A few months ago, while researching the Eastbourne branch of the British Legion, I came across the name Sister Grace Milne Miller. I immediately thought that she was a Nun and wondered why she would be in Eastbourne. After a little research, I discovered that she was a medical Sister and that her story was still just as interesting.
The first article I found was written as a memorial to Grace after she’d died, dated 29th September 1945. The reporter describes a blank in Eastbourne and Hampden Park which is hard to contemplate… [Grace] was the soul of sincerity and unselfishness.
Grace was born in 1876 in Scotland, her father was a Surgeon Major in the army, she was one of seven. On 18th December 1899, Grace’s brother Robert was killed at Ladysmith during the Boer War, he had volunteered to fight with the Natal Volunteer Carbineers. Shortly after this, Grace volunteered with the Natal Volunteer Medical Corps and went out to South Africa to help. For her work she was awarded with a Boer War medal, it was presented to her by King Edward VII.
In 1901 Grace was a lodger in Paddington, where she’s listed as a Hospital Worker. By 1905 she’d moved to Eastbourne and lived at 17 Vicarage Road in Old Town; in 1911 she was living with the Trinling family at Anderida Cottage in Pevensey, her occupation a Professional Nurse.
During the First World War, Grace volunteered as a Red Cross Nurse. Grace’s records show that she was living at the Lonsdale Hospital for Disabled Sailors and Soldiers in Clapham. She completed an estimated 427½ hours of voluntary work and received the VW badge for her efforts. From newspaper records we know she also spent a spell in Honiton where she and Sister Smith judged a baby show!
There is a document in the National Archives from this time that really shows Grace’s selflessness. During World War One skin grafts were a relatively new thing and often donated skin, an allograft, was used to cover a bad wound or burn. Grace wrote to the Matron-in-Chief, Margaret MacDonald, and offered own her skin for skin grafts in the case of seriously wounded men. Grace even said she was willing to travel to the front-line in France if needed! Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a record to say if this offer was ever taken up, but there are articles in the newspapers of the time that record that other brave nurses and matrons, and even members of the general public, volunteered themselves for this procedure.
When the War was over Grace returned to Eastbourne. She worked as a State Registered Nurse and midwife in the Hampden Park area from 1922 until her death in 1945. Annual reports show the number of visits she made and the variety of cases she dealt with:
Sisters Grace Milne Miller had made 1,933 visits, an increase of 307 on last year’s total. These include: maternity cases 13, ante-natal 158, children under one year 462, children from one to five years 101, children over five years 133, massage 65, free visits to old-age pensioners and necessitous cases 71.
-Eastbourne Gazette, 12th April 1939.
During World War II, Grace was even involved with the medical response to a mock blitz event that happened in Hampden Park in 1944. Grace was also a committed member of the Mother’s Union at church, and a devout member of the Eastbourne British Legion. She was often reported as having collected money for the Legion, and she organised Flag Day in Hampden Park for many years.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a photo of Grace in our collection and, even with further research, we may never know if her offer for skin grafts was taken up. I am sure that while we know these facts about her life, there will have been countless other times that Grace showed her care and devotion to nursing and to her community, which simply aren’t recorded. It seemed appropriate to tell Grace’s story now when countless other acts of selflessness and care are happening up and down the country.