Rose Mary Savage, Voluntary Aid Detachment, RDFA /107 Collection at DCLA

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Rose Mary Savage12th May is Nurses Day when around the world people are celebrating nursing, on what was Florence Nightingale’s birthday.  The Royal College of Nurses theme this year is #nursesheroes and one nurse which most definitely is deserving of this title is Rose Mary Savage (1893-1983), whose personal papers was donated to Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association Archive at Dublin City Library and Archives, and have recently been catalogued.

Rose Mary Savage, second of three daughters, was born into an English military family in India of the British Raj in 1893. Her childhood was spent between continents, east and west taking in Northern Ireland where her father had connections. After receiving her secondary education in Sussex England she returned to India at seventeen to spend a number of seasons attending balls, festive ceremonies and doing the rounds expected of any young debutante of her age and social class. A keen observer and talented artist, she kept a diary entering comments and sketches of what she saw.

By the end of 1914, Rosemary was newly trained in First Aid by Belfast Centre of St. John’s Ambulance,  and keen to contribute to the war effort. She carried out fund raising events in County Antrim in aid of the ‘Comfort Fund’ for the 13th Royal Irish Rifles over which her father had been put in command.

in aid of the comfort fund

Image: RDFA/107/026 – colour copy of poster: ‘In Aid of The Comfort Fund’

Her application to be taken to Women’s V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Department, offering her services as a volunteer nurse was accepted on 16 May 1916 (See item: RDFA/107/027) . She served for three months with the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital in Belfast and was then sent  to Rouen, France, where she would work with Number 12 General Hospital of the British Expeditionary Force until 30 January 1919. Her sketches of day to day life in the hospital camp were used in nurse-mate Olive Dent’s autobiographical work, A VAD in France published by Grant Richards Ltd., 1917.  While stationed at Rouen Hospital Camp she was visited by her father, who was commander of 13th Royal Irish Rifles, after the Battle of the Somme (1916) in which he had fought and survived. Both received recognition for their exceptional contributions during World War 1.

Night Duty

Image: RDFA/107/008 "Night Duty" sketch by Rose Mary Savage.

After the War, W. H. Savage rejoined the British forces in India for a while before retiring in 1919 and spending his final days writing about his life in the Indian and British armies. (See Item: RDFA/107/003).  Rose Mary also returned to India and married a Lieut. William E. Maxwell of the 3/10 Beluch Regiment in 1924 and the couple had a son and a daughter. They fled India just before the fall of the British Raj 1947and found a permanent home in Bandon, Co. Cork where they lived out the rest of their lives. William died of a heart condition in 1951. Rose Mary remarried in 1960, a Richard Lee. She ran a farm and livery business along with her new husband and lived to the age of ninety. She died in February 1983 and is buried in her local churchyard at Briny, Co. Cork. In St Peter’s Church, Bandon, her name is on a memorial which lists the local Bandon people who participated in the Great War.

The last thermometer Matron

The Rose Mary Savage Collection contains 28 items including photographs, newspaper cuttings, reception programs, correspondences, group photos of V.A.D. nurses and medical orderlies, a short biography of R.M. by Tom Burke. The collection can be accessed in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library and Archive, and is also available online via the Digital Repository Ireland.

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