A new exhibition at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum tells the story of a brave local woman who left behind a life of privilege to help save people on the frontline of the First World War.
Lady Dorothie Feilding was the daughter of the Earl of Denbigh and grew up on the family estate at Newnham Paddox, near Rugby, with six sisters and three brothers, two of whom were killed fighting in the war.
In 1914, when she was 24, she travelled to France as a member of the Munro Ambulance Corps after completing her training at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby. Belgium was the only country to allow women to work on the front line, so she was soon in Flanders. Dorothie’s aristocratic background also helped in gaining her this dangerous but obviously wanted job; she had three patrons, including a general whose daughter she had been with at a Paris boarding school, and another whose son had married one of her school friends.
Her daily round of picking up the wounded is detailed, and there are pictures of Dorothie, sometimes casually in the background, and other times obviously feted as someone important. In one photo she was next to a shell, in another lounging in a chair in a bomb-damaged house, and another with her little dog, who she returned to at night for a cuddle to escape the horrors of war.
This is more of a historical exhibition than an art show, with photos, letters, maps, drawings and information boards, though there are some attractive drawings friends and admirers drew of Dorothie at work.
She was on the front line from 1914-17, and was awarded the French military honour of the Croix du Guerre, and was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold I in Belgium, finally being awarded the Military Medal by the British Army.
Dorothie became engaged to an Irish captain in 1917, her engagement recorded on the front page of the Daily Sketch with a reference to her as “our Joan of Arc”, and photos of her.
After all her bravery during the war, it’s then rather sad to read that she did not live a long life; Dorothie married, lived in Ireland and had five children, before dying of heart failure aged only 46. She was brought back to Monks Kirby for burial in the Roman Catholic cemetery there.
*The exhibition is on until October 29, 2016.