Six of the children of Henry Exell and his wife Evelina (nee Screen) of Crossways ‘did their share for the country during the First Word War’. It is worth noting that they also had at least eight nephews involved in the fighting, and four of these died in action or died later as a result of their wounds.
Edward Exell – a newspaper article in 1915 reported that the son of Henry Exell of Woodbine Cottage, Crossways, Thornbury, known as ‘Edward’ (but baptised Charles Edwin on 10th September 1886) was killed in action. He was hit by a shell bursting in the trench at St Yves whilst serving with B Company Somerset Light Infantry on 2nd November 1914. He was aged 29 years.
He was on reserve when War was declared having served 7 years with the colours and done service in India, during which time he served with the Somerset Mounted Infantry and as an officer’s servant. The photo on the right is taken from a newspaper photo of Edwin. We know from his application to join the Devon Royal Garrison of Artillery that he had worked as a plumber for George Hall in Castle Street before joining the militia in 1904 when aged just under 18 years. He had signed up for six years.
Henry Hubert (baptised 20th May 1892) serving in the Royal Field Artillery who had just had a nasty kick from a horse whilst in training. Henry had been working as a grocer when he was attested in Bristol on 31st August 1914. He was described as being 5ft 3 inches, 113 lbs, 34 inch chest with 2 inches expansion, clear complexion, hazel eyes, and dark brown hair. He was posted the following day and became a driver. In January 1915 he was punished for carrying food into the Barracks Room and given ‘3 days confined to barracks’
Henry didn’t serve for very long – he was discharged from the army on February 16th 1915 suffering from chronic rheumatism. It was noted that he was ‘Not likely etc’ which normally indicates he wasn’t likely to be asked to serve any more. However he must have been re-admitted because according to the inscription on the family grave in the Cemetery he was killed in action whilst serving as a pioneer aged 26 years. The war memorial at Etaples shows he was serving with ‘M’ Special Company Royal Engineers when he was killed on 28th April 1918. His name also appears on the war memorial in St Marys Church.
William Thomas (baptised on 9th September 1898) served in the 4th Dragoon Guards.
Albert Edward – born on 31st December 1900 and baptised on 27th March 1901. He was working an an indoor servant when he joined the Royal Navy in November 1916. He was described as being 5ft 5 inches with brown hair and brown eyes. He became a signalman and was ranked Chief Yeoman Signals when he was pensioned off in 1941. He had married Wilhelmina Freda Carne in 1932 in Devonport and they settled to live in Devon until Albert died in 1970 and Wilhelmina in 1980.
Elizabeth – was baptised on 16th January 1885. According to her obituary, she received her early training as a nurse at Bath Royal United Hospital. She joined the British Expeditionary Force on 20th September 1914 as a Sister. She was a nurse at the Hotel Claridge on the Champs Elysee in Paris. The hospital at the Hôtel was run by the Women’s Hospital Corps, the first all-women unit to go into service. The organisation was funded by donations of money and other gifts and set up by a group of women medical practitioners and surgeons. These women had found the British authorities hostile. It seems women were acceptable as nurses but not as doctors or surgeons or other medical professionals. It was felt that “hysterical women” would be a liability near the front line and so medical women were at first barred from working with the Royal Army Medical Corps. However the French Red Cross took a different attitude and offered this group of women a newly built but empty hotel in Paris. They began clearing and cleaning the building on 16th September. By the 18th September they were able to accept the first group of wounded soldiers from the Battle of the Marne who arrived only shortly after the medical equipment was actually delivered. The operating theatre was set up and used that very first night.
A report in the British Medical Journal one month after the Hôtel Claridge opened showed the success of these valiant and highly skilled women: “if this institution were the sole British hospital in Paris the medical profession in Great Britain might still continue to regard itself as well represented”. The Royal Army Medical Corps must also have been impressed as the Women’s Hospital Corps was asked to set up another hospital in Wimereux, near Boulogne, the first hospital run entirely by women to be recognized by the army.
Elizabeth was awarded the British and Victory Medals and the 1914 Star. We understand she served in France until 1917 when she came back to continue nursing in a large military hospital in London. We believe that this hospital was Endell Street Hospital which was also run by the Womens Hospital Corps. The book “WOMEN AS ARMY SURGEONS BEING THE HISTORY OF THE WOMEN’S HOSPITAL CORPS IN PARIS, WIMEREUX AND ENDELL STREET SEPTEMBER 1914— OCTOBER 1919 ” by Flora Murray refers to a “Sister Exell” who was in charge of one of the wards and it seems almost certain that this was a reference to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Exell’s army records indicate that she served from 18th August 1914 until 11th April 1923, but her obituary says she was appointed Matron of Pype Hayes Convalescent Home in Birmingham in 1922. She left there to become Matron of the Carnegie Institute for Child Welfare in Birmingham when it opened in 1923 and she worked there for ten years, seemingly becoming much loved and respected there. She became a Fellow of the British College of Nurses in 1927.
She died suddenly on March 12th 1933 while still at Carnegie Institute. The British Journal of Nursing of April 1933 says that Elizabeth died of a cerebral haemorrhage. She was buried in Thornbury Cemetery with a memorial that simply read ‘Nurse Elizabeth Exell died March 1933 aged 48′. Her funeral was a testimony to her service for her country. The Western Daily Press reported that “her coffin was draped with the Union Jack” and that “the coffin was born by members of the British Legion.
In November 1934 a brass statuette of a child holding a flower was unveiled in the entrance hall of the Carnegie Welfare Institute in Birmingham. It was carved by William James Bloye of the Birmingham School of Art and intended to show Elizabeth’s love of children and of flowers. On the pedestal of the statue was written: ’To Remember Elizabeth Exell 1923 who gave ten years of love and service to children’. We are grateful to the Carnegie Centre in Hockley Road Birmingham for allowing us to use this photograph.
Evelina – was baptised on 21st March 1888 at Woodbine Cottage. She went to the Hackett School for girls in Buckover, Thornbury and trained at the Brighton Poor Law Infirmary, Elm Grove between 1910 and 1913. She was a temporary sister there of a male consumptive ward and also nursed in Colne, Lancashire and Huddersfield. During the War, her service record shows Evelina as a Staff Nurse for the English Nursing Home in Paris from September 1914 to July 1915. In October 1915 Evelina joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Reserve as a Staff Nurse. We know that she served some time in France as she is listed there in the Roll of Honour published by the Gazette in 1915. She only completed one year of service before resigning in November 1916. We don’t know the reason for her resignation but we note that there is record of a marriage in FreeBMDs of ‘Evellina Exell’ to Duncan McIntire in Marylebone, London in September quarter 1916 and one family tree on the Ancestry website shows Evelina then aged 28 married to Duncan McIntyre in June 1916. If she did get married then this might explain the resignation, but although her service record notes her address on leaving the service was 2 Railway Terrace, Inverness, Scotland, her resignation letter dated October 1916 and her service record is still referring to her as ‘Miss Evelina Exell’.