Having become quite interested in Genealogy and I’ve been able to find out a lot about my family including meeting “cousins” who connect 7 generations ago in the 1750’s.
I knew very little about my mother except for a few snippets – that she was a nurse during the war and was at Bergen-Belsen when it was liberated.
My mother, Marie Lillian Gent was born at Whitstable, Kent in 1919 with 4 sisters and 2 brothers. Her mother died 1922 when the children were young and the father, being an alcoholic was deemed unfit to raise the young children, so they were fostered. Fortunately her personal foster parents provided a solid and generous upbringing. (As explained by her nephew, John Gent) She completed her nurse training at St Mary Abbots Teaching Hospital, Kensington, London 1942 and nursed there until May 1944. Left is an image of her that I think is at the beginning of her training. There are no insignia and she is not wearing the Nursing Council registration badges.
Why she changed track is not known but two events occurred in 1943 and early 1944, firstly her brother Donald was killed on a bombing raid over Germany and then a direct hit by 3 bombs, their 500 lb warheads destroyed most of St Mary’s hospital causing many casualties to both patients and nursing staff. These two incidences possibly influenced her decision to join the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), Service No; 318588 with the rank of Lieutenant Sister.
In May 1944, she was posted to the 6th. British Field Hospital (BFH) stationed at Goodwood House near Southampton preparing for the invasion of France. The hospital landed at Arrowmanches, Normandy on 11th June 1944, D-Day +5 (just 40 days after joining) to establish a 1500 bed Casualty Hospital at Bayeux. This hospital would receive casualties from Advanced Casualty Stations and either treat and retain minor casualties or stabilise the more severely wounded prior to repatriation to hospitals in Southampton or Portsmouth either by ship through the artificial port of Arromanches or airplane.
“At this time Bayeux was only a couple of miles away from the German positions and was hit by fire from both air and ground forces – particularly when a decision was made to construct an airstrip next to the hospital” (Quiet Heroines – Nurses of the Second World War. Brenda McBryde).The hospital subsequently followed behind the advancing troops through France (Rouen) 6th. Sept 1944, and Belgium (Antwerp) 19th. Sept 1944, by leap-frogging other hospitals as they moved forward. She returned to the UK in November for 10 days leave then posted to 109th. British Field Hospital then at Seigen, Germany. When the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated in April 1945 the hospital was due to be shut down and moved. She was one of the 12 nurses detailed to attend to the ±40000 inmates immediately after the liberation until more substantial medical assistance could be arranged. (QAIMNS records) This is a subject she never really discussed but, having read quite extensively now, it must have been a horrendous experience with thousands of dead bodies lying around and the total starvation of the inmates with typhoid rampant in the population. One account puts it as:- “The work was gruesome and could be referred to as “horror nursing” no one could have visualised anything like Belsen”The medical problem was so vast that they were replaced in ten days by the 29th. BFH with 97 volunteer student doctors and the 163rd. Field Ambulance.
Of her two brothers, Norman (father to John Gent mentioned earlier.) was killed in the North African desert campaign whilst Donald was killed (aged 19) on operations with Bomber Command, Germany, 1943. Released from active service 31st. July 1947, along with 23000 other military medical personnel over the year. Finding a position would have been difficult and with the colonies actively recruiting – she then emigrated to Rhodesia, February 1948 to nurse at the Que Que General until marrying local farmer Guy Savory in December 1949. Guy died in 1971 so Marie returned to nursing, initially at Que Que then moved to the capital Salisbury becoming Sister in Charge of the Gynecological wards at Andrew Fleming Hospital. She retired 1984 and moved to South Africa to take up the matron’s position at Kearsney College, a premier high school near Durban, South Africa.
Marie died following a vehicle collision in Natal, South Africa 1986.
By Paul Savory
July 23, 2018
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