SISTER SOPHIA HILLING
QUEEN ALEXANDRA'S IMPERIAL MILITARY NURSING SERVICE
12TH OCTOBER 1918 AGE 34
BURIED: TOURGEVILLE MILITARY CEMETERY, FRANCE
This might not be exactly what Rupert Brooke wrote but when Mrs Sarah Hilling chose this inscription for her daughter she had Brooke's poem, The Soldier, firmly in her mind:
If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam ...
At one time this was the most famous poem in England and Brooke, who died in 1915 on his way to take part in the Gallipoli Campaign, the most famous war poet.
I wish it had been possible to find out more about Sophia Hilling - most records give her name as Sophie, including the War Graves Commission, but the record of her baptism and all the census returns give it as Sophia.
She was born in Deptford, South London. Her father, Samuel Hilling, was a rag cutter, someone who cut up rags for paper making. He died before 1901 when her mother, Sarah Hilling, was supporting herself as a charwoman. Sixteen-year-old Sophia was a general domestic servant. Ten years later she was a sick nurse working at the Birmingham Workhouse Infirmary.
According to the information her mother gave the Commission, Sophia Hilling had had four year's war service before she died. There is no information as to where but in 1917 she was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal (Second Class) for "bravery, coolness and devotion to duty whilst on active service". At this time she was working at the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital, Whitchurch, Cardiff where soldiers received both orthopaedic and psychiatric treatment.
By October 1918 Hilling was in France working at one of the general hospitals in Trouville, France when she fell ill. On 12 October E Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders, recorded in her official diary:
"Wired Matron-in-Chief, War Office, and reported to DGMS that Sister S. Hilling, QAIMNS reported on the "Dangerously ill" list with pneumonia."
And then the next day:
"Wired Matron-in-Chief, War Office, and reported to DGMS that Sister S. Hilling, QAIMNS on the "Dangerously ill" list yesterday, died at 10.30 p.m."
[E Maud McCarthy's war diary is a wonderful resource. It has been transcribed by Scarlet Finders and can be read here.]