by Carolyn Ayers
On Friday 8th April, Here Come the Girls’, our HLF funded WW1 Project, began its borough wide tour at Greenwich Library. It was the turn of Ivy, our VAD Nurse who would tell her story as a wartime Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse.
And so equipped with our WW1 hospital trolley which was designed and built by Belinda Moore from Moore and Moore Creative, a slab of pink carbolic soap, a tin full of bandages, crayons, colouring in sheets, medical props and toys, and dressed in a beautiful VAD nurses uniform handmade by Meridith Towne, Ivy along with myself, Isabel and three volunteers, made our way to the Greenwich Centre.
We took over a corner of the library. Set up a stage and an array of family activities. We met over 60 people that day; children and adults, young and old. We taught families to bandage, took up some colouring in and tried on wartime uniforms. Great fun.
Ivy Higgins, our VAD nurse is a fictional character however she was inspired by the real life stories of Greenwich VADs who worked at the Brook Hospital, Herbert Hospital and Charlton House during World War One. Inspiration for Ivy came largely from a real-life woman called Ivy Clifton. Ivy Clifton was a VAD and worked at Charlton House in 1918 as a Ward and Pantry Orderly. She lived in Charlton, with her family. She was the sister of a man we had previously come across back in 2014 when we were researching names on the Charlton War Memorial for our project, Family Stories of the Great War. Inscribed in stone on Charlton War Memorial is the name Hubert Clifton. Hubert died on 8th April 1916 in Basra, Iraq. He was 26 years old. Our Ivy's first performance marked the centenary of Hubert Clifton’s death.
I was nervous, it was our first tour stop and there had been lots to prepare and do beforehand. For months leading up to the Tour, my volunteers had been researching the VADs who had worked at the local hospitals. In our quest to understand women's wartime roles and the impact of war we had visited numerous museums and archives, searched local newspapers, scoured the internet and read numerous books, articles, and manuals. Now our creation, our Ivy, was introduced to the world. In many ways, though fictional our characters, Ivy, May and Nell have become real people and I hope a fitting tribute to Greenwich women in WW1.