Nelly Spindler
- a woman among 10,000 men

Nelly was born in Wakefield in 1891 the first child to George and Elizabeth Spindler.  Nelly had an younger sister, Lillie, born in 1896.  George and his family were the only people named Spindler in Wakefield at the time.  There are two other possible children for George and Elizabeth: according to a freebmd search, they are George Edward born 1902, just missing the census in 1901, and May born in 1904 ( this being confirmed by the 1911 census). George Kealey Spindler married Elizabeth Snowden in Leeds, the hometown of Elizabeth, in the summer of 1890, but by the birth of Nellie the family were in Wakefield. George, the head of the household, who had been born in Willingham, Lincolnshire and was a serving policeman in the Wakefield City Police Force, holding the rank of Sergeant and as a result the family had to live within the City boundary.  The family in 1901 were living on Stanley Road in the parish of St Andrews, which is well within the city limits.  By the time 1911 came around George had risen to the rank of Inspector in the City Force and his family were at 104 Cleaver Place also in Wakefield, except Nellie. Nellie was on the night of the census was a hospital nurse living on Park Lane, Wakefield, with the Matron as the Head of the Household.

 I suppose you could say life was 'normal' for the young Nellie as her and her siblings grew, well as normal as it can be with the country being at war in South Africa (1899-1902), Queen Victoria coming to the end of her long life (1819-1901) and subsequent festivities at the crowning of a new ruler for the Commonwealth - King Edward VII.The peace that had been known since 1902 soon came to an abrupt end in 1914 when war was declared - The Great War, a war, hopefully, to end all wars ! And would be over by Christmas.

Young men answered their nations call and volunteered to serve - after all they said it would be over by Christmas.  The confrontations and battles were so bad that replacements were badly need and eventually the volunteers were replaced by conscriptions - not just taking the single men but now calling on men with families.  There were exceptions and these 'reserved occupations' included miners, farmers and others that served their country just as well at home as abroad.  During this period the police and fire service were given notice of being called up and some had to attend medical examinations in readiness for the call.The men are answering the call but there was also a call for young women - nurses.

Nellie was one such woman, a trained nurse who answered the nations call and joined the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service which had been formed in 1902, formed from the Army Nursing Service of 1881.  In the first weeks of the war the QAIMNS were mobilised for duty with the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF), the numbers initially of nurses being 3,000 in 1914 but this number had raisen dramatically by 1918 to 23,000.  These very brave women went to wherever there would be a wounded soldier and were present in all the theatres of war and faced similar dangers as those of the soldiers in or near the front lines.Nellie, along with other nurses worked in the Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS).  These Clearing Stations were usually a safe distance from from the front,  and normally very large tents - some had up to 800 beds, but the 44th CCS in Brandhoek were Nellie was stationed in the summer of 1917 was closer to the danger than normal as it was positioned next to a railway and a munitions dump. 

The 44th CCS has particular expertise in abdominal wounds which needed to be treated with the utmost speed due to the amount of blood loss and the danger of infection and the high mortality rate. July the 31st 1917 was an especially busy day as this was the first day of the Battle of Passendale and the CCS where Nellie worked was overwhelmed with casualties. 

The immediate vicinity around the CCS was constantly shelled by the enemy when trying to destroy the rail network around Ypres and lessen the allies supply of ammunition.  But on the morning of the the 21st of August 1917 the shelling started around 10am when two shells just missing the quarters of the 44 CCS.  You can only imagine the confusion and panic that must have taken place during these attacks but the majority of the nursing and medical staff continued with the care of the wounded and tried to keep the patients moral up as well as their own. The whole of the area was in cayous, shell holes and wrecked billet tents made getting from one place to another very hazardous.  But one shell too many landed on the tents and Nellie was critically wounded. An eye witness report stated that Nellie was injured by shrapnel going through her body and just missing her heart.  She was quickly cared for by her fellow nurses but within minutes had lost consciousness and 20 minutes later her battle was over.  Before the day was over the 44th CCS had moved to Lijssenthoek, only a short distance from Poperinge.It is at Lijssenthoek that Nellie rests, buried the day after her death - a woman among 10,000 men. Men from the Commonwealth, the allied nations and the enemy.  There are 9,901 Commonwealth burials and 883 burials from other nationalities, being mostly French and German lying together in such a peaceful and tranquil setting.

Lijssenthoek is the second largest Commonwealth cemetery in Belgium, second only to that of Tyne Cot the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.But, back to Nellie, she is not the only member of QAIMNS to be buried in Belgium - there is one other, Sister Elsie Mabel Gladstone ARRC (Associate Royal Red Cross) who died on the 24th of March 1919 aged 32 lies at peace in Belgrade Cemetery near Namur with 248 soldiers - 1 being from WWII.

Both Nellie and Elsie would have been eligible, along with the other nurses and service men and women for the 1914-1918 campaign Medal.


CWG Lijssenthoek entrance (top) and views of the cemetery taken in 2004

updated Oct 2009 with 1911 additional census information

Sources :-

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The National Archives

Freebmd (to join follow picture link on right)

Colin Jackson

Findmypast   1911 census




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