Ethel Perry: First World War volunteer

Ethel Perry was a volunteer in front line hospitals during the First World War and an air raid warden in the Second World War. Here’s what we’ve learnt about her life so far.

Ethel Perry was born on 15 October or November 1876, the daughter of May Perry and Robert Perry and sister to Robert, Hilda, Alfred, and Ernest.

She lived at the family home at 11 Queen’s Terrace – later 67 West Princes Street – very close to the Arlington Baths Club, with which they were closely involved.

In the 1891 census both Hilda and her younger sister Ethel were staying with their grandmother Jane Sim, their aunt Kathleen Sim (May’s sister) and two other grandchildren called Mary Sim and Eric Johnstone at The Lodge in Rosneath.

She was a member of the Baths and Ethel and Hilda appear regularly in the reports of the Ladies’ swimming galas at the Arlington Baths. For example, in 1888 Ethel came second in the Clothes Race while in 1889 Hilda competed in the 140 yards Fast Swimming Invitation Race and in the Dive and Catch Cork competition, finishing in second place in both of them.

At the time of the First World War Ethel (now 38) volunteered for war service.

She and another member – Margaret Hutchison – are mentioned in the Ladies’ Section minute book as  volunteering with the Scottish Women’s Hospital, a voluntary organisation providing medical services in the front line of the War, staffed by women and supported by the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

She went as an orderly to Antwerp in Belgium as part of Mrs Stobart’s Unit from 19 September 1914 until 11 October 1914. From 11 December 1914 to 9 April 1915, she was at the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Kraguievatz in Serbia where Dr Elsie Inglis from Edinburgh was working.

Ethel then joined the VAD – Voluntary Aid Detachment – and became part of the British Red Cross Society and St John’s Ambulance sub-unit. She was in Malta from 19 June 1915 to 18 September 1917. From 9 November 1917 to 17 July 1918 she was in the Voluntary Aid Detachment G.S.

She was awarded several medals for her war service, including:

  • 1914 Star, which was inscribed MISS E PERRY AU HOPS UNIT ANTWERP
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal, inscribed E.PERRY VAD
  • Defence Medal
  • Civil Defence Long Service Medal (EIIR)
  • Serbian Samaritan Cross

Ethel’s medals were offered for auction by Bosley Military Auctioneers in July 2016 along with letters and news cuttings.

Picture credit: Boseley’s: Military Auctioneers and Valuers

The auctioneers describe them as: “An extremely rare group awarded to Miss Ethel Perry, a member of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Accompanied by original Scottish Women’s Hospital correspondence confirming the award of the Serbian Samaritan Cross … plus a number of original newspaper cuttings.”

According to their research:

“Ethel offered her services to the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and in September 1914 was selected to act as an Orderly. Three all women medical units were raised, Ethel joining the second unit which embarked to Antwerp on the 20th September 1914. Here the medical unit served under harsh conditions to the point of been bombed by German aircraft, with the situation deteriorating and Antwerp about to fall, Ethel and fellow members were evacuated.

“Ethel then volunteered for further overseas service with the Scottish Women’s Hospital and joined the Medical Mission to Serbia, serving with Dr. Stobart Hospital Unit, Kragujevac Hospital from December of April 1915. Returning to the UK, she volunteered for service with the VAD and is shown on the roll serving as a Cook. She saw service with No. 6 Glasgow Red Cross Unit and served from November 1917 to July 1918 in a French Military Hospital and then later at the Huddlesfield War Hospital. She was discharged on the 13th October 1919.”

By 1918 she was listed on the electoral roll at the family home at 67 West Princes Street but marked as an absent voter because she was on war service with the V.A.D. Her mother, listed as Jane Perry, and her sister Hilda M Storer, were also on the roll. All three were entitled to vote in parliamentary, town council, parish and school board elections.

It looks as if that in later years she moved to Swanage in Dorset which is where her mother retired not long after her husband Robert died in 1918.

From the mid-1930s Ethel’s address was Dunsley (?) in Rabling Road, Swanage. She seems to have enjoyed travelling. In August 1935 she’s recorded as returning from New York on the Gloucester Castle, disembarking at Southampton. On 23 December 1936 she arrived in Plymouth from Tenerife, travelling on the Andalucia Star.

Then in September 1939 she was listed in the England and Wales Register at 21 Rabling Road, Swanage. She was described as a spinster of private means, born on 15 November 1876.

Ethel was now once again volunteering for war service, this time for the Second World War, for she was also described as being part of the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) – an air raid warden – and also a Billeting Officer. She was in her early sixties by this time!

Living with her was her sister Hilda, described as a widow of private means, who was also in the ARP.

After the Second World War, she managed at least one more voyage: in April 1955 Ethel Perry, now of Locksmith, Durlston Road, Swanage, disembarked at Southampton from the Stirling Castle, which had sailed from Durban in South Africa, calling at East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Las Palmas. (In this record her birthday was given as 15 October 1876).

She died at the age of 99 in spring 1976 in Poole, Dorset.

Sources used:

  • Arlington Baths Club archive in the Glasgow City Archives

If we discover more we shall update this page. If you have any more information please get in touch.

Researchers: Eunice Crook, Lucy Janes

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