The Woman on Stonehaven Black Hill War Memorial

In 2014, Aberdeenshire’s Heritage Education Partnership, supported by Aberdeenshire Council, completed the ‘Hard Vrocht Grun’ project – the creation of an education resource for schools, colleges and researchers exploring the effect of World War 1 on the North-east of Scotland.

“Hard Vrocht Grun” is a Doric phrase meaning “hard fought ground” or “hard worked ground” – it refers both to the price paid in blood during trench warfare, and to the tough farming conditions in Aberdeenshire.

The information is presented in three themes: Objection and Exemption; Loss, Return and Commemoration; and Work, Food and Poverty.

There are press clippings reflecting the content of the themes – including many from the Stonehaven Journal.

And the people of Stonehaven feature again and again in the archive – including Helen Milne, the only woman whose loss of life is recorded on our War Memorial.

One Heroine Amongst the Heroes

The following is an exerpt from Objection and Exemption bundle 3 used with kind permission of Aberdeenshire Council.

Pre War Life Helen Milne was born on February 14th 1886 in Stonehaven, Kincardineshire.243 She was the daughter of James Milne, a book keeper for a solicitor in the town, and Louisa Helen Milne nee Fyfe who were married on the 27th of April 1885 in Glasgow.

By 1901 Helen and her family, including her brothers Leslie and Marshall were living at “Bona Vista, Gurney Street, Stonehaven and Helen was a scholar at the local Mackie Academy.

Sadly Helen’s mother Louisa passed away, after suffering from paralysis for over a year, in Sunnyside Asylum, Montrose in 1903. Her father James married Agnes Moir in Elgin in 1907 and the couple had at least two children together – a son Elrick born in 1908 and a daughter Moira born in 1910.

Helen left school and started her training to become a nurse in 1907 when she went to work at the Royal Asylum in Aberdeen where she earned a Mental Training MP certificate during the period of the 23rd of July 1907 to the 30th of September 1912.251,252 After completing her probationary training she moved to London where she worked at the Lambeth Infirmary until 1915.

War Time Service InformationFollowing the outbreak of World War 1 she joined government service. She decided to became a nurse with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve (Q.A.I.M.N.S.R.) and in 1915 applied and was accepted to service overseas in India. She joined the reserves on the 18th of January 1916.

Helen’s War Medal Record indicates that Helen headed to India on the Hospital Ship Assaye which was in service from January 1917 until March 1921. According to the 1914-18 invision zone website staff on the ship included

“… mainly trained nurses of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service, and medical officers and male orderlies of the RAMC.”

Helen entered the Indian Theatre of War on the 31st of July 1917. 261 In India she worked on hospital ships carrying wounded men from Bombay to the Persian Gulf until she succumbed to dysentery in Bombay at the Sisters’ Home, Colaba War Hospital on the 23rd of November1917.

In a confidential report signed by M.E. Howell , the Matron of the Hospital Ship Assaye the late Sister Milne was described as,

“…a very good nurse, quiet and managed her wards well. Her conduct was very good.”

According to an article in the Stonehaven Journal Helen’s parish minister Rev. H.E. Michie paid tribute to Helen at a church service saying,

“ How gladly and bravely she went away when the call came to her to face the risks of foreign service! She was strong…highly trained and exceedingly competent in her profession.”

Helen died intestate but her effects were, according to Scots Law, were split between her father James and her brothers Leslie, Marshall, her half- brother Elrick and her half -sister Moira.

Helen is memorialised on a gravestone in the old Kirktown of Fetteresso (St. Ciaran) Cemetery in Stonehaven, on the Stonehaven War Memorial, on the Kirkee 1914-1918 Memorial in India and on the “Five Sisters Window” a memorial for war nurses in York Minster.

She is also memorialised on the Scottish Women Nurses Memorial in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, which pays tribute to 40 Scottish nurses who died serving in the Great War, and on the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh.

Helen’s War Medal Record and The Forces Web Records website indicates that Helen was eligible posthumously to receive The Victory Medal, the 1914 Star and the 1914-15 Star for her wartime service.

Helen was also eligible for the British War Medal which was awarded

“…in the event of death on active service during the period 5th August 1914 – 11th November 1918.”

It would appear that these medals may not have been claimed by her family.

In a loving “In Memoriam” tribute to Helen or “Nellie” her cousins wrote

“Far from her home she lies at rest
And strangers tend her grave
But still in hearts that loved her best
Is dear the life she gave.”