Charlotte Lillian Annie ROBINSON completed her nurse training at St George’s Hospital, London, in April 1912, and then worked as as a Staff Nurse and as an Assistant Night Sister at St George’s, before leaving to take up private nursing. She applied to join the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) in August 1912. Interestingly, her Matron while she was a St George’s was Miss Edith McCall Catherine Anderson RRC, herself an experienced military nurse having served with distinction in the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902). Sister Robinson was mobilised with the British Expeditionary Force to France at the start of WW1. She kept a detailed diary for the the first few months of the war along with an ‘Autograph Book’.

Autograph Book

The book has 108 pages all of which are reproduced in the following video for completeness. If you do have difficulties with watching the video please send us a message via our Contact page. In order to see the detail we recommend that you watch it full screen. The pages will move on quite quickly but you can pause the video to read them. Some pages will not be in the correct orientation for the writing or the picture, but we have reproduced the book here ‘as is’.

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What can we learn from her Autograph Book?

This autograph book tells us a little about Sister Robinson, in particular some of her movements during WW1 after her diary ends. It is clear from the book that she nursed both soldiers and officers and from a variety of Regiments and Corps. The quality of some of the illustrations shows how the war drew people in from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of skills and abilities.

On a number of the pages there are short excerpts like this one from page 10:

“One who never turned his back
But marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed ’tho’ right were worsted
Wrong would triumph;
Held, we fall to rise;
Are baffled to fight better;
Sleep to wake.”

R. Browning
From King Albert’s book
B. E. Force
Xmas 1914

Many of these excepts, like the one above, came from King Albert’s book. This book published by the Daily Telegraph in 19141 Daily Telegraph (1914) King Albert’s book : a tribute to the Belgian king and people from representative men and women throughout the world. London: Hodder & Stoughton was the brainchild of the novelist Hall Caine. Like so many people, Caine was incensed by the German invasion of Belgium on August 4, 1914, and by the atrocities committed by German troops against Belgian civilians. The greatest statesmen, writers, artists and musicians of the day were invited to contribute, including Lloyd George, Rudyard Kipling, Edward Elgar, and Henri Bergson. A number of the pages are taken from the book although not all are annotated as such.

The entry on page 4 is from a hymn:

“I would be true for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure for there are those who care;
I would be strong for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave for there is much to dare;
I would be friend of all – then for the friendless
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble for I know my weakness;
I would look up – and love and lift.”

L.R.
25.1.15
Bailleul

These are the first two verses of a Hymn – “I would be true”, written by Howard A. Walter, 1906.

In Lilian Robinson’s diary it is clear she was able to converse in French, and that she made friends with several French families. One family from Bailleul wrote in French in the book:

Si vous avez vu ma petite ville
Aux souffles légers du vent matinal
S’éveiller tranquille
Ecoutant chanter dans leur campanile
Les cloches mélant leurs voix de cristal
Vous n’oublieres plus ma petite ville
Qui chante gaiement le vent matinal
Si vous avez vu le beffroi de pierre
Aux rayons tremblants du soleil levant
Baigné de lumière
L’aube promenant sur la ville entière
La lune clarté, reflet d’or mouvant
Vour verrez toujours sur la tour de pierre
Frémir des rayons du soleil levant

So even transcribing the letters, diaries and journals of British nurses may require some knowledge of languages other than English! This passage translates as:

If you saw my little town
In the light breath of the morning wind
Awakening quietly
Listen to the singing in their bell tower
The bells mingling their crystal voices
You would not forget again my little town
That sings cheerfully in the morning wind

If you saw the stone belfry
In the trembling rays of the rising sun
Bathed in light
The daybreak walking over the entire city
The bright moon reflecting the shifting gold
You will always see the stone tower
The quivering rays of the rising sun.

We do not know if this was created by Docteur and Alice Bels, or whether it is something they have copied into the book.

There is a lot of social history hidden in this type of resource. Some things we can use to illustrate Sister Robinson’s life and career as a nurse, some might reflect on British nursing more generally at this time. The video does not do justice to some of the drawings and watercolours which are really good, and would make good illustrations in their own right.