Today I'm straying out of my Victorian comfort-zone to talk about something very much on all our minds today: the First World War. A century has now passed and I think this is the first of the big anniversaries that I can remember where, for obvious reasons, we have none of the veterans left alive. Leaving all politics of the matter aside, I wanted to explore a very interesting act of remembrance by an artist, and find the story behind this painting...
|Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd, SRN (1943) Isabel Florrie Saul|
This is one of Mr Walker's favourite paintings at the Russell Cotes Art Gallery, but it is tiny, measuring only 10cm by around 7cm. She really is a miniature masterpiece and I have seen her a few times but never really stopped to think about the many elements in the image. Who is she and why is there a portrait of her? It was painted in the midst of one World War but has the date of another across it. You know how I love a challenge and a story, so let's start with Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd...
|John Ambrose Lloyd (c.1850s) Richard Norbury|
Ethel Mary Lloyd came from an interesting family to research. Her grandfather is now remembered as a leading composer of hymn tunes and anthems. John Ambrose Lloyd (1815-1874) hailed from Wales, bringing with him a family history of religious worship. His own father had been a Baptist preacher, and when John Ambrose moved from Flintshire to Liverpool, he took the melodies of congregational singing with him, publishing two volumes of music in 1843 and 1870. His son, Ethel's father, Edward, worked as a manufacturer's agent, and married the daughter of a commercial agent in 1868. There then followed, in quick succession, seven children, three girls then four boys. Ethel was the youngest of the girls, born in 1872, in Hull. The family seemed to have moved around quite a bit in the early years of the couple's marriage but by the birth of Ethel's brother, Edward, in 1875, the Lloyds had finally settled in Nottingham, at the very respectable 1 Alpha Terrace.
It was Ethel's big sister Alice who qualified as a nurse first. The same year as their mother died, 1894, Alice qualified as a nurse after three years training at Nottingham General Hospital. Ethel started her training in 1904 at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. She was already a nurse, but her training was for the new qualification of 'midwife'.
|Early midwife taking a footprint as identification, 1910|
I never knew that 'midwife' was such a recent qualification. It was the state's way of controlling something women had been doing for years, for better or worse, for the betterment of society (if I'm being charitable). Anyway, the wheels were set in motion with the Midwives Act of 1902, but this did not become fully effective until 1905. Between 1902 and 1903, women could claim certification if they had already been practicing in the appropriate hospital and had 'a good character', whatever that means. Ethel qualified as a midwife, but had already been working as a nurse for a number of years prior to training, as recorded in the 1901 census. I'm not entirely sure why Ethel became a midwife, because her next recorded posting was to Bournemouth, a place that was to become her home in later life. She is recorded as 'nurse' to 88 year old Mr Moser and his daughter Edith (62 years old), neither in particular need of a midwife. The fact that Ethel is listed as 'nurse' to the household rather than lodger implies she was either Mr Moser or Edith's nurse rather than just living there while working in Bournemouth. She certainly wasn't going to get much midwifery in the next decade as the War called her into service.
|Territorial Force Nursing Service|
As you can see by Ethel's uniform in the portrait at the top, she joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service. What gives this away are the little 'T's in the corners of her cape. You had to have at least three years of training to join, and as it was established in 1908, Ethel was perfectly placed to become a part of it. You probably know that the build up for the First World War started horribly early and so six years before a shot was fired, we were already planning for casualties, with 23 large buildings in the country identified for use as military hospitals in the event of war. Come 1914, almost three thousand nurses were mobilised, Ethel with them. I made the mistake of thinking 'Territorial Force' meant that the nurses were stationed abroad, but of the 8,000 nurses who eventually joined the TFNS, only 2,000 of them were in stations overseas.
|A TFNS nurse, c.1914, note the medal and the 'T's|
The uniform was described as a cape of blue-grey material with scarlet facing and a silver T at each corner. The dress was in washable fabric, the same colour of the cape, and the Sister had bands edged in scarlet at the wrist. On the above lass (who is a nurse rather than a Sister, hence no bands) you will see a medal also signifying the TFNS, which is this one...
If you look at the painting of Ethel, she wears hers on the right (as you look at her) alongside her British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal. I think that Ethel was possibly stationed at the North Evington Military Hospital in Leicester because in the Midwife Register of 1926 she is still stationed there.
|Isabel Florrie Saul, c.1980|
Isabel Saul was born in the Bournemouth area in 1895 and exhibited with the Bournemouth Art Exhibition and the Royal Academy. She was the cousin of Doris Beerling, also an RA artist, but it seems that the business of most of her family was medicine. Her brother was a pharmacist and her sister, a nurse, both of whom lived with Isabel in 1939. It was possibly through her sister that Isabel met Ethel. Although elderly, Ethel may well had been assisting with nurses and their training - my grandfather did something similar, training soldiers in the Second World War to do what he did in the First. However it happened, Isabel decided that Ethel needed a portrait...
|Corfe Castle in the Beauteous Isle of Purbeck (1940) Isabel Saul|
Isabel Saul's art is beautiful and whimsical, often historical or Biblical, and her sister Mary did the calligraphy that decorated many of her canvases. It is likely that Mary did the writing across the back of Ethel's canvas, reading 'Anno Domini MCMXIV - MCMXVIII'. This makes the image of Ethel interesting - it is a blending of the past and present. Seventy-one year old Ethel looks at at us with little twinkly eyes in her uniform from almost thirty years previously. Her medals tell of her service but in her hand is a copy of the Nursing Times from the 1940s, possibly hinting that her nursing days were not relegated to the past.
|Queen Mary I (1544) Master John|
When I saw the tiny gem that is Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd, SRN I was immediately reminded of portraits of the past, like this one of Queen Mary. The glorious blue of the background elevates the nurse to a Queen, together with the golden legend normally reserved for reigns or significant dates. This leads me to believe that for Ethel, the First World War was significant, that it defined her. This sounds rather obvious, but we don't tend to think of the Great War in terms of the woman's experience, but for the likes of Ethel, it gave them life-changing purpose. I don't think it's a coincidence that in her previous census returns before her training, she had no occupation, like many 'respectable' women of her class. Ethel clutches her Nursing Times like a rolled scroll of office, resting on her books. She has her medals, like a veteran, and despite the miniature scale of the tempera portrait, she is a formidable yet kindly force to be reckoned with. It also reminds me that despite today marking 100 years since the end of the First World War, for many like Ethel the war was carried in their hearts, for better or worse, and became who they would be for the rest of their lives.
Ethel only lived another four years after the painting was shown at the Royal Academy, dying on 20th November 1947. She was returned to her family in Nottingham to be buried. Isabel Saul lived on in Bournemouth, bequesting the tiny portrait of Ethel to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery at her death in 1982 where she is currently on display until the 19th November.