Warwickshire History: Lady under fire

PUBLISHED: 01:16 19 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:09 20 February 2013

Lady Dorothie Book Cover

Lady Dorothie Book Cover

A Warwickshire couple have unearthed a series of remarkable letters from the Western Front.

Warwickshire History: Lady under fire

A Warwickshire couple have unearthed a series of remarkable letters from the Western Front.

If it wasnt for the survival of around 400 remarkable letters and telegrams in the archives at Warwickshires County Record Office, Lady Dorothie Moore, nee Feilding, probably would have remained lost to history.

The bulk of these letters are addressed to her mother, Cecilia, Countess of Denbigh, and describe her experiences as an ambulance driver for an all-volunteer unit, in Belgium from 1914 to 1917.

Her writing naturally evolves from the awe, wonder and excitement of a 24 year old woman on a big adventure, to weariness and fatigue as the conflict grinds on.

When war broke out in August 1914, Dorothie, from Monks Kirby, near Rugby, was determined to be useful. Her three brothers were already with the military and she saw no reason why she should not do her bit. After a brief training course in nursing first aid at Rugby St Cross hospital, Dorothie arrived in Belgium in September 1914 into the midst of the chaotic retreat of the allied armies.

Dorothie was attached to the Munro Corps of Ambulances which worked closely with a French brigade. The love and admiration she grew to feel for this brigade was mutual. A special order of the day issued on December 31, 1914, read:

Lady Dorothie Feildingfor having effected the evacuation of many wounded men of the brigadefor exhibiting to everybody, almost daily, the finest example of devotion and contempt of danger.

As a result of this, in 1915 she was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, as well as the Order of Leopold from the Belgian government. In September 1916, she received the British Military Medal from King George V at Windsor Castle, one of only 135 such awards to women during the First World War.

The ambulances of the corps operated from Nieuport on the North Sea coast where the impenetrable trench system began, down through the battered villages of Pervyse and Ramscapelle to the towns of Furnes and Ypres.

Dorothie wrote home whenever time allowed. Many of her letters are of the moment and provide a fascinating snapshot of the dangers she faced.

On December 22, 1914 she wrote to her father:

.. its a month now since weve been up here. We are very fit and very happy but oh so dirty. You should just see my neck!

She also witnessed unimaginable horrors. At the height of the second battle of Ypres during April 1915 she wrote:

The hospital has been inundated with every nationalitymen all over the place and stretchers every where.only the awful cases can be taken inits the shell wounds that are simply haunting and sometimes one feels ill with the sheer futility of it allits hard to be patriotic when these days of heavy fighting one sees so much horror and misery of this filthy war.

As the year 1917 dawned Dorothie was desperate for some peace in her life. She had been involved in the war from the very beginning and had lost a brother and many friends. There was some happiness on the horizon though. On June 13 she left Flanders for good.

On July 5 she married Captain Charles Joseph Henry OHara Moore of the Irish Guards at her home, Newnham Paddox, near Rugby. Photos of the wedding appeared on the front page of the Daily Sketch and show convalescing soldiers at the great house, which had been a hospital since 1915, forming a guard of honour for the newlyweds.

Lady Dorothia died in Ireland in 1935, aged just 46 years. She is buried near her childhood home in Warwickshire.

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