Born on 11th September 1895, Mary Ghita Lindell was on course to live an intriguing life. She was nearly 19 when the Great War broke out and her father said ‘The honour of Great Britain is saved. We are now at war with Germany. Mary you will have to go.’
So Mary Lindell, as expected, enlisted in the Red Cross’s Volunteer Aid Detachment. While with the VAD she had her first run in with hierarchy; this would lead to her being imprisoned for one night in a stable block, taking the form of two altercations with the same Matron. One day VAD Lindell had the unenviable task of cleaning some rather well used bedpans. The Matron commented that Mary didn’t know how to clean them. Mary didn’t reply which incensed the Matron. The next day during a similar task, the same Matron remarked loudly ‘Of course, it won’t be properly cleaned if one of these VADs is doing it’. In response Mary Lindell swiped the Matron across the lip with her cleaning brush. After her incarceration for this, she left the VAD and then offered her services to ‘Secours aux Blessés Militares’ (translates as ‘Relief Society for Wounded Soldiers). This was a division of the French Red Cross, suitable for young ladies of genteel birth, whose mothers still insisted on chaperones. On occasion she would accompany a doctor onto the battlefield; it was on one of these excursions she gained the nickname ‘Bébé Anglaise’.
In 1917 during one of the battles at Soissons, she volunteered to stay behind and help the wounded. This led to her being out of contact with her superiors for five days, resulting in a message being sent to the Red Cross HQ in Paris, presuming her dead. A journalist from the Daily Mail managed to obtain this and in England the headline ‘British Nurse Killed on French Front’ was printed, which sent her mother into shock. However, Nurse Lindell was alive and well.
In 1918 Mary moved to Ambulance Douze-vingt-huit attached to the First French Army. Based in the convent at Meaux this was the hospital where she became an anaesthetist to a rather skilled surgeon named Theveneaud, who was also fond of his drink. One day the Chief Doctor came in during an operation and asked if someone else could finish Nurse Lindell’s work. He then asked to be the first to give her a kiss. A very bemused Mary asked what was happening, to be told she was to receive the Croix de Guerre. Mary Lindell had already received the Tsarist Order of St Anne [of which little is known]. The First World War was her trial by fire, and would stand her in good stead for the next one, just 21 years later.
To be continued…..look out for part 2, which will focus on Mary’s role in the Second World War, coming soon.
Written for Sheroes of History by Mary Miles.
Find out more…
The book, The Scarlett Countess gives tells the story of Mary’s incredible life.
Find out more about the Voluntary Aid Detatchment during the First World War here.