Today is a special day for many people - a day we remember all those men and women involved in war. Last year I wrote about its personal significance for my family. This year I thought I'd branch out a little further into personal war remembrances. My mom reminded me of the women in our family who have been involved in war., so this blog post is for them - for Minna and Evie.
Minna and Evie were the great-aunts of my gran and her cousin Sarrell that I mentioned over the weekend. The biggest irony is that, due to family feuds and secrets, the family in South Africa never knew about their family in Europe. When Sarrell was out in the prison camps in Germany and Italy he had no idea two of his Ongley great-aunts were also out in the field of war.
Both sisters were pretty wild and adventurous for their time. Minna Ongley (born 12 October) married an Irishman and proceeded to get very involved in the struggles in Northern Ireland. There are family stories that hint at her and her husband being involved in the smuggling of arms and amunition into Northern Ireland. Later she joined her youngest sister, Evie in France during WWI.
Evie (Evelyn Helen Victoria Ongley, born 4 June) married a British army surgeon. She married young and her restless nature got her into trouble, she had an affair. Worse still - her husband found out. He sued for divorce and took their only child, a son with him. Evie went her own way after that... and what an amazing pathway that turned out to be!
I'm going to quote from a cousin's website as he's researched Evie in depth.
At the outbreak of the 1914-18 war, Evie joined the Women’s Emergency Corps in London and served on eleven committees, before she realised that she would be more use in a different, less over staffed organisation. To this end she joined Le Comite Britannique of the French Red Cross.
Working with the French Red Cross, it became apparent that what was needed by the French Army, were canteens.
In April 1915, with money raised from amongst her friends and also with assistance from her son Evelyn Claude Culling, Evie was able to take a canteen over to France. Initially it was some way back from the lines, at a spot where the walking wounded were sent from the front lines, and near where an ammunition factory had been set up.
Le Comite Britannique of the French Red Cross, were not keen for Eve and her colleagues to go closer to the Front Line and wanted them to stay near Paris, but they ignored this, and following information provided by the Quakers, they got clearance to got the junction at Revigny on the Meuse. This was an important distribution centre for troops going up to the Front, and especially to Verdun.
It was at Revigny that Evie and her colleagues, who included her sister Minna Stafford O’Brien, spent most of the war. Even when under severe bombardment in September and October of 1917, the canteen carried on.
The French recognised the role that Evie had played and honoured her with the Croix de Guerre, in 1919.
After the 1914-18 war, Evie found herself in a state of limbo, until Commandant Goudau who was a member of General Gouraud’s staff asked if she would be interested in running their canteens in Syria where they were now based. With two of her former colleagues she moved to Syria and did that over the next few years.
Evie died during the 1939-45, having written a book about her wartime experiences called “Arms and the Woman” which was published in 1932.
For Minna and Evie - women worth remembering.