Charlotte Lilian Annie Robinson (known as Lilian) was born in Shanghai, China in 18841. Her father, Alfred Murray Robinson, was a solicitor in Shanghai, as was her elder brother Edward2. Lilian’s mother Harriet was Alfred’s second wife, and Lilian had brothers and sisters from both her father’s marriages. The Robinson’s were part of a growing British presence in China.
Following the first opium war (1839-1842), and the treaty of Nanking, Shanghai was opened for foreign trade and became a centre for British commercial interests. In 1863 the Shanghai International Settlement was created, run by a municipal council. The settlement had a large ex-patriot community, which had its own fire service, and police force as well as providing facilities for a resident British Army battalion3 4. The volume of commerce through the port, as well as the expansion of the civil community and facilities would have provided plenty of opportunities to provide legal services.
Lilian and her family lived in Shanghai until she was aged 7, then the family moved back to England and were living in Tonbridge, Kent at the time of the Census in 18915. Lilian’s father died in 18956, and the family moved to Oxford to live with Lilian’s sister Harriet and her husband Thomas. Harriet and Thomas were the landlords of the ‘Horse and Jockey’ Inn on Woodstock Road, in Oxford7. Lilian went to Oxford High School, a school opened by the Girls’ Public Day School Company in 1875. The school “provided an intellectual education, encouraged the development of science and physical education, and fostered music and artistic talent. The schools set high academic standards and entered pupils for the local examinations administered by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the College of Preceptors”8.
In April 1908 (aged 24) she went to St George’s Hospital in London to start her nurse training9.
Her record of training at St George’s Hospital10 shows that she offered three people as referees. The first person was ‘The Matron, The London Hospital’. As she had also stated her previous occupation as ‘Tredegar House for six weeks’, she must have spent a little while as a probationer at The London Hospital before starting training at St George’s Hospital. Tredegar House was the school for probationary nurses set up by Matron Eva Lückes in 189511. The second person was Mrs Minnie Gott, who married into the wealthy Gott family from Yorkshire, who had made their wealth from the wool trade. We are not sure of the connection between Lilian and Mrs Minnie Gott, but we do think that this is ‘Min’ with whom she exchanged letters during WW1. The third person was the Reverend William Moore, (Scholar and M.A. of New College, Oxford. and Fellow of Magdalen College. Oxford, Rector of Appleton from 187812).
The St George’s Hospital records list all the wards Lilian worked on during her training, as well recording the reports made on her progress. She completed her training 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)13.
Joining the Army
As part of her application to join the QAIMNS, Lilian had to give details of two ladies “to whom references can be made”. She gave the names of Mrs Gott, Tubney Lodge, Abingdon, Berkshire and Lady Alabaster, ‘Dil Aram’, Boscombe, Hampshire14. Mrs Gott had given a reference when Lilian applied to St George’s Hospital. Lady Laura Alabaster was, like Lilian, born in China. She married Chaloner Alabaster who was Consul-General in Shanghai when the Robinson family lived there. It is likely that the families knew each other, and on the 1911 Census15 Lilian and her sister Alice were visiting Lady Alabaster at her home in Boscome, Hampshire. The idea behind asking for character references was that the Army perceived that the nurses should be of a certain class and definitely not working class as had been the case previously. To the nursing profession it seemed that recommendations from people of social position mattered more than the views of those who understood nursing and nursing qualifications16.
She was appointed as a Staff Nurse in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) from October 21st 1912 and posted to the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot. After a six-month probation she was confirmed in her post, and remained there until she joined the British Expeditionary Force.