New Opportunities – September 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

In September 1915 Teresa began work as a nurse in a team headed by Mrs Marie Watkins. Although it is likely that she received training and was working as a nurse before September, few letters have survived from this time to know definite details. However, a postcard dated the 21st of September has been preserved asking Teresa to start hospital work at 8am the next day.

Teresa in her white nurse uniform, 1915

Teresa in her white nurse uniform, Florence, Italy, October, 1915.

September was a busy month on the Italian Front and many people tried to help the soldiers. The first unit of the British Red Cross Society in Italy arrived on the Isonzo Front in September 1915. A field hospital at Villa Trento, near Udine, staffed by British sisters and V.A.D.s sent by the Joint War Committee, broke down the Italian resistance to the idea of employing women at the Front. For further information on V.A.D. work in Italy, please click here and scroll down to the second to last section. To see a V.A.D. recruitment poster from 1915, please click here.

First World War nurse

First World War nurse. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13669)

Exemplary for her assistance to the Italian army was Mrs Watkins, who set up and ran rest stations for soldiers. She become a valuable friend to Teresa who worked with her for much of the war. Mrs Watkins gathered funds for the work done by her team from British ‘lovers of Italy.’ The Italian Ambassador was the patron of her scheme whilst the Count De La Feld, secretary of the ‘Pro Italia’ society in London, became the treasurer.

Teresa (right) sitting with Mrs Watkins (centre) at Costalunga, South Tyrol, Italy, August 1918.

Teresa (right) sitting with Mrs Watkins (centre) at Costalunga, South Tyrol, Italy, August 1918.

Mrs Watkins and her team established station canteens for the trains carrying wounded soldiers at Cervignano and San Giovanni in northern Italy. Teresa was based mainly at Cervignano, an important town in the Province of Udine and not too far from Teresa’s home in Venice.

Work was offered to Teresa on the 30th of September, when her friend Isabel Campbell wrote asking if she would like to join her working at the canteen that Mrs Watkins had set up for the soldiers. Isabel’s letter gives an interesting account of the preparation for the canteen:

Dear Miss Hulton,

I suppose you don’t by chance want a job do you? Tiny Cox told me she thought that perhaps you might be doing nothing.

We are starting a canteen here on the invitation of General Cadorna. So far only I was working by myself out here, as they are building us a chalet which is not finished yet. But when it is we shall want two or three people to help us. When we know how much work there will be to do we are sending back to England and one or two are coming out.

I was wondering if you would care to come and help us, as our Italian is most rudimentary, and you would be quite invaluable. If you could come I will let you know full particulars.

We have got billets here which are quite comfortable and clean, and I think we shall have great fun later on. Of course one doesn’t know yet if there will be little or much work. It would be very nice if you could come.

Yours sincerely,

Isabel V. Campbell’

British Red Cross Letter in the Attingham Archive.

British Red Cross Letter in the Attingham archive.

As well as the canteens, Mrs Watkins also created huts called ‘Case del Soldato,’ which were used by recuperating soldiers for recreation. At these rest centres wounded men taken from the trains were cared for until ambulances arrived, soldiers fighting locally could find sanctuary when they were sick and wounded trains could stop for the soldiers to be fed and to hand over laundry to be washed.

Teresa treating a wounded soldier in the American Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1915.

Teresa treating a wounded soldier in the American Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1915.

Funds raised by Mrs Watkins and her team also helped to supply X-ray apparatus and motor-cars that were run by women. To see a photograph of a mobile X-ray unit from the First World War, please click here.

Women transported supplies and wounded soldiers. Letters in the Attingham archive show that Teresa could drive and used a car for war work.

Teresa sitting in an ambulance vehicle at San Giovanni Manzano, northern Italy, October 1915.

Teresa sitting in an ambulance vehicle at San Giovanni Manzano, northern Italy, October 1915.

As well as numerous British helpers, some American volunteers also went to the Italian Front. These included the author Ernest Hemingway, who was severely wounded in July 1918 whilst performing his duties as an ambulance driver. His 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms features an ambulance driver who falls in love with an upper-class English V.A.D. nurse in wartime Italy.

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