Friday, 5 May 2017

“How good you Sisters are to us”* ......... stories behind the book nu 13 ..... Miss Thelka Bowser

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War.*

Miss Bowser, date unknown
I wish I could have met Miss Ida Thelka Bowser.

She was born in 1873, served with the Red Cross from 1902 and “died on January 11 1919 after three years painful illness, patiently borne.”**

It was a short enough life but packed through with service to the community.

As well as being a Red Cross nurse who served in France during the Great War, she was a journalist who will be remembered for her vivid account of the Voluntary Aid Detachments.

The  V.A. Detachments had been established in 1909 to supplement the military in the event of a major European war and were “a voluntary organisation supported by public subscriptions ....... to supplement the medical services of the army and navy and to supply comforts to soldiers and sailors in addition to those provided by the authorities.”***

V.A.D.s at work in Heaton Mersey

It was,  to quote Miss Bowser a contribution made "willingly, smilingly and as though theirs is the privilege”****

And it was made in full recognition of the sacrifices being made by the servicemen the V.A.D.’s were helping, as she went on to write “during of the great pushes, whilst I was working in France amongst our wounded men as they came down from the firing line to the Base, they often said to me, ‘How good you Sisters are to us’ and I with a catch in my throat always made one reply, ‘Good – not a bit of it.  Where should we Englishwomen be today if it were not for such as you?’”*****

Now it became fashionable in the 1960s to view such sentiment with a cynical eye but I rather think with the distance of a century it is now possible to divorce the overt jingoism and propaganda of the struggle from the genuine sacrifice made by men and women and the appalling price paid both in the lives lost and the lives blighted by those four years of war.

V.A.D.s at work in Heaton Mersey
Which brings me back to Miss Bowser.  I have been reading her book on the work of the V.A. Detachments and in turn got drawn into her life story which I have Debbie Cameron to thank who had got their first and has added Miss Bowser to the data base,  Lives of the First World War run by the Imperial War Museum.******

She was born in London to a comfortably well off family and as well as her work with the Red Cross and as a journalist she was the “founder of the King's Daughters' Guild for busy girls in London.  This was a friendship league, enabling the members to help each other enjoy their leisure in intelligent ways, and also to increase their opportunities by self-education.”

There is much more but always mindful that if someone has already done the research it is always appropriate to defer to their work which in this case is that piece by Debbie.

Location; The Great War

Research; Debbie Cameron

Picture; Miss Ida Thelka Bowser courtesy of Lives of the First World War, IWM and the kitchens, the Red Cross Hospital, Heaton Mersey circa 1914, T Everett-Innes, from the collection of David Harrop

* Bowser, Thekla, The Story of the British V.A.D Work in the Great War, 1917 pages 4

**Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, due out at the end of 2016,

*** Hastings and St Leonards Observer January 18 1919

*** The Red Cross in Lancashire, Manchester Guardian, September 12, 1914

****ibid Bowser, Thekla, page228

*****ibid Bowser, page 4

****** Lives of the First World War, IWM,

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