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  • Claire Jordan

In Gratitude for a Scrap of Comfort

Ethel McCaul was a force of nature, a well-connected London nursing sister who went to South Africa to care for the troops with the King’s surgeon Sir Frederick Treves during the Boer War.

She served in front-line field hospitals and when she came home, she was determined to do something good for her boys.

She fundraised and networked and cajoled and had by 1904 managed to raise £60 000 for the establishment of a club for non-commissioned servicemen. She thought it unfair that officers should have their clubs in which to stay when passing through the capital but the average Tommy and his family had nowhere to go.

She wanted the Union Jack Club to be a decent, clean establishment which would cost the men no more than a day’s pay for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep.

Any donor who gave more than £100 could name a room and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took the opportunity to name one for his wife.

For many years after the First World War, an anonymous donation would arrive at the Club annually accompanied only by a note which read: “In gratitude for a scrap of comfort.”

Based next to Waterloo Station, the site was badly and repeatedly damaged by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz, but Ethel’s good work was not to be so easily undone and the Club was repaired, renovated and modernised.

The Union Jack Club is still thriving, and the poignant words of the anonymous donor of a century ago are remembered today on a marble plaque in Reception; Ethel’s Scrap of Comfort lives on.

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