DAY 53
Vivien Jones

Little Is Known

100 days
100 lives
100 words

Little is known of Jessie, the youngest sister,
save that she died of dysentery in Salonika,
far, far away from wee grey damp Dalbeattie.

“Jessie Jane Paterson, a young woman from rural Scotland who trained as a nurse in Ayrshire and Glasgow, and set sail for Salonika to serve as a Staff Nurse in military ‘hos-pitals’, which were often just a series of tents, and who died there of dysentery. Beyond that, little was known….. ” Vivien Jones

Creating the Centena

I had great difficulty in settling on a subject for this project. I had been to a lecture on
the character known as ‘Woodbine Willie’ (Reverend Geoffrey Studdart Kennedy) and liked his post-war empathy with pacifism, but on reading a biography I became more interested in his wife, Emily Catlow. He, after all, was already the subject of a biography and much other writing. She had run their home, raised their children and supported her husband’s extensive and constant lecture tours throughout their marriage. But I stumbled so often on the phrase ‘little is known’ when trying to research her life, it looked to be impossible.

However, I had been engaged through 2017 as a creative writer with the Records of War project with Annan Museum – which took a fresh look at the way we report war in photographs (press and personal), diaries, and letters home by looking at material from WWI that the museums hold. Part two of the project will work from Dumfries Museum with a further focus on the lives of women in WWI, and the incidence of conscientious objection in the area. It was in looking through their archive that I came across mention of the woman who is the subject of my poem

STAFF NURSE JESSIE SMITH PATERSON (WWC H19-26) Staff Nurse Jessie Smith Paterson, Territorial Force Nursing Service. Died of illness in Macedonia 29 September 1916. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

So, perforce, I had to read accounts of the war in Salonika and the broad experience of nurses abroad in WWI to discover what Jessie Jane Paterson’s life there might have been. That she shared the vicissitudes of the long sea voyage, the extremes of the northern Greek weather, nursing under fire, nursing without a good supply of drugs and equipment, nursing colleagues and finally, falling ill and dying herself, is testament to all the nurses that served.

Sandstone Press : The Birdcage by Clive Aslet

There seems to me some merit in assembling the experiences of many, mostly un-named, nurses to inform a version of Jessie’s untold personal story.
Vivien Jones

Lives of the First World War

Add to Staff Nurse Jessie Jane Paterson’s life story on Lives of the First World War

About the author

Vivien Jones

More about Vivien Jones

With special thanks

Research for this centena was supported by Dumfries Museum, IWM and Lives of the First World War

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About 26

26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.