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Memorial University of Newfoundland - Digital Archives Initiative

Frances Cluett Collection (Coll-174)



Frances Cluett Collection Coll-174

This collection consists of material generated by Frances Cluett who served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in Europe during World War I and covers the years from 1916 to 1920. The collection consists mainly of correspondence written by Frances Cluett to her mother, Matilda Cluett, in Belleoram, Fortune Bay. There is a photograph album of pictures taken by Cluett, many of them documenting her time in Europe, two badges bearing the initials SJAB (St. John Ambulance Brigade), and five watercolours painted by Cluett during her service in France. There is also a German Iron Cross medal which was given to her by a German soldier; an autograph album covering the years 1907 to 1910; and, a small journal written by Cluett in 1908 describing life in Belleoram.

These letters, photographs and other items provide insight into the life of one Newfoundland woman and her experiences as a VAD in World War I.

Frances Cluett was born at Belleoram, Fortune Bay on June 25, 1883, the daughter of Arthur M. Cluett and Matilda Grandy. She had one sister, Lillian (1880-1938) and one brother, Arthur Samuel (1888-1963).

In the fall of 1916, at the age of 33 years, Frances Cluett left her home in Belleoram to go to St. John's to become a member of the Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) with the St. John Ambulance Corps and to subsequently join the British Expeditionary Force in France. Over the next few weeks, Cluett spent her time preparing herself to go overseas, activities she described in her letters home: having pictures taken at Holloway Studios to accompany her application for a passport; receiving and recuperating from inoculations; and sorting out her kit bag of uniforms and other clothing to take with her.

In her November 15 letter to her mother, Cluett reports she had arrived in New York. She had crossed Newfoundland by train and continued her trip to New York, via Boston, on train. Her next letter is dated November 29; she is staying at Queen Mary's Hostel for Nurses in London, England, having sailed from New York to Liverpool. She spends the next few months training as a VAD in various hospitals in England. Her letters home describe in great detail her experiences including ward routine, patients she met from Newfoundland, the personalities of nursing sisters and other staff at the hospitals, as well as her activities during her time off.

By May 7, 1917, Cluett is writing home from France. She had joined the British Expeditionary Force and was stationed at the 10th General Hospital in Rouen. While in France she was assigned to a camp nursing German prisoners of war. There was a severely wounded German major who was one of her patients. Just before he died he gave her his Iron Cross and helmet.

She spent almost a year in France before being relocated to Constantinople in 1918. After the war she spent some time travelling in Europe before returning to Belleoram. Cluett's last letter to her mother is dated November 21, 1920 from London just before she sets sail for Newfoundland.

When Frances Cluett returned to Newfoundland she attended Normal School in St. John's and then returned to Belleoram to teach in the Church of England primary school. In addition to teaching, she ran a small general store. Cluett was also active in the community playing the organ in the church. She founded a church service guild known as the Guild of St. Perpetua in Belleoram, and at Christmas and Easter she often organised and directed community plays.

Because of her wartime nursing experiences, Cluett was often called upon to assist when someone in the community was ill. She was known in Belleoram as either "Miss Cluett", "Teacher Fanny", or "Nurse".
Frances Cluett died in November 1969, aged 86 years.

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