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Her War Work

Her war work – Women’s Emergency Corps and Local Government BoardOn the outbreak of war, having just returned from America, Grace Vulliamy joined the Women’s Emergency Corps. They had advertised for women who wanted to help the war effort to register at their temporary office at Robert Street, London. Lena Ashwell, one of the Corps’ founders, described how Grace: ‘dashed into our office, offering to help. Asked what she could do, she replied that she had but one doubtful asset, “perhaps some languages.”’ Evidently Grace was a modest person. Later events show she could speak German like a native and picked up languages easily. Realising that there were thousands of Belgian refugees pouring into London, she was able through the Emergency Corps to arrange translators to help them. She also realised that men were being sent to France and Belgium without any idea of how to speak the language, so she set up classes for them. As the Germans swept across Belgium, refugees arrived in England in waves, swelling during August, reaching tens of thousands through September and October. When Antwerp fell on 9th October contemporary estimates were of a quarter to a half a million refugees. In total throughout the war, about 250,000 came to Britain, most were women and children. Grace was given the task of forming the Emergency Corps’ Interpreting department and she organised a body of women to meet refugee trains at London’s main railway Stations and also at the huge refuge at Alexandra Palace, where 4,000 refugees were given temporary accommodation. When the Emergency Corps moved to Bedford College in October 1914 she was appointed Organising Secretary. Friendships with the actress Lena Ashwell and the writer Beatrice Harraden, who wrote their first appeal, were important for the rest of her life, both women assisting her relief work in Poland. Government Commission for the Transportation of Belgian Refugees to England.British Committee for Transportation of Belgian RefugeesMr Massey, Mrs Hutchison and Miss VulliamyThe Local Government Board was responsible for public health and refugees were seen as a health hazard. The 1914 Aliens Act controlled entry by facilitating ‘sifting’, that is examination of people, and thereby acceptance or rejection. Before being allowed to cross the Channel refugees without private means or who were not from devastated areas were subjected to medical examination through a Board of Trade Committee run by Mr Nicholas Reyntiens, a Board of Trade officer lent to the Local Government Board. With the ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge falling on 15th October the chaos increased. Reyntiens and Dr. Farrar, the Board’s Medical Inspector, were unable to inspect all the refugees.The Board’s usual approach was that women should help other women and they asked the Emergency Corps for someone with languages to work with them. Grace Vulliamy was therefore appointed to become a member of the Government Commission for the Transportation of Belgian Refugees to England. In December she went to Flushing working with Mr Massey, Mr Reyntiens, Dr Farrar, and Percy Alden, a Quaker M.P., transporting 1,200 refugees to the U.K. each week, and ‘weeding out undesirables.’ However, in typical patriarchal fashion, in the official Report up to the 31st March Reyntiens does not mention her. From the beginning of January, Dr. Farrar took over the control of the service at Flushing, assisted by Mr. Massey who remained in sole charge from the 15th March till the end of that month. As she had acted as representative of the Board, in February 1915 Major General Onnen, Dutch Military Officer in charge of p.o.w.’s interned in Holland, arranged for her to be attached to the Dutch Medical Service as liaison officer to assist in the care of sick POWs, transporting the wounded from Germany to England until the Armistice.

Chapter 1: Introduction and Who was Grace Vulliamy and what kind of person was she? Chapter 3.‘Last lap from Nurse Cavell’ Grace, Edith Cavell and Escaped PrisonersChapter 4. Helping the Quakers help Refugees Chapter 5. Civilian Prisoner ExchangeChapter 6. Military Prisoner ExchangeChapter 7. Post-war WorkChapter 8. ConclusionHome Page