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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Hôpital auxiliaire, n° 222 - French Red Cross hospital in Menton


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I may have a treasure trove of pictures, but you are a mine of information!! How do you know so much?

I think you must be right about Mabel Harrison, further on in the album comes this and focussing in on the signature I think it is indeed one of hers!


Scan 15.jpg

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Is that an original watercolour? You should frame it - what an absolutely lovely thing to find.

Until very recently we lived in an apartment in the former Imperial Hotel, which became hôpital auxiliaire 222 for the duration of the war. I became fascinated by the history of the building and the town - and particularly by the story of the hospital, which was known locally as the ‘hôpital britannique’ because it was largely funded and staffed by the British. I’ve been researching / writing about it for a little while now, trying to tell the stories of some of the individuals - doctors, nurses, VADs, orderlies, administrators etc. - who lived and worked there. I’d like to turn it all into a book - though whether anyone else will be as interested in it as I am is a bit doubtful!

Enid’s account of how tough the conditions were for the VADs is a great bit of insight - a lot of the stories I have gathered so far are of people who were already part of the British winter colony - so they volunteered at the hospital whilst living in their family villas in Menton or Cap Martin. It will have been very different for the VADs who came out from England and who were far from family and friends. 

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The ‘doctoress’ on the outing to Cap Martin is Mlle. Hanji (or Mme Hanji-Gonthier depending on when the pics were taken). She was a young Russian doctor who worked at hôpital 222. She married midway through the war (her husband was a doctor at one of the other hospitals in Menton) however she carried on working - the hospital’s management committee were very proud of that. It is often remarked upon, as if somehow the act of slipping on a wedding ring would have stripped her of all her medical knowledge. So she was a bit of a pioneer, the doctoress. 

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Hello again @Felicity Harwood

I’ve been studying your grandmother’s amazing pics and have had a bit of a breakthrough. 

I think that the VAD in the centre of this pic, the one your grandmother calls ‘Fido’ is a young woman called Madeleine Lucy Fison. She was a very talented tennis player - even making it to Wimbledon in 1914 - and played throughout the war at the lawn tennis club in Menton. Quite a lot of the nurses played - the club even staged a special tournament for them in 1916. Also that year, the Menton club hosted an open tournament for all the best players on the Riviera in aid of the Serbian Red Cross - and ‘Fido’ beat the famous French champion, Suzanne Lenglen.

The nurse on the right, Violet Neave was also a keen player, but I am at a loss as to who ‘Hans Andersen’ could be!

Do you know if your grandmother played tennis? Despite the difficulties and privations of life for the VADS in Menton, they do seem to have very determinedly made the best of things!



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Hello Sarah, apologies for the radio silence.. I had some work to complete and then a very busy weekend, inc a visit from my father (93) but who filled in a few details about family members and friends mentioned by his mother Enid in the letters.

It's fantastic that you have been able to identify Fido and Neave. Apparently my grandmother did play tennis but not to any professional standard.

In  later letter, Enid mentions a present sent her by Barbara Waterfield "a photo of herself and a silk collar". My father says the Waterfields had a villa and gardens at Menton rather similar to the Hanbury Gardens (which I had the fortune to visit some years ago when examining in Ventimiglia). I assume she met Barbara during her time in Menton.

Reading on through the comments accompanying the photos, most of which are flowery 'remerciements', other people are mentioned: Sister Eaton, Sister Sheridan, M.Deedes (?sp.?), Sister Macpherson, Barton

I will eventually get the whole album scanned and send it to you in its entirety, if that would be of interest. It's so nice to find someone interested! In the meantime here are a couple of photos I have just photographed.






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Quote  re the last two pics. "I am enclosing a p.c. of the 4th floor staff & patients who were well enough to come down & be taken. The Dr (French) is in the centre in mufti."

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Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am indeed very interested, and so grateful. 

Yes, the Waterfields were a fascinating couple, and their story is quite a tragic one. Their beautiful villa - Le Clos du Peyronnet - and gardens remained in their family until very recently, and as your dad says, it’s still viewed as one of the most beautiful gardens on the Riviera. One of their grandsons, Giles Waterfield, wrote a novel based on Barbara and Derrick’s lives in Menton during the war - it’s called The Long Afternoon, and it paints a fascinating picture of the town, and the British community there. 

Sister Sheridan is another nurse with an intriguing story - she was one of the Australian ‘Bluebirds’ twenty highly trained and experienced nurses sent over by the New South Wales branch of the Red Cross as a ‘gift to France’ from the Australian government. They came over on the hospital ship Kanowa, making the six week crossing from Sydney to Southampton before being sent on to France.

Over the course of the war, four of the Bluebirds ended up spending some time at hospital 222, but Grace Sheridan was there for the longest, staying for two full years. They had all fully expected - given their experience - to be posted to field hospitals at the front, so it must have been a surprise to Grace to find herself so far from the gunfire, on the Côte d’Azur. 

I have been researching all of these people for so long - it is really remarkable to see pictures of them. I could not be more grateful. 

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Sister Hylda MacPherson is another interesting character - there are so many stories to tell. Her family lived in Jamaica, (which was still a British colony until 1962), she came to the UK to do her nursing training, but returned home once she was qualified in 1906. When war broke out she sailed back to England, and was sent out to France by the Red Cross. 


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  • 5 weeks later...

Greetings Sarah.    I'm Vaughan Bryers, the biographer of Percy and Helen Cochrane. A brief overview is given at   www,vaughanbryers.com/helen-lavinia-cochrane  . I have been fortunate to have visited The Imperial a couple of times and have copied a Souvenir Book presented to Helen and Percy when they returned to Italy (to establish a second hospital there). The book does in fact contain a photograph of Marie Curie (looking exhausted) and dated 9 March 1916.

This Souvenir Book is now in the care of a descendant of Helen Cochrane who has permitted me to copy and share the content. I gave a complete copy to a resident of The Imperial, M. Lanlo in 2013. I have extensively researched the role of the Cochranes in Menton and am very willing to share all that I have. If you would like to contact me, please PM me so I can provide you with my email address as I cannot guarantee to faithfully watch forums (unless prompted!).


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  • Admin

Hello @VTB

Welcome to the Forum

I have removed your email address from your post and edited to say that Sarah should contact you over the Personal Messaging system so you can swap email addresses there.

It's a public forum so email addresses can be harvested and used by spammers/scammers etc.

Attention @SarahHes





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hello @VTB

How brilliant to hear from you - you are in my list of people to contact, as obviously I gave come across your research.

Sadly, Luc Lanlo died during the pandemic, but I do know his partner and family. I am dashing out now, but will be in touch this evening.

Again, I am thrilled to hear from you. 

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Hello Sarah, sorry for long radio silence! Could we continue communication via personal email? I have had my grandmother's album scanned and would like to send you, if you'd like it a digital version of said album. I gather from the above exchange that it's unwise to give you my contact details on this open forum, but you seem to know a way.

All the best,


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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Felicity,

I have just re-read this absolutely fascinating correspondence - thank you!

If you type @ followed by Sarah's user name @SarahHes she will be alerted to your post.

To send a direct message, click on her user name to call up her profile. You will see an envelope icon which, when clicked, opens up the P/DM (Personal/Direct Message) system and allows you to communicate out of sight of the forum.

Thanks again.


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