PLOEGSTEERT HEROINE RECEIVES RECOGNITION

Sunday, July 11, 1915

Reserve Billets – The Piggeries

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “The Battalion supplied working parties of 150 by day and 150 by night for work with Engineers on various forts and reserve trenches.  3 officers with each duty.” [1]


THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “The village of Ploegsteert behind the wood was very much damaged. Like the other villages at the front, it must at one time have been quite a prosperous place.  The church, before it was ruined, was well built and capacious.  There was a building on the main street which a British chaplain had used as a clubhouse, and handed over to me when his division moved south.  It was well stocked with all things necessary to make the men comfortable.  It had a kitchen, reading rooms, and upstairs a chapel.  Two or three shells, however, had made their way into it, and the holes were covered with canvas.  The mayor’s house was on the other side of the street, and he had a young girl there as a servant, who kept the keys of the club.  The chaplain who moved away told me that this girl, when the town was being heavily shelled one day, saved the lives of some men who were lying wounded in the house, by carrying them on her back over to a place of safety in a farmhouse.  It was a deed that merited recognition, because she had to pass down the road which was then under heavy shellfire.  I brought her case before the notice of the military authorities, and General Seely was asked to take the matter up and make an application to the King for a reward for the girl’s bravery.  There was a doubt as to what award could be given to her.  We got the sworn testimony of the mayor and other eye witnesses, and the document was finally laid before the King.  It was decided that she should receive the bronze medal of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.  Later on General Alderson sent for me and took me to the mayor’s house in Romarin, where we had the ceremony of conferring the medal.  It was quite touching in its simplicity.  The girl, who had a fine open face, was on the verge of giving way to tears.  The mayor and some other of the chief inhabitants were arrayed in their best clothes, and a Highland regiment lent us their pipers.  One of the citizens presented the heroine with a large bouquet of flowers.  General Alderson made a nice speech, which was translated to the townsfolk, and then he presented the medal.  We were invited into the house, and the girl’s health was proposed and drunk by the general in a glass of Romarin champagne.   We heard afterwards that the country people were much impressed by the way the British Army had recognised the gallantry of a poor Belgium maidservant.”  [2]

[1]  War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, July 11, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089762.jpg
[2]   Rev. Canon Frederick George Scott, “The Great War As I Saw It,” McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, Montreal & Kingston, 2014, pg. 106-107.

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