Gravesend nurse’s diary tells the story of WW1 victims

PUBLISHED: 10:43 09 November 2012 | UPDATED: 12:03 09 November 2012

The Tortoise and the Herr, unknown

The Tortoise and the Herr, unknown


For Remembrance Day, Anna Dubuis opened the pages of an album that returns to the days when Gravesend Hospital housed the victims of the First World War…

On Christmas Day, 1901, a girl named Kate Harvey was given an empty album by her father. Fifteen years later, she was working at Gravesend Hospital when the First World War broke out, and she took the album with her.

Over the course of four years,wounded soldiers came in fresh from the battlefield, either to recover and walk out or to spend their final moments there.

Some shared their thoughts, by way of cartoons, poems, pictures or verses; others wrote a simple “thank you”.

As the years went by, Kate added many of these tokens to her album.

The entries share an insight into the thoughts and feelings of those soldiers, who came from all over the British Empire – Canada and Australia, as well as Britain and Ireland – and found themselves in the Tingey ward in Gravesend Hospital.

As well as drawings based on those by Bruce Bairnsfather, a prominent First World War cartoonist, the collection includes poems which reveal the wounded’s fears – for example, A Soldier’s Wish, which opens with the lines “I am far from Ypres I long to be; Where German snipers can’t get at me”.

Not much is known about Kate, but her album has survived the 95 years since the war ended, and is now in the hands of Mike Cross, who lives in Oxfordshire.

Mike grew up in Chadlington, the Oxfordshire village where Kate lived in as a child.

“I have been unable to trace what happened to her in later life,” he says. “But the album ended up with the other village folk who passed it to me more than 10 years ago.”

He created a website many years ago to try to trace some of the families of those wounded soldiers who came to Gravesend to receive hospital treatment.

Many people have been in touch and have helped Mike piece together the pictures and names that together mark a chapter of the history of the town.

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