Little Is Known
Little is known of Jessie, the youngest sister,
save that she died of dysentery in Salonika,
far, far away from wee grey damp Dalbeattie.
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
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
Lives of the First World War
Add to Staff Nurse Jessie Jane Paterson’s life story on Lives of the First World War
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