Lots for me to get excited about this week and to reinforce my vision of a unique and recognised centre here at the RCOG for the history of women’s healthcare! First, a visit from two lovely ladies, who just happened to be past President and past General Secretary of the RCM. The library resounded with tales of their times spent at conferences, overseas on visits, and doing the rounds as midwives. They didn’t just bring their stories though: they also brought envelopes of papers and photographs, which they each presented to me in a rather shy manner, as if records of their extraordinary professional careers may not really be the kind of thing we might want to add to the RCM Archive! Presidential speeches, midwifery reports, photographs and midwives papers – and best of all, ideas for the future of the archive and the promise of more donations in the future.
The next day brought gifts from closer to home: disposal of an old safe at the RCOG disclosed curious items which had been forgotten and lain in the back of the safe for years. A badge nestling in its presentation box from the President of the 18th British Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Oswald Lloyd in 1968. Another badge, silver with a coloured crest, bearing a note ‘Chairman of Regional Council’. The heavy, solid steel bar used as a seal in the days when the College was the ‘British College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and had it’s headquarters in Queen Anne Street, London (the more respectable medical quarter!)
The last item, to me, was the most intriguing. A bar of military medal ribbons, with no note, no medals, no explanation why they would be in the safe of a decidedly non-military institution! A challenge! Fortunately, I needed to go no further than my pc to start the investigation, and a very happy lunch time was spent googling and following links. By matching the ribbons with information found on military medal sites, I was able to discover that the ribbon bar accompanied medals from the First World War, and consisted of the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal with Oak Leaf (denoting mentioned in despatches), and the Long Service Medal. One other medal could be the Delhi Durbar Medal of 1911, and the remaining ribbon could be the Victoria Cross. Although this has to be checked more thoroughly, if it is the Victoria Cross, the highest military award to be given, there are signs of an emblem being present on this ribbon which is now missing, and which would mean that the recipient was awarded the VC twice! This is very exciting, since the VC was only awarded to two men twice during the First World War, and both these men served with the Royal Army Medical Corps. It was easy enough to find out about these servicemen, since the biographies of VC and GC holders were well documented years ago, and Lieutenant A Martin-Leake and Corporal Noel Chavasse were the subject of my further investigations. Chavasse seems to be the likely recipient; his links with Liverpool and training at the University there would suggest some kind of contact with College co-founder, William Blair-Bell, Professor of Midwifery at Liverpool.
I still need to check the facts as some things do not add up at present, but this will be a fantastic addition to the First World War display I am planning for next year’s centenary celebrations. With such fantastic finds, is it any wonder I love my job so much?
Penny Hutchins, Archivist, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists/Royal College of Midwives