Seven months of planning finally came to a conclusion with the Premiere of the film about Nellie Spindler, being held at the Theatre Royal, Wakefield, in the presence of Wakefield VIPs the Spindler family, our event sponsors and two hundred guests.
We first came across Nellie doing research for the Battle of Passchendaele, fought in 1917. There was a cemetery in Flanders with 10,000 soldiers and one woman – this was Nellie’s final resting place. She was killed when the Germans continually shelled the Casualty Clearing station ( CCS) , where Nellie worked as a nurse treating the wounded Allied troops. It’s hard to make sense of such an action today but that’s what happened.
Nellie’s tent mate and fellow nurse Elizabeth Harper was moved out their tent only days before suffering from exhaustion. She was sent back to Blighty to recover. Apparently it was only officers who suffered from shell-shock in WW1 – Other ranks had nervous breakdowns and were exhausted or in some cases were shot for cowardice.
However Nellie’s friend, Elizabeth recovered over time and even named her first daughter after Nellie. I was very privileged to meet Elizabeth’s great grandson Chris Crossland of Leeds who shared this family story with me at a SSAFA event.
In researching, Nellie Spindler’s story with the wonderful help of her remaining relatives, two documents they showed us will always stick in my memory
On Nellie’s first week at the CCS, she was required to write out her will. Imagine having to do that on your first day in work.
The second document was a record of Nellie’s death and it included the casualty figures that flooded the CCS every 8 hours and even broke down the type of injuries the soldiers were suffering from – This went on for 3 months – and if nearly a million soldiers were killed at the battle, then around 1.5 million soldiers were injured. No wonder the nurses had breakdowns....how do you cope with that ?
The other thing to reflect on, is where they buried all the dead? A lot of soldiers had no known grave and 54,000 names are on the memorial Menin Gate alone. The soil in Flanders was very toxic and with the incessant rain and mud many bodies were consumed by nature itself.
Such was the esteem that Nellie was held in that she was buried with full military honours and many a commanding officer in the area, took time out to attend her funeral. Her grave can still be seen and is at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium
What was really noticible about the Premiere was that it acted as a rallying call and quite a few people presented new information about Nellie and her family at the Premier. We are going to tweak a few scenes in the film to take advantage of this.
One last word about the pupils at Pinders Primary school ( possibly the school that Nellie attended)
The schoolchildren were asked to do some memorial projects for Nellie - 23 pupils wrote poems and I was amazed that children under 11 could write such moving stuff
They also sang a song to Nellie which was very poignant....
We intend taking the film back to Pinders school so the children can see the film and Margaret Spindler ( Nellie's neice ) has agreed to be there as well
Then we intend taking the film to other schools to inspire the children to remember their own Nellie as we approach the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1
So the spirit of Nellie will live on...