Sponsors and partnership
I am very lucky with my partners and sponsors for the No Man’s Land Garden for Chelsea Flower Show. ABF The SoldiersCharity came on the scene first a year ago and together we pulled the whole project together. The whole team is very good to work with and are happy for me steer things creatively. The two corporate sponsors, Coutts and Bechtel, are totally committed and involved but again leave me to get on with the design/horticultural aspects.
And this is working well. We have monthly meetings to discuss all aspects of the project and we have all agreed how best to handle all the media enquiries (there will be masses), what we should do for the press/VIP day, who does what for the Gala Preview and what corporate entertaining is done and how. We all agreed the title of the garden should be No Man’s Land after flirting with a number of other titles which eventually got put in the not appropriate bin. It is very collegiate.
We have all agreed that anything we do must respect and recognise the gravity of what happened one hundred years ago. And this includes the nature of any publicity or press events we do at the launch. We plan to have readings from World War One poets and writers as it is such an important feature of people’s perception of the War. There is so much to organise that sometimes one forgets that there is a garden at the centre of it.
My Grandmother’s Military Medal for bravery
One of the key elements of this project is my own family history in relation to the War. As I have already told you, my Grandfather went over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, but he also returned to the Front Line when his injuries healed and was in Flanders and France right up until the Armistice.
However, what I had not realised until a couple of years ago was that my Grandmother (on the other side of my family) also played her part. Unlike my Grandfather, Rupert Cary, who was my mother’s father and with whom I spent many happy times until he died when I was 25, I never knew my Father’s mother as she died before I was born. Agnes Mudie, as she was then, trained as a nurse in the early years of the last century, this I knew but until I found a yellowing envelope in a box of photos and mementos, I knew no more. This envelope had the letters MM scratched on it. And inside I found a telegram from Buckingham Palace dating from 1918 inviting her to an investiture for the award of a Military Medal for bravery.
This discovery led me to look further into her story. She had served from 1915 as a nurse behind the Front Line, during which period she fell in love with and married a young Irish surgeon, Dr James Parker who was also serving on the Western Front. Only six weeks after they married, he was killed in Flanders on 16th June 1916 and she immediately requested to return to the Western Front and resume her duties there as a nurse.
I tracked down the grave of her first husband James Parker outside Ypres. Sadly it is clear from her documents covering her nursing career in France, she was never able to visit his grave.
Towards the end of the war, while serving at No 42 Clearing Station near to Arras, her actions earned her a Military Medal. The citation reads:
For gallantry and devotion to duty under trying conditions when heavily bombed by hostile aircraft at night. The ward in which Staff Nurse Parker was on duty was badly damaged early in the raid by a bomb falling close to it. By her exceptional coolness and complete disregard for her own safety, she set an example to all and gave great confidence and comfort to the patients.
I find it fascinating that two of my Grandparents, who never met in later life, were both doing their bit so close together during World War One. My Grandmother’s return to France after the untimely death of her first husband meant that she returned to France in early July, at the same time as my Grandfather was wounded and was being transported back home. I wonder if their paths ever crossed?