Nursing orderly

Olive Harcourt is a singer and musician of international repute who trained in Dresden and lived in Germany for some years. In 1916 she put her musical career on hold to come to Dorset with sister Florence to work as an orderly at Beaucroft Red Cross Hospital in Colehill.

Her diaries are full of colourful stories about life in a small Red Cross Hospital.

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The Epitome of a Victorian Lady

Olive Harcourt was “Epitome of a true Victorian lady”, her ward Joan Cocozza told us at her home in Bristol.

Visitors were announced, gentleman friends kissed her hand, women kissed her cheek.

“It was an utter surprise when I began reading her diaries and learned of the time she cared for wounded soldiers,” she said.

During WW2, Joan, then a young girl, would spend half her week living with her family, and the other half living with Olive at her grand house in Clifton, where Olive taught her to play the upright piano she later left her when she died in 1958.

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Pound Day

Olive's diary 14th August 1918 Pound Day

I had a tent and did palmistry. Sister got it so nice with a divan covered with the hall tablecloth. Tyler got up as a Hindu attendant in white pyjamas and a sheet. He perspired in the sun and the black came off on his things.

Some thought he was the fortune teller and were afraid to come. My first visitors were VADs from Newton. Then I saw 3 pairs of legs hovering about - khaki legs, flannel legs and knicker legs each urging the other in first - Rex, Solly, Sugden and Ray - young scamps out for fun!

Solly has 2 heart lines which I have never seen before and cannot find out what it means. Two interesting hands were Rev Helps and Rev Allan, the first the true soldier type and the latter a visionary. He preaches spiritualism. The boys returned with flappers all day.

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Flappers

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Palm reading takings

Olive's diary 15th August 1918

I took £2.0.8d in my palm reading tent. In all they took £104 and £25 in goods. I was having a nap at 3pm when I was sent for. A convoy coming in an hour! I went and Florence [my sister] helped later. Got very tired

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Blackberrying

August 16th 1918 Florence and I drove in donkey cart, through Uddens Wood.

Got splendid blackberries and harts-tongue ferns. Jack [the donkey] very fresh and shied a lot

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Viola

Olive's diary 20th August 1918

I Here's a picture of dear Viola - Nurse Belgrave from my diary. She's on the right in the second row. She tended wounded Frenchmen at Arc-en-Barrois for 8 months and would be so proud to know that the efforts of all those women in France has been recognised

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Dream

Olive's diary 20th August 1918

I had long wished to dream of ES [Major Edmund Street] and last night asked. I dreamt vividly of him and that we were travelling together and in a large room he asked me to sing “Home Sweet Home”. [Major Street died of wounds on October 21, 1916]

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Hedgehog

Olive Harcourt's diary 13.9.1918

Found Postchild wandering about in a dressing gown, clasping a hedgehog to his bosom. Behind the furthest bed was a saucer of bread and milk, where it would have its meals in darkness, undisturbed.

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Postchild and Perry

Olive Harcourt’s diary 4th Oct 1918

Postchild and Perry so funny, throwing about a potato in the kitchen & playing up splendidly. In the evening I hold their hands and said Postchild was a great artist and I knew that because I had been much among them.

He looked at me very earnestly and said: “Miss ’Arcourt, you & me is one.” Convoy arrived yesterday.

[At the age of 22, Henry Postchild (born 1989 in Stepney in 1889) was living with his parents and working as a ‘carman’. By 1915 when he enlisted in the Suffolks (16617) he was described as a stevedore. In 1950 he was living in Tower Hamlets]

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How I came to Wimborne

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Flags out

Olive’s diary: 11th November Armistice proclaimed

Flags out here at 11.30. Florence ran in to tell us. A little upset to think my dear boy not here to see it! [referring to Major Edmund Street DSO, killed in 1916] Convoy arrived early. I began work in a full hospital.

Men excited playing every instrument they could & cheering like made things. Work hard. Concert by Kettles lot, most hideous row. F came and helped a little. Gave up A ward to Miss Bannister

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Fancy Dress

Olive’s diary Nov 15th 1918

All preparing for this foolish fancy dress ball on the 20th. Griffiths said I looked after him like a King! He carried my coal home singing Welsh songs. Slate quarry worker from Llanllyfni in North Wales

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Fancy Dress

Olive’s diary 20th November 1918

Fancy dress affair at Beaucroft Hospital. I remained on duty and put in 16 hot water bottles and got supper. The dresses were far beyond my expectation. Nurse Howell in an old costume got 1st prize, Florence helped her to dress. Stubbs as a London cabby got the men’s 1st prize.

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German Folk Songs

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Small Concert

Olive Harcourt’s diary Friday 22nd November 1918

I sang at a small concert. After being on duty since 2 was tired. Had some supper with the staff. Sang Jess MacFarlane, Comin’ thro’ the Rye and to lute Die Sennerin and Nur einval noch. Hewitt gave me his picture, so humbly, by the kitchen sink

pictured: Jones, with crutches, Spiers behind chair, Hewitt in chair. Jones, Welsh took French leave on the way home. Spiers bad foot case, superior man

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Happy Days

Olive Harcourt’s diary 30.11.18 Nurse Howell came in late for one & a half hours. Thinks Beaucroft will be shut soon. William Fletcher writes: Happy Days. It is with the greatest pleasure that I write these few lines.

Thank you ever so much for all your kindness shown to me during my stay at Beaucroft

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Concert at Beaucroft

Olive Harcourt Dec 10th 1918

Concert at Beaucroft. Florence and I sang and a harpist from Bournemouth the only ones. We did Home Sweet Home, Let me Dance again, Alpen-Rosen and other German songs.

Mr Widnall was telephoned for as he wanted to come specially. At the end Mackan recited, really splendid, very talented his little Joan (aged 2) came and sat at his feet on the platform with her hands folded in her lap.

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Christmas Cards

The story of Olive’s embroidered Christmas cards from the front from BBC Breakfast in Dorset 19 December 2018

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Music at Beaucroft

Olive Harcourt’s diary 22.12.18

Florence and I went to have a little music at Beaucroft. Only a few men left, 30 gone for Christmas. Very dull time. Bradley wold not stop roaring like a bull and no other would sing.

picture: Olive Harcourt's piano at the home of her ward Joan Cocozza in Bristol in 2018

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Christ may Return

Olive Harcourt’s diary 3.1.1919

In the common room before dinner, Southern was telling the Commandant he had seen a letter in the paper from a man in Bath saying Christ would come again soon. “If he came to Bath I should like to go there - perhaps I might touch the hem of his garment.” He was thinking about his poor leg, gone below the knee!

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Pierrots!

Olive Harcourt’s diary Jan 7th 1919

Men’s concert at Beaucroft Hospital. Mrs Smith went with us, fearful squash. They were dressed as Pierrots in white pyjamas, with paper pompoms and ruffs, Macken, Stubbs, Woodhead and Jacobs the best. The little play “The Area Bell” with Nurse Coggin.

Sidney Macken and Arthur Stubbs really good and amusing. We had a nice talk with them and Fred Woodhead on the stage afterwards.

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Three to Tea

Olive Harcourt writes: 14 Jan 1919

Macken, Stubbs and Griffiths came to tea. A most delightful time. Each did his bit in entertaining and we had a tremendous talk about Theosophy and religion, each man possessing lofty ideas and much power and expression

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Palm Reading

16th Jan 1919 Olive Harcourt writes:

Florence, May and I went to Beaucroft [Red Cross Hospital in Wimborne]. I read many hands and it was most amusing. I was able to tell many events correctly - Nurse Sansom in particular.

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Concert

Olive Harcourt’s diary, 21st January 1919

Miss Grey concert [at Red Cross Beaucroft Hospital]. I sang Last Rose of Summer, Il Rosegruol & When Love is Kind. They liked the Nightingale best. Afterwards Macken reciterd for us, most enjoyable

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Explore by day, month or person here on the blog or on our five Twitter feeds: @Voicesfrom1918 @LadyMonkswell @MarieStopes1918 @JamesSansom230 and @OliveHarcourt.

Voices from 1918 has been developed by artists Sharon Hayden and Alastair Nisbet in partnership with Wimborne Community Theatre, Dorset History Centre and the Priest’s House Museum, Wimborne with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Thanks to all who have helped us with this project: Maria Gayton and staff at Dorset History Centre where we found Lady Mary Monkswell’s diaries; Joan Cocozza, ward of nursing auxiliary Olive Harcourt; Portland Museum where we found James Sansom’s diaries; the British Library and Wellcome Libraries; Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne and Gill Horitz from Wimborne Community Theatre.

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