Miss Katy Beaufoy was one of 300 nurses to lose their lives during the Great War and this has to be one of the most comprehensive collections relating to such a woman. Her fascinating story is told from 10th May 1915 to 9th Sept 1917 and is her account of service as sister and matron in the Great War.
Katy witnessed horrific injuries during this time, In her diary she notes from 24th May 1915.
‘I had a ward of about 50 beds, such bad, bad wounds, frightful head ones, legs and feet blown off and arms wounded of all sorts ……Have some very bad cases, two shot through the lungs, pouring out pus. One amputee had his foot blown off and part of his leg.’
Born in Aston Birmingham in 1868, Katy trained as a nurse in Devon. After being rapidly elevated to the role of Sister in charge of operating theatres, she took the courageous decision to volunteer for service in the Boer War on the late 1890s.
Following the war, after some time working in private practice in Italy and being decorated by the Queen of that country for her services, Katy was accepted in to Queen Alexandria’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and bravely volunteered once again to face further perils at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Katy was posted to serve on board the ‘Ionian’ during the infamous Gallipoli Campaign.
Katy’s hand-written diary shows she did have some opportunities to escape the brutality of war, visiting the Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza. She writes, ‘we went to the pyramids …had our photos taken on the camels as we sat in front if the sphinx. It was a wonderful antiquity, it used to be buried in sand up to the neck, but it is now cleared and so the rock bust stands forth.’
Katy narrowly escaped death when the hospital ship to which she had been assigned, ‘Dover Castle’ in June 1916 was torpedoed and sunk on May 26th 1917. Katy had been forced to leave the vessel and return home for a while due to ill-health and so escaped with her life, unlike many of her colleagues.
Her fate however was merely postponed as, on returning to work as Matron on HMHS ‘Glenart Castle ‘ in September 1917, she was lost, presumed drowned, when the vessel was torpedoed by German Submarine U56. It sank within a matter of a few minutes with only 32 survivors of the 182 on board.
The sinking of the ship was considered a war crime as the vessel was clearly marked as a hospital ship though the Captain of the U56, Kapitanleutenant Wilhelm Kiesewetter escaped justice and returned to Germany.