In this post we will explore the particular devotion that many in the medical field exhibited. We have already considered John McCrae. Today we look at "Uncle" Henry Yates and my Cousin Martha Allan.
In both world wars, medics, doctors and nurses, showed that they were often the bravest of the brave. The only double VC of WW1 was a doctor, Noel Chavasse. Many of Medal of Honor recipients were Corpsmen. Most of these were given posthumously. 53 Canadian Nurses died of illness or in action in World War 1.
Henry Yates and Jack McRae were to die serving the wounded in the same way. They died not in action but by working themselves to death. Cousin Martha came close to joining them.
Image from the Yates Family Collection
Yates was not a young man when he signed up. I am sure that he was keen but no more than many other men caught up in the fever of 1914. The loss and the anger, that drove him give his own life, was I think initially connected to the loss of the Allan girls?
The Allans were like a second family. Henry and Montagu talked every day for more than 20 years. The Allans had supported him, and his wife Alice, when the Yates lost their first son as a boy. His second son was named after Montagu. Gwen and Anna were like his own children.
The death of the girls death was a personal outrage and an affront to his sense of the rules of war. (Here is a full account of the Sinking of the Lusitania as experienced by my family)
Henry arrived in France in June of 1915. His exposure to the wounds and to the deaths of the soldiers had a cumulative effect on this anger. They were not nameless soldiers but sons of friends and colleagues. He would have know many of them. (Here is a full account of Ypres and the losses)
He might also have felt guilt.
At 50, and as a doctor, he could not take up arms. He might have asked himself, "How can they have given all and I not?" "How can I revenge myself upon the Germans?"
I think this reaction happened to many who served in the medical field.
The work was relentless. Hundreds of men would come through as a matter of routine and thousands after an engagement. Day or night, day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year, the work never stopped. From 1915-1918, the Number 3 admitted 143,762 sick and wounded patients, and performed 11,395 operations. Looking to November 1918, that is an average of 1,000 a week.
No chateaux for them either. They lived as badly as the men they served. The Number 3 was in tents from June 1915 until January 1916. Located a few miles from the front, it was a self-contained city of tents that had been donated by an Indian prince. Inside, the hospital housed 1,500 beds, about four times the capacity of the Montreal General at the time.
Here is what it was like there for a later unit.
It was a dump!
The winter in 1915 was very hard. Many doctors and nurses became ill as a result. McCrae's health broke down in late 1916. He was then in and out of hospital until he died in January 1918.
The Number 3 War Diary entry for November notes Henry's illness and the terrible conditions.
By Nov 11 1915, Henry Yates's health broke down completely and he was admitted to hospital. On November 22, he was sent to England. Here is where the Allans return to our story.
On November 24th he is discharged into the care of Hugh Allan.
In her official war record we find that "Nursing Sister" Martha Allan goes on leave from Number 3 on November 20th for 4 days. Then her leave is extended.
It gets more interesting.
On December 22nd, she is transferred from leave in England to work at the hospital at Moore Barracks in Shorncliffe. This just happens to be yards away from Encombe where Henry Yates is now staying. This is her parents' house. Who could have arranged this? Col Birkett, the CO of Number 3.
Henry Yates remains with the Allans, Montagu, Marguerite, Hugh and Martha until Boxing day and then is admitted to another hospital near Margate where he finally dies on January 22nd 1916.
Then, Martha, herself, collapses with pneumonia. She is so ill that she needs 5 months to get well.
What happened really? What does a thoughtful review of the official record tell us?
Remember, Martha had tried to join the Number 3 before it had left Canada. But, aged 20 and with no qualifications, and even with all her family support, she was refused. She had travelled to England, not on the Metagama with the hospital, but separately on the Acadia as a private person in the company of Dr Todd who was also to join the Number 3. (More here) She did not know how she would do it but she was still determined to get into nursing. At that time a Canadian Nurse had to be over 22 and be a university graduate in nursing. She was 20 and untrained.
I think that her sisters' death changed everything.
She attests in London on May 24th and joins Number 3 just before they leave on June 15 for France. In her attestation she claims to be a Graduate Nurse.
This is not true. But it fulfils the bureaucratic rule and it stands in her records and in how they she is treated and counted from then on. Someone senior backed the lie. Col Birkett had to have been in the know. (Birkett was an honoured guest at my grandfather's wedding after the war with of course Aunt M and Uncle M)
How does this happen?
The Number 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) was the "Family Hospital" just as the Royal Victoria was at home. Her father, Birkett, Yates, McCrae and Todd made the key decisions.
I can see her begging her father to ask again. I can see Birkett, Yates, McCrae and Todd agreeing. (Todd was a close friend of McCrae's and had given him Bonfire to take to war. After Henry's death Todd leaves Number 3 and joins Uncle M to set up the Pensions System)
I can see her brother Hugh telling her to go and promising to stay with his parents. I can see nurses, like Nurse Gass, who was so against her joining, now agreeing and keeping the secret. (Nurse Clare Gass Below)
The loss of her sisters, the great affection for Henry Yates and the known connection to the Allans now explains to me the next part of this story.
We now understand the interconnection between Martha's leaves and new appointment and Henry's illness and being released to Hugh Allan.
Again the family fix is in. They cannot make it official. But they can beat the bureaucratic paper trail. In war, no one is special they all have to use the system as it is. But this did not happen to Henry Yates who was special to his unit and to my family.
This is what I think really happened. When Henry became deathly ill, Martha was assigned "unofficially" to look after him.
This is why Henry had been admitted "officially" into the care of Mr Hugh Allan on November 24th. Not into the care of Sir Montagu Allan. That might have raised a flag. As an ex banker, I can read the work arounds for getting your way in a bureaucracy.
Henry Yates spends his last Christmas with them and dies in their company.
But this care of the family friend carries with it a high price for the Allans.
Weakened by the stress of the loss of her sisters, weakened herself by the terrible living conditions of Number 3, weakened by the death of Uncle Henry and possibly infected by him, Martha comes down with pneumonia next month and nearly dies herself. There are no antibiotics then. She is sick for 5 months. She never fully recovers her health. She dies in 1942, aged 47, as a result of all of this. She joins all her three siblings as casualties of the Great War.
But that is in the future. What then for Martha in 1916?
If she had retuned to Number 3, her health would have certainly broken down again, as it did with Jack McCrae. A return would have been a death sentence. I can only imagine that her parents begged her to not do this. They had lost her two sisters and now they could not prevent Hugh from going to the front. I am sure that Birkett and Todd would have supported this too.
Martha choses life.
She resigns her commission and becomes a free agent. But she is not finished with the war. Here is how a commentator described her.
Immensely self-assured, forceful and resourceful, with all manner of charm yet determined to carry out her plans. She was a woman capable of bringing together a group, with varying degrees of talent, compatibility and dedication, and welding them into an effective, hard-working whole. She was many-gifted herself. Her powers of readiness and initiative were astonishing. Nothing daunted her.
She returns to France on her own terms. This is when she buys her own ambulance and works as a freelance driver. She has enough control as a freelancer to to avoid illness. She can use her money to live in decent accommodation and to eat good food. Though the family story is that she is also wounded.
She also takes charge of her love life. She reconnects with Thierry Mallet. Thierry has a very distinguished war himself. Unusually for a French national, he receives the MC from the Duke of Connaught who had known him well in Canada when he had been the Governor General. He also receives the Croix de Guerre from France. He is wounded twice and for at least one of these woundings, Martha looks after him.
In February, 1917 they announce their engagement. But this great romance, begun before the war when she was only 16, ends in July 1917.
On July 6th 1917, Hugh, her brother, is killed.
Martha now chooses family over everything. She chooses family over war and over her heart. She breaks off the engagement with Thierry and returns to England to help her mother and Emily Yates, Henry's daughter, at the hospital, Moor Court, in Sidmouth Devon. She will end the war there also with my wounded grandfather Alec and his wounded brother Hartland. They are the shattered remnants of the family that had collectively lost so much. I think this is why aunt M's dearest wish was for Martha and Alec to marry. But it was not to be.
Bound even tighter by mutual loss, the close connection between the the Yates and the Allan families deepens as the war continues.
In 1915, Uncle Montagu arranged for Henry's body to be sent back to Canada. Policy was that all Canadians who died in Europe were to be buried there. Henry's body was the only sanctioned return that I know about. Montagu found a way around the rules for Henry in death as Henry had found a way around the rules for Martha in life.
Henry's death re- introduces another major actor in our story, Alice Yates.
Image from the Yates Family Collection
Alice Yates, who had stayed in Canada as Regent of the IODE, now packed her bags and crossed the Atlantic with her daughter Emily to join Marguerite Allan and Julia Drummond in organizing the support for the troops in Europe. She too has nothing to lose and will now give her all. But that is a story for later.
Here are the Yates family. All together at peace at last.
When I started this journey, I thought this story would be all about the men and the fighting. But it isn't and now I see that it never was. War affects us all. No one, man woman or child is outside its boundary.
I now feel that the hardest war was that served by the women and by the men who cared for those that fought.
Guy Drummond wrote this to his mother on morning of the day of his death as he thought about his sister in law's loss of his friend Trum Warren.
Indeed and truly it’s much harder for you women at home.
Little did he know that morning that his own wife, a sister of Trum's wife, and his mother would lose him by 6.30pm that night, April 22nd 1915.