Edith’s vital role as battlefield ambulance driver

Portrait of Edith Denyer taken during the First World War

THIS week, Peeps into the Past looks at the vital work carried out in the First World War by a young woman called Edith Denyer.

In March, we featured Frank Mills and his family’s bus company that employed female drivers and conductors, including Edith.

Her granddaughter Elizabeth Young has now supplied further details about Edith who, during the First World War, was a mechanic driver with the Women’s Legion Ambulance Corps.

Elizabeth said: “As a family, we are extremely proud of Edith, as before the First World War, there were hardly any women, only titled ladies, able to drive.

“Granny, thanks to the friendship of the Mills girls, particularly Doris, was not only taught to drive by Mr Mills, but also how to be a mechanic. 

“The Women’s Legion Ambulance Corps was set up by the Marchioness of Londonderry. It was sent to France during the war, for the transportation of officers, and – more importantly – the retrieval of the wounded from the battlefield.

“Granny’s fascination with cars and engines lasted until her death, at the age of 97, in 1991.”

Elizabeth has a number of official documents and photographs that chart Edith’s career as an ambulance driver.

Edith Denyer with her motor-ambulance somewhere near Ypres, Belgium

A driving licence was granted to “Edith Maud Denyer, 52 Coy MJRASC, Aldershot, 24 April 1919, until 23 April 1920’. It was issued from ‘The Castle, Winchester, County of Southampton’.

It is understood that Edith first drove ambulances in conjunction with the military war hospital that was established at Inkerman Barracks in Woking, and that she was later transferred to the Western Front.

Part of the correspondence Edith received from the War Office’s Quartermaster-General, dated 17 February, 1919, notes: “To all Officials and Members of the Women’s Legion Motor Drivers. I desire to place on record my appreciation of the splendid services rendered by all officials and members of the Women’s Legion Motor Drivers during the war.

Picture postcard of the military war hospital, likely to be Inkerman Barracks, St John’s, Woking

“I would like to take this opportunity of saying that in the state of transition from war to peace conditions your help is still urgently needed, and I appeal confidently for a continuation of your loyal service, trusting that only very urgent grounds will induce you to ask for your release at present.”

A year later, a letter from the Women’s Legion Motor Drivers, Headquarters, 32 Roland Gardens, SW7, said that mechanic driver Miss EM Denyer was released from service on 27 February 1920 on the account of being “surplus to requirements”. Edith’s address is given as “Marton, St John’s, Woking”. The letter said that her behaviour was “V Good.”

If you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call David Rose on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: davidrosemedia@gmail.com

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