Six steps of separation

“They say there are no more than six steps of separation between any of us”, writes Voices artist Alastair Nisbet, but he never expected it to apply to a middle aged nurse’s 100 year old diary from WW1.

“While reading Olive Harcourt’s account of her time at Beaucroft Red Cross hospital in Wimborne, I was astonished to find a link with my first art teacher at secondary school - Mr Fuller. The anxious young boy who Olive nursed after he lost a leg in the trenches, went on to marry and have three children. The youngest, Ron, was my art teacher. I never thought at the time but we didn’t do a lot of traditional art, we made dioramas out of shoe boxes and weird, brightly coloured balsa wood planes which we took up on the hill with Mr Fuller to fly to fly.

Mr Fuller didn’t teach for long - he made his career as a maker of toys and automata and has work on display in the V&A in London. It was his automata I later saw at Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in Falmouth and Covent Garden but it wasn’t until I read 50 year old Olive’s diary from WW1, that I realised the two Mr Fullers were one and the same the same person! For me that was a stunning moment of discovery.

Olive’s diary, transcribed and researched by her ward Joan Cocozza held more treasures for me. One of the others nurses at Beaucroft was Viola Belgrave, a VAD nurse who had not only looked after wounded men in this country but travelled to Arc-en-Barrois hospital in France for eight months to look after French soldiers. Her name was familiar as I have a friend with the same surname - and when I visited her...she showed me Viola in later life, in a picture on her sitting room wall. She described her as a delightful woman, the aunt of her late husband. Another extraordinary discovery from a 100 year old diary.

Viola wrote about her experiences in France but what happened to her account, we unfortunately don’t know - but we live in hope of finding them.

Olive and some of her life in Wimborne in WW1 has been brought to life in the short film Tommy’s Sisters - five women in 1916 - by State of Play Arts in conjunction with ScreenPLAY and screened at venues around Dorset.


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