DAISY ELLEN DOBBS
I recently added to this site details of members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service who were awarded Military Medals during the Great War. After seeing her name included in the list, I was contacted recently by Geoff Botting, the grandson of Sister Daisy Dobbs, and he has sent me more information about her life and service during the war, and is happy for the information to be shared here, for which I'm grateful.
Daisy Ellen Caroline Ansell Dobbs was born in Portsmouth in September 1890, the daughter of Jesse and Ellen Dobbs. After training as a nurse, she joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service on the 3rd February 1915, working originally at the 4th Northern General Hospital, Lincoln. She proceeded on Active Service to Salonica on the 20th October 1916, where she remained for the following two years. On the night of 27th February 1917 she was wounded during an enemy air raid while working at No.29 General Hospital, receiving wounds to her face and chest. For her actions that night she was awarded the Military Medal, and the citation for her award can be read on this page.
While returning from Salonica, the ship on which she was travelling, the Ambulance Transport 'Warilda,' was torpedoed in the English Channel during the early hours of the 3rd August 1918, with the loss of 117 lives. After her rescue Daisy Dobbs returned home for a period of leave, and then went back to her post at No.4 Northern General Hospital, Lincoln. On 6th August 1918, the Matron-in-Chief of the Territorial Force Nursing Service, Miss Sidney Browne, wrote to her:
Dear Miss Dobbs
I am so thankful to hear that you were saved, what a dreadful experience you must have had and what a wonderful escape. That is twice that you have been preserved in great danger, thank God. I hope you do not feel very unnerved. I do not suppose you do for you were so calm and brave before that I can imagine that you were too this time.
I should be glad if you would write to me again and give me any further particulars, and tell me the name of the Sisters who were with you. It is very sad to think that so many of the poor wounded men were lost. Did they rescue them first of all, or did they put the women first? I hope they took the wounded.
We will try and get you all the compensation we can, you must write and say officially you have lost everything and fill in very carefully the forms I enclose, and send them to me. It will make a difference whether you were on duty or leave, but I expect you did some duty on board ship. What medical officer were you serving under, and was he saved?
With much sympathy and thankfulness for your preservation,
Yours sincerely, Sidney Browne
Daisy replied, sending a full account of her experiences on the Warilda, and of her remarkable survival in desperate circumstances:
"WARILDA” Torpedoed August 3rd. about 1.25.a.m.
We had come from Salonica on leave, after two years, over land through Greece, then crossing from Itea to Italy and through France, the scenery was very interesting and so refreshing after the sun scorched land of Salonica. At Le Havre we boarded the “Warilda" an Australian boat, which was to take us to Southampton.
When we arrived on board we found out that two V.A.Ds were making their way home from France, and Mrs Long, Commander of the W.A.A.Cs and her orderly. We consisted of two sisters of the T.F.N.S. and myself, making a number of seven altogether. After dinner we went to see the wounded officers and men to help them talk, oh… What an interesting time we had, the thrilling adventures which made us glow with admiration and filled us with a longing to do more for these men who willingly gave their lives for us. How time flies, we helped fix life belts until the signal for “lights out” made us seek our cabin, Up till now we had moved very slowly, because of it being light, now we were going at a good speed, although cautiously, and we retired with glorious thoughts of tomorrow when we should see England again.
We were awakened by two terrible crashes and we felt the ship vibrating violently, the sound of running feet, and someone opened our cabin door and said, “To your boat at once sisters, we have been torpedoed”. We were so sure that nothing would happen that we had put on our night attire, now there was no time for dressing, only our life belts fixed on, and we made our way to our boat which had been pointed out to us the previous evening. It was so dark that we could not see, only felt some hands passing us along, while the wounded men who could help them-selves lined ready to get into their boats, the stretcher cases were in the hands of the Medical Officers and the orderlies under their supervision did splendid work, everyone gave us a cheery word as we passed, even in this critical moment they never forgot, there was no panic, everyone remained cool and helped by being alert.
There only being seven women we did not delay the rescue work which went on around us as we got into our boat, but I soon lost sight of my friends as the boat became full of wounded men. I had slipped down into the bottom of the boat to make more room, but, unfortunately it being dark I was not seen and several men walked over me, not anyone's fault, but we were overcrowded. The boat was then lowered and should have been struck away, but no hatchet was available, and to our dismay the plugs had been forgotten and we were taking water quickly. Being at the bottom of the boat and not being able to move I had a very unpleasant experience, but I must have lost consciousness, for a time, for the next thing I remember was feeling myself choking with the salt water and struggling I knew there was no chance of being saved for all the boats would be filled with wounded and other survivors, so I resigned myself hoping it would not be long.
I felt myself coming to the top yet being drawn towards something which I found out to be the small boat upside down, the waves were very strong and dashed me against the sides unmercifully, this, with the terrible cries of the men and women in the water was horrifying, then I sank once more, not to a great depth but far enough to become exhausted with the choking of salt water and the continuous struggle. A ghastly scene was ever before me of persons floating about, and if you came too near they would clutch at you for help, this as well helped to rob you of your strength. Once more I came to the top and received the same treatment as before, how I longed to die and escape those terrible cries, as I went down again I was sure that it would be the last time as my strength was nearly gone and everything was so hazy. Yet again I came to the top and soon I realised that I was a long way off from the boat which I could faintly see as I floated towards her, but to my horror I saw another small boat making its way towards me, and remembering my previous treatment I was terrified, and put out my hand to ward it off, I did not realise that the boat was the right way up and there might be a chance of being saved. There was somebody in the boat that saw me, they caught hold of my hand and tried to pull me in for I could not do much, and to make matters worse somebody caught hold of my foot, it seemed impossible to me, but my rescuer spoke cheerfully to me and after a short time my foot was released and I was lifted into the boat.
They looked but could find no trace of any other victim. When they discovered that I was a woman by my attire they hunted among the other survivors for some extra clothing, but everyone was so scantily clothed so we made the best of it. Beside myself there was a V.A.D. and a W.A.A.C. about ten wounded men and two sailors in charge of the boat, the other women we thought were drowned , but we heard later that they were picked up in another smaller boat. As we put off, several cries followed us and our sailors did much rescue work, they never ignored a cry for help, and if the waves took them away again the rescuers always gave them a cheery word. It took much time and hard work to get the boat away from the suction. Many of the wounded offered to help them but they always refused with a smile and said they were doing fine. We had been in the boat some time when the oarsmen recognised a cry for help. They made towards the sound and after many difficulties rescued one of their officers, and you could tell he was a favourite. After a short recovery he took another oar and we began to feel less doubtful. Several depth charges were sent off which made us feel very uncomfortable. We had a lantern and some matches but we dare not show it because of the submarine, this meant, although we had sighted several destroyers we had lost them owing to not being able to show a light.
We had been in the boat about two hours, the waves, were so strong that times it seemed that we should be capsized, and we were all feeling very depressed and there was no sign of being rescued, when one boy in the boat tried to cheer us by singing, he did not fail entirely, soon we were all joining in, we stopped as suddenly as we had started for someone had sighted a destroyer, our only chance was to show a light and hope that we should be seen. The light was shone and we discovered that she was making straight for us and if something wonderful did not happen we should be cut into for we could not escape her. We knew what our fate would be so we waited, and to our great joy she just turned in time and the oarsmen heard a voice calling to us to catch the rope, unfortunately we missed it owing to the dashing of the waves, then we made off for the starboard side and very soon our boat was tied. The destroyer was informed that there were women on board and we were given the first chance although we would have liked to have taken our turn. The waves were so strong that they lifted our small boat up level with the destroyer and we were helped over, and each one had to wait till the waves gave him his chance of boarding.
Here we were served with cocoa and brandy to revive us, then we were taken to the Captain’s cabin were we found a Tommy with a fractured femur, already reposing on the bed with a number of orderlies who told us the news. Every article of clothing that could be collected was given us although some of the Tommies had very little some only possessed the blanket that was given them when they board the destroyer. We were pleased to hear that the destroyers came almost immediately the signal for help was given and within half an hour six hundred cases were saved. A sad fate awaited the boys on the lower deck the torpedoes, (for we were struck twice) had blown away the gangways so that no help could reach them, ladders could not reach down and every effort failed, a number of engineers volunteered to stay behind although they knew that it meant death. About one hundred were lost. These men who were trapped were convalescent, and although eye cases and were able to help themselves the water rushed in and they were drowned. We were warned that a number of depth charges were to be sounded, the shock was severe, but we consoled ourselves thinking that we had sunk the Hun. We stopped again to take on board some more survivors, and to our delight we found our friends and listened to their terrible experiences. We were sorry to hear that our friend Mrs Long had been drowned trying to jump from the "Warilda” into the small boat and falling between, became entangled in the ropes, every effort was made to release her but when the ropes she must have collapsed and was drawn under by the suction. The "Warilda” remained afloat for two hours, and two destroyers did try and tow her along but eventually she exploded and took the destroyers with her. We did not hear of the Captains rescue till several days afterwards, but as far as we know all the engineers went down.
The cabin became very hot as there was so many of us in it, and the sailors were exceedingly attentive to all our wants, every wish of the Tommy was gratified as far as possible. We were glad when the port holes could be opened and the first glimpse of land was such a joy. Southampton was reached about 8.30 a.m. and we received a warm welcome from some soldiers who were waiting to embark and partly understood what had occurred by our attire. To Netley Hospital we were taken and received every attention. After a medical examination we were given permission to travel.
Here arose a difficulty which had to be faced, we had lost everything we possessed, the sisters understood and we were soon dressed for travelling. Although much bruised and stiff we enjoyed our short leave, and now the past is being forgotten and we start again.
Daisy Dobbs was married in late 1919 to George Botting, who in 1916 was also awarded the Military Medal whilst serving with the 1st Battalion, the Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). In view of the tiny number of Military Medal awards to women during the Great War, this marriage of two MM holders could well be a unique event.
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