Our first Great North Yorkshire Son or Daughter is VAD nurse Ursula Lascelles, who travelled from the rural North Yorkshire village of Slingsby, to the battlefields of France to support the war effort during World War One. Ursula Lascelles was born in Sheriff Hutton in July 1890, and died in 1992, aged 102.
She was the daughter of the local vicar of Sheriff Hutton, and was educated at the girls’ grammar school in York. At the outbreak of World War One, Ursula (aged 24 years old), and her mother, Elizabeth Lascelles, began volunteering as VAD nurses.
Supporting the war effort
The VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse, was a role created by the Red Cross during the first World War, due to a shortage of professionally trained nurses. VAD nurses were voluntary nurses who helped care for injured soldiers in military hospitals across the UK and Europe. Their duties included dressing patients wounds, (which could be more than twice a day), giving patients medicine and bed baths, as well as lesser medical tasks including making beds and tidying the wards. Ursula began volunteering at the British Red Cross Hospital in Swinton Grange, near Malton.
Whilst volunteering in North Yorkshire, Ursula put herself forward to nurse on the frontline in France. Ursula spent months pleading with the head of the Joint Women’s VAD department, (Dame Katharine Furse) to be relocated to France, where she felt she could make a real difference. In 1917 Ursula was accepted to work at the No.6 General Hospital in Rouen, France, where she worked as a VAD nurse until 1919.
After the First World War, and throughout her life, Ursula continued to fundraise for the British Red Cross.
Why Ursula was a Great North Yorkshire Daughter
The influence Ursula Lascelles had upon the patients she treated is evident in the records held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. The Lascelles family collection (Ref: ZGC) includes hundreds of letters from soldiers she had looked after thanking Ursula for her care. Ursula kept in contact with many soldiers for several decades after the First World War, showing how thankful the soldiers were to have had Ursula by their side in their time of need.
The County Record Office also holds Ursula’s nursing autograph books, which includes messages of thanks from the patients she had looked after whilst they were at the hospital, some extracts from these can be seen above. The records show the social change Ursula brought to the county, and to soldiers from across the world. She cared for them in not just a nursing capacity; but she extended this care by remaining in contact with patients for many years after the First World War. Through nursing in France, and by writing to soldiers overseas, Ursula exported the values and culture of North Yorkshire through her strength and resilience.
Slingsby Local History Group
Margaret MacKinder, coordinator of Slingsby local history group, knew Ursula, or ‘Miss Lascelles’, as those in the village called her, during the latter years of her life. She kindly spoke to us to share her memories of Miss Lascelles and her life in Slingsby.
Although Ursula came from a privileged background, she dedicated her life to supporting those in need and less fortunate than herself through supporting and volunteering for the Red Cross. North Yorkshire is still dependent on volunteers to bridge the gap between demand and the money we have to spend as a council.
The county’s ability to support each other, and come together when needed is part of what makes North Yorkshire a great place to live. The work Ursula carried out shows that she was a pioneer for early voluntary work within the county, something which we still rely upon on and cherish today.
If you are interested in finding out more about Ursula Lascelles, Slingsby Local History Group have recently published a book entitled ‘Slingsby Book 3 – A Miscellany in Words and Pictures. The Stories of Prominent Events and People of Slingsby Parish Over the Last 100 years’. The book was edited by Slingsby Local History Group member, David Thornley, and includes a chapter on Ursula Lascelles, and her brother Lionel Lascelles. They are available to buy through the Slingsby Local History Group, or in the foyer at the North Yorkshire County Record Office.
The North Yorkshire County Record Office sell another related publication entitled ‘Home Comforts, The role of Red Cross Auxiliary Hospitals in the North Riding of Yorkshire 1914-1919’, by Eileen Brereton and Anne Wall. Published in 2014, the book features a chapter on Swinton Grange as a Red Cross Hospital during World War One, which includes Ursula’s role as a VAD nurse at Swinton Grange.
We have also worked with Sheriff Hutton History Group, to find out more about Ursula’s early life. They have a keen interest in Ursula and the Lascelles, as Ursula’s father, John Lascelles, was the vicar at Sheriff Hutton parish church from 1880, until his death whilst preaching in the pulpit in 1905. After her father’s death, Ursula took over his work recording the history of Sheriff Hutton.
Thank you to both Slingsby Local History Group and Sheriff Hutton History Group, for their co-operation and for sharing their knowledge and stories of Ursula with us.