Miss Agnes Annie Louise Rolt

agnes rolt(1).jpg

 

Born 1885 in St Pancras to a well-off family, she had three brothers and her father was a solicitor.  Sadly, by the age of 10 she and her brothers were orphans.

She never married.

At the outbreak of WW1 she was living with one of her brothers and had joined the Red Cross working at Cumberland Hospital.  In 1914 she was accepted by the Scottish Womens Hospital and went off to Royaumont Abbey under the guiding hand of Miss Frances Ivens.

Agnes was a cook/orderly and a very good one. She was involved in the evacuation at Villers Cotterets in 1917/18.  Unfortunately, not much is known about her time at Royaumont except that she was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French for her part in the hospital evacuation.

One of Agnes' brothers died in 1918 and she was bequeathed £6,000 in his will, so at the end of the war she became a business woman and opened her own dressmaking and hat shop on the High Street in Berkhampstead.  This must have been quite a come-down from the rush and adventure of Royaumont!

 

When war was declared in 1939 she was off again to France as she heard that some of the SWH girls were opening canteens on the continent for the soldiers.  We imagine her throwing the hats in the air and shouting “oh yes wait for me”

Young Etta Inglis had already gone to Paris with Dorothy Cary-Morgan and had become joint managers of Scottish Womens Hospital Canteens. Many old Royaumontites, as they called themselves, had arrived to help. As well as Agnes setting out to join them, the wonderfully named Miss Prance and her 2 seater sports car also followed, but more about her on another page!

Arriving in Paris, Agnes found everywhere closed and people fleeing the capital as the German advance got closer and closer.  She didn't have the luxury of a vehicle nor any contacts in Paris,  so there was nothing left to do but walk.  With her heavy kitbag on her shoulder she joined thousands fleeing on foot and started the long trek south.

It was a long, hot tiring process.  She recalled that, as they reached the top of one hill,  she looked down and saw a German plane heading straight for the sad convoy of displaced people.  As it started firing on them, her Red Cross training kicked in as she made children and old folk comfortable under lorries and in ditches with little thought for her own safety.  She then helped to make soup and serve it in tin cans.

Soon though, she left the convoy and struck out on her own, spending night after night sleeping on straw in barns.  She then found a convoy of lorries which she joined but they were straffed day after day.  As she parted company from them she left money for food for the children aboard.

Agnes would say later “I was shameless in wearing my WW1 SWH uniform and my Croix de Guerre medal as it helped me. I would stand in the middle of the road until a French person recognised the uniform and helped me.”

Eventually she got to St Jean de Luz, southwestern France in the Bay of Biscay, and met 2 English sailors on the Quay. She got on the last boat to England, again her capacity for organising kicked in and she organised the women and children on the very rough voyage. Agnes reported that had it not been for the good old SWH uniform she doubted she would have made it out of France.

At the end of the war it appears that Agnes, once again, went to live with one of her brothers in Watermillock Cumberland (now Cumbria).  We know nothing of her life until she became frail and ill in 1966 when she went to stay with Mrs Burns the wife of the rector of All Saints Church. On the 28th September 1966, as she became weaker, she was taken to hospital but died in the ambulance on the way there. Agnes was 81 years old. She was cremated and her ashes buried in All Saints church yard as per her wishes. According to the probate report, Agnes left  £64,441.

A friend said upon her death:

“Although gentle and unassuming, she had a will of steel and possessed tremendous powers of endurance, never sparing herself on behalf of others. It was her sheer guts that got her through from Paris to the South of France covering hundreds of miles on foot and lifts”

Another friend said:

"With her beautiful smile and golden hair is how she will be remembered"

 

Miss Ivens spoke for many after the evacuation when she said: “Royaumont has not failed to hold out a helping hand to the sons of the generation whose comrades they were in the world war of 1914.

Rest in Peace you Valiant Woman