Eugenie R’s story

Escaping the Russian Revolution by the skin of her teeth may have been a defining event for Eugenie, but she also lived a truly international life that was shaped by the twists and turns of the 20th century. Add in several love affairs (at least one of which that went wrong), a search for various missing family members, the ability to speak and conduct business in several languages, and a knack of always falling on her feet, and you have a woman able to call many places home.

Eugenie was born at the tail end of the 19th century in Naples, one of four known children of an Italian/Polish couple. However, she identified as Russian. Her father was the harbour master of the Black Sea port of Odessa, now in modern Ukraine but at that time emphatically part of the Russian Empire, and the family were based there for her whole childhood and beyond.

The harbour at Odessa during Eugenie’s childhood

Odessa, at that time, had a sizeable population that was historically Italian, even if by this stage they identified as Russian. Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, had founded the city with a large number of Italian immigrants in 1794, having taken the area from the Ottoman Empire, and their descendants and relatives had remained. At this time, nationality and loyalties were often taken historically in the eyes of the authorities, and groups of people with similar backgrounds were lumped together.

Odessa was also, in addition to being an important port, quite cosmopolitan. As well as the historical Italian-descended population, there were Swiss, Greeks, and about a third of the population of the city in Eugenie’s time was Jewish. There were cafes, coffee shops, bakeries, merchants and artisans throughout the city, which at this time was the 4th largest city in the Russian Empire. Jews, while Eugenie was small at least, had fewer restrictions and discrimination in Odessa than elsewhere in Russia, leading to a vibrant city in which to grow up.

As the daughter of the harbour master, Eugenie and her family would have lived close to the busy port and could see boats and cargo arriving and departing every day. Her father’s job was probably relatively well paid, meaning they could experience some of the culture around them, but they would not have been in the higher or richer echelons of local society.

Events and strains in wider Russia did reach Odessa, however. When Eugenie was around nine, in 1905, a pogrom against the Jewish population took place in the city. Over 400 Jews were killed, and many more injured. Although it was unlikely Eugenie was directly involved in these events, as she was a child, this would have dramatically altered the atmosphere of the city.

Eugenie, second from left, in Odessa during her youth

In her early adulthood, she worked in Odessa as a school teacher. She spoke Russian, French, English, and some Polish and Italian. She could play the piano, so must have been taught in childhood, and was known as an expert seamstress. Religiously, she was a devout Russian Orthodox believer, and kept their festivals.

The Russian Revolution, which began in 1917, was the next big event to affect Odessa – and also changed life completely for Eugenie. Although the unrest had started in February 1917, and continued in the October of that year, but reached Odessa in mid-January 1918, when Eugenie was around 22.

The city’s revolutionary committees were elected on 17th and 18th January, and the uprising began in earnest on the 27th. For Eugenie and her family, whose sympathies were with the empire (indeed, her older brother Paolo was even in the Tsarist army), this meant they had to leave and fast. Battleships arrived in her father’s port, and the family fled. Eugenie remembered being pulled aboard a leaving ship by a sailor, and in the resulting confusion she completely lost her family.

Bolsheviks entering Odessa, during the revolution

The climate for Jews and citizens not of Russian origin changed in Odessa as a result of the revolution, so returning was not an option. In the aftermath, she found herself in Baghdad, at that point in Mesopotamia but modernly the capital of Iraq. The area had been part of the Ottoman Empire until the year before, but had been put under British rule as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. Here Eugenie met and married another misplaced Russian, whose first name has been lost to history. His surname, Filaratoff, indicates that he was probably Russian-born, and was likely also misplaced due to the Revolution. Baghdad, at this time, had a large Jewish community – Jews made up a quarter to a third of the city’s population – and others with the surname Filaratoff have followed the Jewish faith, so this could be an indication of his background, but his religion was never discussed in later life. After the unrest of the flight from Odessa, this may have seemed like a safe haven for Eugenie and her new husband.

There was a revolt against British rule in 1920, but this was supressed. Not long afterwards, Eugenie’s first child – a son, Volek – was born in Baghdad.

Revolution in Baghdad in 1920

Sadly, Eugenie’s marriage was marked by domestic violence, and did not last. She took infant Volek and left, forming another relationship with a British man, George. Volek’s father later found his way to Palestine, and died there during the second world war.

George was a British engineer likely in Mesopotamia as part of either the British forces, or as someone who had served in the country during the First World War and had decided to come back and settle. He worked in communications, linking up desert areas. Their daughter Diana was born in 1924.

Baghdad in the 1920s

George died of natural causes, while undertaking his work in the desert. His spinster sisters in the UK asked to take care of Diana, but Eugenie refused and instead brought up Volek and Diana alone for a time.

Eventually Eugenie got together with the widower of her friend Xenia. Xenia, someone else of Russian background, had died after childbirth in 1922, leaving her husband Thomas to care for their newborn son Peter. Therefore, Peter became part of the family alongside Volek and Diana, and Thomas and Eugenie brought their family up close to Baghdad.

Thomas ran a dairy and farming business in the Baghdad area. He had come from a farming background in Worcestershire, and had been posted to Mesopotamia during the First World War. After the war, he had discovered that his first wife had possibly had another relationship while he was away, so returned to the Middle East to make a new life for himself. It was there in Baghdad that he had met and married Xenia, Eugenie’s friend. Given his background, dairy farming would have been an obvious choice for a business to begin with. They supplied the British Forces with dairy products, alongside anyone else local who wanted them.

His first farm was in Alwiya, just outside Baghdad. There he kept horses alongside his dairy cattle. Eugenie had visited him there, while he was married to Xenia, and had initially thought of him as rude and angry, as he’d walked past her and ignored her while she was there as a guest. Later, after they had got together, she lived with him at this farm, and assisted him in the business.

Eugenie and Thomas with Diana and Volek, and a farm hand, on the farm at Alwiya

Iraq achieved independence from British rule in 1932, but Eugenie and Thomas decided to stay put. Despite him being married to Xenia in the Presbyterian Church in Baghdad, and officially a widower, they did not marry straight away. Under British law, the marriage between Thomas and his previous wife could have been dissolved. Either party could have proved adultery. However, this did not happen. This may have been a refusal to accept the societal stigma of divorce on her part, or a complication with Thomas not being resident in the UK.

In Iraq, Eugenie had friends in a wider Russian community, and kept the Orthodox festivals – like Easter – with them. She would bake for the occasion, cooking different large cakes, beautiful pastries and tarts. Her son John says: “Every year she would buy different multi coloured cheap floral material pieces and use these to sew onto raw eggs very carefully and tightly. She would take hours doing this and when completed hard boil the eggs. When dry, remove the material and the dye from the coloured patterns were imprinted on each egg beautifully. All these lovely looking eggs were displayed in a large bowl and looked so attractive. On Easter Sunday, Eugenie would invite all her Russian friends to a party to celebrate the occasion. Each visitor would take an egg and crack it against another visitor’s egg, saying in Russian “Christ has Risen” and eat the egg.”

Eugenie had two more children with Thomas, George and Gladys, who didn’t live. Family tales say they both died of tuberculosis. Then her final child, son John, arrived in 1934. Later on, they moved to a second farm, just outside Fallujah, between Baghdad and RAF Habbaniya (a British military base, built in the 1930s), close to the River Euphrates.

Peter, and later Volek, were sent to Worcestershire to be looked after by Thomas’s sister, and educated in a British school, at some point in the 1930s, but Diana and John stayed with their parents. Their lives included trips to the cinema, and to hotels for dinner twice a week. Eugenie also had fur coats – a mark of wealth at that time, when the ethics of creating those garments were not called into question. At one point their house had five members of staff.

They held card playing parties for government ministers, and moved in exclusive circles. They were members of the Alwiyah Club, an exclusive institution which had opened in 1921. This had regular social events, a ballroom, swimming pool, and tennis courts. Baghdad had various clubs at the time, one for each established profession, plus those for different religions represented in the city. The Alwiyah was the most exclusive, and was known for having prominent citizens in its ranks.

A modern view inside the Alwiyah Club

Then, out of the blue, in 1937 Eugenie discovered that her family had survived the Russian Revolution, and had settled in Naples. She took her son John with her, and went to reunite with them. Her father had passed on, and one of her sisters had married and was living in France, but she was able to reconnect with her mother, other sister and brother.

Eugenie with her son John, reconnecting with family in Naples
Eugenie with daughter Diana and husband Thomas, in the 1930s

During the Second World War, both her son Volek and step-son Peter served for the British forces. Peter went into the army, while Volek was a radio operator in the air force.

A coup d’etat in Iraq in April 1941, in favour of the German and Italian forces, meant they had to move in a hurry. The story goes that the family were having breakfast when a soldier on a motorcycle arrived, who was in favour of the coup, and held the family at gunpoint. Eugenie attempted to reason with the soldier, crying as her husband was being held against an outside wall.

In the nick of time, a police officer arrived and ordered the soldier to leave. He was a family friend, so filled them in on the new political situation. Later that day, on his advice, they left their house and joined other British families in a barbed-wire surrounded ex-military camp on the outskirts of Baghdad. Eugenie and Diana were segregated from Thomas and John. The children made friends immediately, and John in particular treated the month-long experience as a grand adventure. Eugenie and Thomas, however, were worried about their farm and their business, as well as their long-term future.

An image from the coup d’etat in 1941

When released, it was discovered that their house had been bombed by the RAF, as the rebels involved in the coup had used it as headquarters from which to attack RAF Habbaniya. The furniture and carpets had been destroyed, and then anything that was left had been looted by the rebels and some inhabitants of the nearby town.

The success of the previous business enabled Eugenie and Thomas to rebuild their life, however. They moved the family to a hotel on the banks of the River Tigris for a few months, then rented a new large, detached house in an upmarket district called Karadah. Thomas began a new farm across the river, and travelled over every day on a small round boat.

Elsewhere during the war, Eugenie’s brother Paolo was placed in the concentration camp system by the Nazi-allied Italian forces, as he had previously been part of the Russian army and retained political sympathies. He survived the experience.

Her son Volek was not so lucky. He did not return from a mission on a Lancaster bomber near Leipzig in February 1945, and was declared missing and then dead by the British forces. Three members of crew from this mission remained unaccounted for, however, but as far as the official record was concerned, Eugenie’s first son was dead.

Volek, c1940/1941

After the war, her daughter Diana – who had fallen in love with a British man stationed in Iraq – married him in Baghdad, then moved with him to Chippenham in Wiltshire. Youngest son John went to England with her, to be educated. This left Eugenie and Thomas in Iraq to run their business, with no children around them. They remained in their rented house, and Thomas gave up the farm in favour of an import/export business with a couple of partners. This did not do as well as the farm had.

In 1947, Thomas’s first wife died in England. This meant that any barrier to their marrying had ended, and they formalised their union as soon as possible. This took place at St George’s Church in Baghdad, according to the rites of the Church of England. This is the only Anglican church in Iraq, and was built in 1936. Eugenie used the surname Dmitrieff at her marriage, but it is unknown where she took this name from.

However, there was a further twist in the tale of her eldest son Volek. In around 1948, a Russian woman – the friend of a friend – approached Eugenie and Thomas saying that she had a message from Volek, who was apparently alive. The woman had come to Iraq from Turkey, heading for the USA, and said that she had received a message from Volek at the border of Turkey with Russia. Though Russia does not modernly share a border with Turkey, the USSR and Turkey disputed territory in the area at this time.

Volek reputedly had said to tell his mother that he was alive, but captive, but not to make enquiries as it would cause problems. Eugenie and Thomas attempted to find out more, but found nothing, and as far as the British record is concerned the story is as presented to them when Volek was declared dead.

One tale is that the Russians at that time would consider releasing German Prisoners of War, but not captured British or Americans, so if the story Eugenie’s visitor told them is true it may mean that Volek was held in a prison camp for the rest of his days. To this day, the family do not know whether this account was truthful or not.

Eugenie with son John in Iraq in 1953
Dining with Thomas in Iraq in the late 1950s

By 1960, Thomas had a medical problem, so he and Eugenie returned to the UK. He had a severe foot wound, exacerbated by diabetes, which required treatment. He believed that an English doctor would not amputate his limb, as the doctor he had consulted in Iraq had wanted. However, this wasn’t the case. He received treatment in Kent, where his leg was removed, and sadly died a few days later after suffering complications.

This meant that Eugenie had been widowed again, for either the second or third time depending on the eyes of the law. She returned to Iraq to wind up the farming business, gathering what funds she could from what remained. Furniture and Persian carpets were sold. She then came back to the UK. She settled in Chippenham, close to her children, and became part of the local community. She lived in Eastern Avenue, on the Monkton Park estate, in a semi-detached bungalow, and in later life her siblings came over from Italy to visit her.

Eugenie, right, with brother Paulo and daughter Diana, in at home in Chippenham’s Monkton Park.

She missed her husband dreadfully. She made friends with the woman next door, still baked (a layered chocolate sponge cake is remembered by family), and regularly attended bingo with her daughter. Her son John, who also settled in Chippenham, bought her a Persian kitten whom she doted upon.

She died in Chippenham in 1978, and is buried next to Thomas at the town’s St Paul’s Church.

Dodo’s story

Dorothy, known to family as Dodo, was clearly not someone to be trifled with. She was once a suffragette, then a nurse in World War 1 Russia who was awarded a medal for bravery, founded one of the first anti-natal clinics in London in the early 1920s before more nursing in the Baltic states, and then was a formidable magistrate at home in Cambridgeshire. This eventful life, which pegged out when she was 95, was both lived to the full (her family remembers her being both formidable but also great fun as a person) and reflected the full scope of the 20th century.

Dodo with younger brother Guy in 1923

Dodo came from a bright and slightly eccentric middle-class family, and was born in the mid-1880s, the third of five children. Her father was a doctor, serving in St Osyth, a village in north Essex at the time of her birth, but when she was two they moved with her new baby brother to Fulbourn just outside Cambridge. They named their house after the Essex village, and attached the new surgery and a village hall too. Her youngest brother joined the family around three years later. Though comfortably off, the family had no title and no influence, and were known for working with all sectors of society and being extraordinarily kind – her father Lucius often would not take payment for his work. Although initially he worked on horseback, Lucius was also one of the first doctors to make his rounds by motor car, at the turn of the 20th century. In the early years her family had several servants to help with the household, including a groom.

She was from an era where education was compulsory, so probably began her learning at the village elementary school. At around 11 she transferred to the independent Perse School for Girls in Cambridge, which is separate from The Perse School, which at the time only educated boys. Her brothers probably attended the boys’ school, while her older sister Marjorie would have gone to the same school as Dodo.

It’s there that the equality in education ended, however. Dodo’s brothers were allowed to attend the University of Cambridge – Lucius became a doctor like their father, Douglas a teacher, and Guy a civil engineer – but Dodo was not allowed to go. Women were not admitted to degrees at Cambridge until 1948, although there was a women’s college at this stage, and attending a university that did admit women does not appear to have been an option. Instead, Dodo undertook a diploma for dispensing medicines after finishing school, possibly based at Charing Cross Hospital in London, and then went on to work at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton, where she continued training to be a nurse.

Charing Cross Hospital, at the time Dodo was training.
The Royal Alexandra Hospital in Brighton in Dodo’s time.

The disparity in how her brothers were allowed to continue their education and she was not was a factor in her decision to join in the activities of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She was angry. Family stories say that she chained herself to property, but not where and when. Since suffragette chainings were actually rarer than popularly thought, and it is known who was involved in most, it’s possible to pinpoint the likely action that Dodo took. Muriel Matters and Helen Fox chained themselves in the House of Commons Ladies Gallery, and Edith New and Olivia Smith chained themselves to the 10 Downing Street railings, both in 1908; and an unnamed group of women to the statues in St Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster in April 1909. The St Stephen’s Hall action is therefore likely to be the protest that Dodo made, unless it was a smaller piece of action outside London. She reported being arrested, although newspaper accounts say that arrests didn’t happen at St Stephen’s Hall and they were merely escorted off the site by police, and the experience changed her mind. She reportedly thought that “I’d made a bloody fool of myself” and decided to get on with what she could do instead of concerning herself with what she couldn’t.

She was round about 22 at this time, which was prime marriage age in this era. Whether she did not have the opportunity, or was not inclined to marry (she’d have had to give up work, under the conventions of the day), she did not take this path and instead went on to work in St George’s Hospital, at Hyde Park Corner. Family remember this nurse training brought her directly into contact with the poverty, deprivation and hardship involved in multiple motherhood in certain areas of the city at that time. The 1911 census finds her as a 24-year-old sick nurse at St George’s Hospital, in the company of around 40 others, living at a nurses’ home in Knightsbridge.

St George’s Hospital in Dodo’s day

Dodo remained at St George’s until 1913, and then took a position at a women’s hospital in Brighton (there were two at the time – Brighton and Hove Hospital for Women and Children, and Lady Chichester Hospital for Women and Children – and which she was based at was unclear), to train as a midwife, where she remained until the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914.

Amid the patriotic fervour and recruitment drive, Dodo joined up with the British Red Cross to help nurse the inevitable casualties. She was sent with a unit to Boulogne on the north coast of France, embarking at the end of October in 1914. She was stationed at the 13th Stationary Hospital, which was on Boulogne docks, and began work at the beginning of November. This hospital became the main specialist unit for the treatment of eye, face and jaw injuries for the soldiers on the nearby Western Front, but this specialism may not have been Dodo’s as she only remained there for three months.

In January 1915 Dodo’s unit moved to the refugee hospital at Malassises, part of a monastery (the monks still had the other bit) at St Omer, a bit in from the coast heading towards the Belgian border. This was set up for the use of Belgian refugees who had been in the way of troops heading towards the front, who were suffering from enteric complaints (noroviruses, stomach bugs, and so on), and was partly under canvas. In late April 1915 she returned to the UK.

While she was home, she became involved in the efforts of Lady Muriel Paget (not to be confused with Dorothy Paget the horse-woman, or Viscountess Dorothy Gladstone nee Paget who set up hospitals in South Africa, or Lady Louise Paget, who provided war relief in First World War Serbia) and Lady Sybil Grey who were setting up a hospital in Petrograd (St Petersburg) to treat soldiers on the Eastern Front.

The initial party set out from the British coast at the end of October in 1915, carrying supplies and nurses. They took the long way round due to the war. They sailed through UK waters as far as possible, as it was safer to avoid German boats, and went up the west coast of Norway, around the top of Sweden and into the White Sea, arriving at the port of Arkhangelsk on the 6th of November. Dodo remembered the journey as extremely cold, with many women huddling together in one bed to keep warm, and dangers from the sound of the cracking ice on the sails of the boat possibly alerting the Germans to their presence.

The SS Calypso, which took Dodo to Russia

They left Arkhangelsk on the train a couple of days later, traveling via the striking city of Yaroslavl, and arrived in Petrograd on the 14th of November. The Dimitri Palace had been offered by the Russians to be the base hospital, a grand building which had been empty since 1909. Dodo and her colleagues worked alongside Lady Muriel and Lady Sybil to convert the building for their use, setting up 200 beds for wounded soldiers and associated other facilities – including a bacteriological laboratory and x-ray department. It was referred to as “The (British) Empire’s Gift to Our Russian Allies”, and nurses like Dodo were paid £4-5 per week and provided with uniform.

The Dmitri Palace, where the hospital was based

Although ready by the end of the year, and offering treatment, the hospital was officially opened in the new year by the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, the cousin of Tsar Nicholas II. The ceremony was also attended by Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna, her elder daughters Tatiana and Olga, and the British Ambassador to Russia George Buchanan and his wife Georgina. The entire staff, including Dodo, posed with the visitors on one of the staircases.

THE ANGLO-RUSSIAN HOSPITAL DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR (HU 129098) Medical staff and patrons of the Anglo-Russian Hospital in Petrograd (the latter including l to r: Grand Duchesses Kyril and Maria Pavlova, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna, Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, Matron Miss Irvine Robertson and Lady Sybil Grey. Behind Grand Duchess Kyril is the British Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan and his wife Lady Georgina). Photograph taken at the official ope… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:
Staff and patients at the hospital

The Tsaritsa was a major funder of the project, alongside donations from fundraising in the UK, and regularly visited the hospital with her daughters. Sometimes they even volunteered as nurses. Dodo apparently talked to them on many occasions, and got along well with them. The Buchanan’s daughter Meriel was also involved in nursing at the hospital, which was based at her residence.

Meriel Buchanan, as a nurse in the Anglo-Russian Hospital

While Ladies Paget and Grey also set up hospitals in other Russian places – mostly in Ukraine – and raised more donations in the UK, Dodo remained in Petrograd. Georgina Buchanan, the ambassador’s wife, took charge of the hospital while Paget and Grey were absent. More than 6,000 patients were treated by October 1916, and it was policy to not release soldiers until their wounds were completely healed. Often the men were no more than boys, and had suffered horrific injuries that made them cry out for their mothers. Dodo found this extremely distressing.

She was reportedly involved in helping to treat Prince Felix Yusupov when he had a fish bone lodged in his throat, a few hours after he had helped assassinate Grigori Rasputin in December 1916. Yusupov was placed under house arrest in the Dmitri Palace, where the Anglo-Russian hospital (and the British Embassy) were located, which probably accounts for his treatment in their facilities. She was reportedly very kind to him.

Patients and nurses at the hospital

Dodo was awarded the Russian Medal of St George, 4th Class, at some point in 1917 (it was reported in the British Red Cross Journal that July). This was usually given for bravery, or service under fire many who fought at the Battle of Jutland received one. It was less usually given to women – recipients were usually nurses who had been in battle areas – and seems to have been awarded more for bravery rather than service under fire. Nurse Violetta Thurstan received one in 1915, as did Evelina Haverfield. Another nurse associated with the Paget hospital in Izmail, Ukraine, Evelyn Evans, seems to have received a medal around the same time as Dodo. In addition, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrona – Tsar Nicholas II’s younger sister – nursed and was awarded one, as was Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, so it may be that Dodo’s award was part of the work that they were doing.

The medal came from the Imperial government, and was supposed to presented by the Tsar but in reality probably came from Tsaritsa Alexandra, and to have received it in 1917 must have been one of the last acts of that regime. The Russian Revolution began properly in Petrograd in March 1917, with demonstrators on the streets and a workers’ strike, and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated on 15th March (in the Gregorian calendar). The royal family were put under house arrest at the Alexander Palace, and a temporary government installed, which effectively ended the family’s involvement at the Anglo-Russian Hospital. Petrograd was effectively a tinder box from that point onwards, and the situation for Dodo and the other nurses was increasingly unstable, with bloody protests in July and Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party leading a second revolution on 7th November that effectively ended the allied war agreement between Russia, Britain and France. This made the existence of the Anglo-Russian hospital precarious, and the Dmitri Palace received some damage in the fighting.

Dodo appears to have left Russia around August 1917, in the wake of these events, probably shortly after the July unrest and receiving her medal. The rest of the remaining nurses were evacuated from Petrograd and returned to the UK in February 1918. The Russian Red Cross then took over the hospital, where they had been left supplies for a further six months. Once she had been repatriated, Dodo went back out to France to the Western Front, where she continued nursing work. It was while she was there in February 1918 that she was awarded the 1914 Bronze Star from the Red Cross Society.

Back in the UK, she saw out the end of the war at the Military Convalescent Hospital in Epsom, working as a night matron. She would have been involved in the rehabilitation of soldiers, both physically and mentally. The hospital also had the first physiotherapists employed by the British army, who at that point were known as masseuses, the Almeric Pagets Massage Corps. It was probably here that Dodo met a close friend who she’d spend much of her life with, also called Dorothy, who worked as a physiotherapist/masseuse.

After the war, Dodo moved to London and worked as Matron at the Duchess of Marlborough’s Maternity Hospital from 1919. Here, fired by her experiences around Tooting, she set up one of the first infant welfare and ante-natal clinics in London. The hospital was also known as the Royal Free Hospital Maternity Home, and probably would have had the involvement of doctor Dame Janet Campbell, who was at the Royal Free and a pioneer in improving mother and baby services. Concern over maternal health and child welfare had been growing since the Edwardian period, with a drive to create a national vitality and a more robust society than had existed in Victorian times. This included increasing vaccinations, the beginnings of the welfare state, better housing stock, and various other programmes and ideas. At this time, though the child mortality rate was starting to drop, mothers were generally left to get on with pregnancy and birth. The stresses of multiple pregnancy on the body, combined with severe deprivation, were starting to be understood, and Dodo and her colleagues at the Duchess of Marlborough were striving to improve matters.

Dodo’s experience here, and her connection to Lady Paget, led her to leave London in 1921/2 and head to the Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – with a mission to provide better care for women and children there. The region had been unsettled since the Russian Revolution, but Estonia had joined the League of Nations in 1921, having had a war of independence in 1918 (Latvia began its own war of independence at around the same time, and Lithuania’s own declaration of independence had occurred slightly earlier), and this was an era of shifting borders in Eastern Europe. Lady Paget had returned to the region after the war was over, and had established mission hospitals and a series of travelling clinics. Dodo appears to have mostly been based in Estonia, where she was given the Medal of the Order of the Estonian Red Cross in 1922. The story goes that Lady Paget and two of the hospital doctors were awarded Estonian Orders of the Red Cross on 30th March 1922, and Lady Paget was given six other medals to distribute to those she felt deserved one. Dodo was one of the six.

Dodo with a group of soldiers and patients in Latvia

Three mission hospitals in Estonia were taken over by the Estonian Red Cross in February of 1922, but Lady Paget’s group continued their work in Tallinn. It’s unknown how much longer Dodo spent in the Baltics though, as her mother was taken seriously ill and she returned home to Cambridgeshire to nurse her. She was still living at home when her mother died in 1923, and decided to remain at home to support her widowed father. He was still working, and during the war had run a local hospital for no renumeration, and had been given an OBE. Her older sister Marjorie was also living nearby, so between them they supported him, and Dodo took a job as Matron at Cambridge Hospital. Meanwhile, her brothers were also experiencing success – two of whom had fought in the war. Eldest brother and doctor Lucius was based in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Dodo’s friend Dorothy also moved to the village over the next decade, and worked as a physiotherapist there – possibly alongside the family doctor’s surgery, and also possibly at hospitals in Cambridge.

Dodo now found her feet in village life and village affairs, continuing her family traditions and traits of kindness and fairness. She was taken on as the first female magistrate at Bottisham, a village to the north of Fulbourn, at some point during these years and was presiding over cases by the late 1930s, according to newspaper reports. She also served as a county councillor for twelve years, a position that coincided with the outbreak of World War II as she gives herself as in that position on the 1939 register, taken in the September of that year. She also managed to save her father’s life in 1926, when he had an accident with an oil lamp, and lost her older sister Marjorie to cancer in 1936.

Dodo with younger brother Guy

As a magistrate and justice of the peace she made her mark. A report from October 1939 describes her intimating that an increased ration of petrol for local nurses was “bunkum and rot”, and that the nurses could save fuel by cycling wherever possible. Standing just five foot two, and with a deep and booming voice, she was known as being formidable and firm but fair with her judgements, often researching and giving the harshest punishments for misdemeanours.

Her father died in 1942, and was widely mourned by the village. Dodo, who had volunteered in local nursing during the war, had her friend Dorothy move into their house at some point after that, where she remained for the rest of their lives. Dodo’s sexuality was never remarked upon by family, but it was felt that her relationship with Dorothy – known as Double on account of her surname – was more than just friends. However, it could also have been one of companionship given many women of their generation had never married due to the loss of so many young men during the First World War. They came as a pair – known as Dodo and Double – for the rest of their lives, and owned an Alsatian dog together.

Dodo, right, with Double, left, and another family member

Dodo’s brother Lucius was also awarded the OBE after the Second World War, having doctored in the Caribbean, made great strides in bacteriological matters in Ceylon and researched diet and nutrition among prisoners of war in Singapore. Dodo continued to live in her father’s house, with surgery and a small village hall attached. She remained active in health matters – making a “spirited protest” about hospital staff housing being refused at Cambridge Mental Hospital in 1949. She also served on the board of governors for the local junior school for many years (often giving parties for the children in the hall), and was a member of the Chesterton Rural District Council and sat on the Fulbourn Parochial Church Council from 1951. Aside from her professional life, she was a great favourite of her young relatives, being lively and fun at family gatherings and taking delight in visiting her relations. She had a safe full of memorabilia, including jewels given to her by the Russian royal family, letters from various dignitaries and even a pair of pistols.

After a long life, Dodo died at the age of 94 in 1980, in Cambridgeshire. Her partner Double, who was eight years her junior, made it to 100 and died in 1995, also in Cambridgeshire.

Dodo in later years

Annie B’s story

Annie’s parents had emigrated from Russia to London during the later part of the 19th century, escaping from a part of the country that is now in modern-day Poland, and probably driven out by anti-Jewish pogroms. They resettled in the East End of London, in the heart of the Jewish community there, and Annie was perhaps the first of their nine children born in their new country.

Her father worked as a cabinet maker, which not only supported his family but enabled him to place two of his children, Annie and her brother, in a paying school in the 1890s.

Later on, Annie found work as a cigarette maker in the burgeoning tobacco industry in the early 20th century East End. Previously, cigars had been more popular, but by this time cigarettes – which were cheaper and more plentiful – were gaining in popularity.

Cigarette and cigar making was not government controlled in London, and was considered a “food industry”. Many Jewish people in the area became garment workers, boots and shoe makers, and cabinet makers – cigarette and cigar makers were initially a smaller part of Jewish industry but a significant one. At this time, tobacco smoking was still widely believed to have health benefits, a fiction that persisted until the middle of the 20th century. By 1911, East London had 76 factories manufacturing tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, snuff, but equally numerous small household manufacturers too – it’s unclear whether Annie’s work was in a factory, or as a smaller producer – however, her living circumstances point to the latter.

She lived with one of her sisters in a flat above a shop in Spitalfields, helping her sister – an embroiderer and tailoress – to run the shop, and it is likely that her cigarette making was another part of her income. This appears to have been a successful business partnership for many years, and one stable enough to accommodate the raising of two of her younger brother’s children during the Second World War, when they lost their mother.

At the tail end of the war, Annie’s sister married and their business appears to have hit hard times – they gave up the shop to a hat maker, and Annie went back to making cigarettes for a living. She eventually left their flat and moved into lodgings with another family. She kept this lifestyle going until she died in the mid-1950s.

The buildings the family occupied no longer exist, and have been replaced by modern flats.


For more information about the tobacco industry at the time, see:


To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.