The only woman buried with full military honours at Passchendaele

Having trained in the treatment of abdominal injuries, Nellie Spindler worked for No 44 Casualty Clearing Station helping to treat seriously injured soldiers at a hospital based within the range of German shells.

Nellie Spindler was born in September 1891 and was the eldest of four children. Her father served as Police Chief Superintendent in Wakefield, Yorkshire.

She began training as a nurse in 1911 at Wakefield’s City Fever Hospital. She later moved to St James’s Hospital in Leeds before becoming a staff nurse at Whittington Military Hospital in Litchfield in 1915.


Nellie with her younger siblings

Whilst there she trained in the specialist treatment of abdominal wounds and with this knowledge in hand she joined Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in 1917.

 

Posted to France

In May 1917 Nellie was posted to France, only a short time before the start of the Battle of Passchendaele.

She served as a staff nurse at Stationary Hospital in Abbeville but moved to No 44 Casualty Clearing Station, a British evacuation hospital located at Brandhoek in Belgium, in readiness for a major Allied offensive.

The station specialised in abdominal wounds that needed to be treated urgently, therefore it was closer to the front line than most. It was shelled often as the enemy tried to destroy a nearby railway line and munitions dump.

As a religious woman, Nellie often visited local churches and regularly sent post home to her family. In early August her final letter home arrived, and also contained a birthday present for her sister, Lily.

It was a small silver pendant, embossed with the figure of a weeping angel that Nellie had got for her sister on a visit to Amiens.

Shelled all day

Only a few weeks later, on 21 August, No 44 Casualty Clearing Station was shelled all day. A dispatch from the British Journal of Nursing of 8 September 1917 described what happened.

“Private communications from Abbeville state that the hospital was shelled all day, that Miss Spindler was struck at 11am, became unconscious immediately and died twenty minutes later in the arms of Nurse Wood of Wakefield, which is also Miss Spindler’s native city, her father being inspector of police.

“She was given a full military funeral and the Last Post was sounded over her grave, which is quite near the hospital and will be well looked after.

“She was right in the danger zone, but while recognising it her letters were hopeful and cheery. Miss Spindler was very popular during her training, and her loss is deplored by the many friends she made who deeply sympathise with her family in their sorrow.”

Full Military Honours

Nellie was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery with full military honours the following day. The Last Post was sounded and it is believed that over one hundred officers, four generals and the Surgeon-General attended the funeral.

She is the only woman amongst over 10,000 men to be buried at the cemetery.

Nellie is also remembered in Ypres’ In Flanders Fields Museum, where visitors can follow her story in an interactive computer presentation, and at St James’s Hospital in Leeds where a plaque was placed in the chapel.

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