Probus Ladies hear of one local girl’s experiences in First World War

Claire McElhinney shows her grandmother’s war medals to Vice President Zoe Reid

Probus Ladies hear of one local girl’s experiences in W.W.1 when she travelled ‘From the Plum to Pau.’

The October meeting of Omagh and District Ladies’ Probus, which was held on National Poetry day, commenced with Vice Chair Zoe Reid sharing the poem  ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Mya Angelou.

This proved to be a very apt choice as guest speaker Claire McElhinney a local historian, shared the story of her phenomenal grandmother who as a young girl left her familiar surroundings of Plumbridge to nurse wounded French soldiers in Pau, Southern France.

Claire became intrigued about her maternal grandmother’s life story after being given a photo of newly trained nurses outside the home of Mr.W.J. Millar JP in Newtownstewart and another of a Field Training day for the Ulster Volunteer Force Nursing Corps. Her grandmother was in both photos.

Research showed that Edith Harkness had joined the UVF Medical and Nursing Corps in March 1914 and had trained locally with mock battles and training camps. When World War1 broke out in Europe these young women were ready to put this training into practice. Their offer of help was gratefully received by the French authorities and fundraising started for a French Military Hospital. In October 1914 a group of Tyrone UVF nurses including 20 year old Edith set off, travelling by boat from Belfast via Liverpool to Bordeaux.  Their destination was Pau, a mountainous region in Southern France chosen for its healthy climate and its safe distance from the front.

Using a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate her talk, Claire gave a fascinating insight into the nurses’ experiences there. Slides showed the ‘Villa Beaupre’, a previous school which was converted into a 50 bed U.V.F. Military Hospital, its grounds where patients were often nursed outside, the converted ‘goods trains’ which brought the wounded from battle and the amazing ‘trench art’ created by these recuperating soldiers.

Edith nursed in Pau Military Hospital until 1916 when it closed due to huge numbers of casualties needing treatment nearer the front.

Following the battle of the Somme the British Army began to evacuate its wounded back to England. Edith responded to an urgent call for nurses and was promptly recruited to nurse in a large military hospital in Ripon, Yorkshire where she stayed until 1920.

After the war, Edith returned to her native Plumbridge where she married and raised a family of eight children.

Despite this local girl being awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, back in her familiar home environment, she was very reticent to talk about this period of her life!

Claire was thanked for her very interesting and enlightening talk by club member May Bothwell.

The next meeting will be held in Omagh Library on Thursday 1st November at 2pm when the guest speaker will be Geraldine Fitzpatrick on “Practical First Aid Tips.”

Members are also reminded of this club’s 25th Celebratory    Lunch on Thursday 22nd November 2018.