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Violet Norah Cross was born in Sturminster Marshall in 1891. Her father was the Rector there for more than 50 years and she grew up in the large Rectory with her parents and four sisters. She trained as a nurse.
In 1916, at the time of the Verdun attacks in the First World War, the hospitals in France were full to overflowing. They were crying out for nurses and Violet answered the call.
It seemed to me also that here was an opportunity of getting to know another country and of making my own known to them (perhaps there would be fewer wars if we all knew each other better).
We were all understaffed and under equipped, and during the last big attacks of 1918 we were dealing with 700 arrivals and 700 evacuations a day. I have seen men queued up n stretchers for three days and three nights waiting for admission to the operating theatres. Whilst many boys, whose limbs were amputated in the morning, offered to go on stretchers on the floor the same evening to give their beds to the new comers. If that is not courage, well, I don’t know what is.
Violet spent a further three years in France after WW1 nursing prisoners of the war too ill to return home In 1916 she was awarded the French Croix de Guerre medal.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the surgeon that Violet worked with in France asked her to return.
Being free to choose, I was over in France as soon as the Expeditionary Force
When she arrived at the hospital she found it was severely lacking bedding and she returned to Dorset for ten days to ask for help.
When I finally returned to France after an intensive ten days’ begging, I had so many bales (of hay), that has to commandeer a French Army lorry to convey them from the docks to the train. I felt it was an example to the French of what warm-hearted British generosity means. It also benefited many o our own men.
As Violet describes the experiences of France in the Second World War she paints a heartbreaking picture of the thousands of refugees pouring through the strets of the town where she worked.
Bicycles, hand carts, perambulators and great fart carts pilled high with bedding and household possessions – on top of which old women and little childen were perched precariously – began to stream night and day, fleeing before the German terror. Children were even crammed into hearses, whislt one old lady has been squeezed into an ice cream cart, her old husband pedalling wearily behind. On – on – on – they knew not where as long as they were moving.
Soon after, Violet and her colleagues had to flee from the Nazis. She tried to get back to England by boat but it was impossible so she had to try to escape via Paris. On her way she managed to fool a German officer who was distracted just as he was checking her identity cards.
My card was laid down and a second later my hand shot out from under my cloak and the card was back in my pocket whilst I continued to sit meekly in my chair.
By the time the German officer same back, he was in a rush and authorised her pass.
After once again escaping the authorities in Paris, Violet travelled on through Spain and Portugal finally reaching Lisbon where she managed to get a spare seat on a seaplane leaving for England – the plane touched down in Poole Harbour and from there Violet walked back to Hazelbury Bryan – a distance of 25 miles.
Violet joined the ATS and a few weeks after the invasion of Normandy she retuned to the continent t help reunited children with their parents in Belgium and Holland She became well known benefactor in her local community in Dorset as well as a Parish, District and County councillor.
Violet Cross lived until the age of 98. There is a memorial plaque dedicated to her in Hazelbury Church. At the bottom it reads:
I have fought a good fight – I have finished my course – I have kept the faith
Images taken from a Scrapbook by Violet Cross, 1942-1946. From the Keep Military Museum Archive.