The Roses of No Man's Land
WENCHES IN TRENCHES
Vera Christina Chute Collum was born in Umballa, Northern India in 1883 to Betty Chute Ellis and Lucius Joseph Collum. She came to England as a child after her father died. Her mother remarried but Collum never got on with her step-father, John Prosser Adams. Her grandfather was John Ellis, generally known as "Captain Ellis", who was a pastoralist and businessman prominent in the early days of South Australia.
Vera was in charge of the press office of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies in London in 1914. There she was strongly involved in the suffrage movement. When World War I started she volunteered to help with the Scottish Women's Hospitals, serving from February 1915 to November 1917. Her initial deployment was to Royaumont Abbey. Initially employed as an orderly, Vera was soon trained to become a radiographer to help out in the newly-formed radiography department of the hospital, which was the envy of the French military medical officers. She became extremely skilled and was kept very busy, her work as a radiographer saving many lives.
However, in March 1916 she was sent home for rest and recuperation. But on her return journey on 24 March from Folkestone to Dieppe, her ferry the SS Sussex, with 53 crew and 325 passengers, was torpedoed by a U-boat. The whole of the bow was blown up, forward of the Bridge. The lifeboats were launched but several of them capsized and the passengers in them drowned. Although the 'Sussex' stayed afloat, about 100 people were killed. Collum was badly injured and was sent back to England for treatment. Vera recovered sufficiently to be able to return to her duties in Royaumont in time for the big push of July 1916 with the Battle of the Somme. The French Government awarded her the Medailles des Epidemies (Bronze) - Military Health Service honour medal in 1915 and the Croix de Guerre in 1918 for her work. She was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal by the British Government. During her time at the hospital she wrote about her experiences for Blackwood's Magazine under the name Skia. Her detailed descriptions of the staff, equipment and situations in the hospital give an invaluable insight into the hospitals of the war especially during the July 1916 offensive.
In May 1924, Vera was elected to the Royal Anthropological Institution in London. Under the heading 'University Attended', Vera put "The world!" (sic). She travelled extensively in Japan and the Far East and was a member of the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland. She also found time to write a number of books:
The Tressé iron-age megalithic monument (Sir Robert Mond's excavation) : its quadruple sculptured breasts and their relation to the mother-goddess cosmic cult, 1935
Art in Greece, 1927
The dance of Civa; life's unity and rhythm, 1927
Race and history : an ethnological introduction to history, 1926.
The earth before history : man's origin and the origin of life, 1925
Prehistoric man : a general outline of prehistory, 1924.
In 1924 Vera was living in Chelsea in London. By 1929 she had moved to Shaftesbury in Dorset and by 1935 she was living in Guildford in Surrey where she died in 1957.
The photograph on the right of Vera Collum was deposited in the Red Cross Archives in 1990 by Jean McIlwaine, then Church Archivist of St Peter's Yateley. She acquired a set of family papers from the Geaves family.
One of a collection of documents, the originals of which were presented to the Red Cross by Jean McIlwaine in 1990. This image of the Radiography Certificate is from the Yateley Society's digital archives made before the documents were sent to the Red Cross
Below is an image of the back of the radiographer qualification. The type says: Only members of Voluntary Aid Detachments, who have permission are entitled to wear the V A D uniform when working in France with the French. The holder of this certificate must obtain a brassard from the French Military Authorities in France. Vera Collom's photograph is stamped "Anglo-French Hospitals".
Residence permit issued by French Authorities for Vera Collum to work at the Royaumont Hospital 301 dated after she had recovered from being torpedoed on the cross-channel ferry 'Sussex'
Telegram to Vera Collum at Hereford Buildings, Church Street, Chelsea announcing award of Croix de Guerre. Handwritten annotation by Miss P Geaves (a cousin) supposing it was in 1918 because of postmark
Letter from Archivist of British Red Cross accepting documents from Mrs Jean McIlwaine concerning Vera Collum. Jean had been given them by the Misses Geaves, cousins of Vera Collum.
Typescript Genealogical information taken from "Hampshire & Some Neighbouring Records, Historical, Biographical & Pictorial" by Alan North, linking Vera Collum to the Shute family who owned The Vyne (now National Trust). Gives details of her immediate family
https://livesofthefirstworldwar.iwm.org.uk/lifestory/4947150 especially Peter6648