.
By these and other means it is hoped to get into touch with the largest possible number, and to bring comfort not only to the wounded, but to the relatives from whom they are separated.
On receiving an intimation from this Office that a Canadian soldier has been admitted to a hospital in her district, the Visitor will call and obtain a report of his condition. This she will immediately forward to the Information Department of the Canadian Red Cross, 4 Cockspur Street, S.W.,where it will be put on record and communicated to the relatives either by letter or by interview. Afterwards, the Visitor will be expected to keep this Office informed of the progress of the patient by sending in a report at least weekly. Forms and stamped envelopes will be provided for this purpose. She will notify it of his discharge, will see that he is under favourable conditions during convalescence, and will refer to the Department should its assistance or advice be required in such matters as Convalescent Homes, etc.
The Visitor will be at liberty to write directly to the relatives, should this seem desirable, but such correspondence must in no case be a substitute for information furnished to the Canadian Red Cross Society.
The Wednesday edition of the Morning Post will be sent to the Visitor, and she may do much to assist in tracing the missing, thus reported, through inquiry at Hospitals or through conversation with sick and wounded comrades.
It is confidently expected that a large number will enrol themselves for this service.
Who could have known in February how massive this operation would become and how it would touch the lives of the more than 470,000 men and women and their families?
No one could know the future in February 1915.
Meanwhile, as Julia set up the office, she may have had good news from her daughter in law Mary (Braithwaite). Her son, Guy, had been on leave in town at Christmas. So was his good friend Trum Warren who was married to Mary's sister. Both conceived that week. Mary by mid Feb may have sensed that she was pregnant. Certainly by late March or early April she would have been certain. So with the worry of Guy being at the front, there would have been the growing joy at knowing that a child was due.
Maybe this started as a bit of a "Let's do something" project." We cannot know about the initial motivation.
Also, at first, casualties were light and were mainly confined to the PPCLI who had arrived in France in late December. Little could they have anticipated how heavy casualties would be in April and May of 1915 and that Guy and Trum would die within days of each other.
My intuition tells me that after Guy and Trum's death, it all became very personal for Julia. If she was motivated in February, she was driven after April 22nd. In later posts we will explore her other huge idea - The Maple Leaf Clubs - Basically she provided homes for Canadians in the UK.
By May 1st, 1915, widowed twice and having lost both her sons, Julia would devote herself to other women's sons, brothers and fathers. I hope as we learn more, that you will come to see her as I do as a truly great person.