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  • Claire Jordan

A Brave Lady in a Big Hat

This is Gertrude Lucinda Roskell, the first-born of a well-to-do middle-class family from Penarth.

Her shipping-agent father died when she was a child, leaving her Mum, also named Gertrude, with half a dozen small children.

But Mum was a swimmer, not a sinker, even when her little son Henry died aged 4; Mum Gertrude loved music and was a talented pianist, so she came to London to give concerts, marrying her much younger violinist, German-born Carl Elderhorst along the way.

Eldest daughter Gertrude had come with Mum to London, but had not found anyone she particularly wanted to marry and was in her mid-thirties by the time the Great War arrived.

She wondered what she could do to help, and decided to undergo medical training.

And so on 11th September 1915, she was able to volunteer as a Nurse with the Red Cross and sailed for Egypt with the Voluntary Aid Detachment, attached then to the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.

She had been nursing at 17th General Hospital in Alexandria for a matter of weeks when she began to experience nausea and abdominal pains.

She had finally found her purpose in life though; she was here to help the sick and wounded men so far from home. She was working long, brutal hours for really the first time in her sheltered life. Alexandria was so different from all she’d ever known safe back in Wales and then England, so hot, such different food…

So she shrugged off her symptoms, sure it was just a period of physical adjustment; the last thing she wanted to do was add to the Hospital’s workload by becoming a patient herself.

She sweated through her uniform; the nausea and the pains worsened.

But Gertrude stayed at her post, an optimist and a fighter, like her Mum.

So when her appendix finally burst, she really had no chance at all.

She died in the hospital she served on the last day of October 1915, aged 38.

Gertrude Roskell is buried among the Boys for whom she gave her life, in the CWGC’s Alexandria (Chatby) War Cemetery and, like them, is Never Forgotten.

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