A simple tribute ‘Erected by the Inns of Court O.T.C. in memory of Sister Cottingham, Matron at ‘the Beeches’ V.A.D. Hospital, died there 27th October 1918’ marks the grave of someone who was much loved and respected. She died at the age of 31, not as a result of enemy fire but by succumbing to the Spanish ‘flu whilst caring for others. Who then was Sister Cottingham? Was she a local girl, and did she have family to mourn her passing?
Hannah Maude Cottingham’s birth was registered in the December quarter of 1886 in Downpatrick, Northern Island, a moderately-sized town, 21 miles south of Belfast. Her father was Thomas Cottingham. Her mother died while Hannah was still a child and she had a brother two years’ older than she was. On the Northern Ireland census returns of 1901 and 1911 no information is given of her father’s occupation. The family’s religion was Church of Ireland. The family was sufficiently well off to employ one servant even when Hannah was an adult.
The family appear to have moved fairly frequently, since Hannah’s birthplace was given as Downpatrick but in 1901 she was living at Margarette Terrace Portadown in County Antrim and in 1911, the family whilst still in County Antrim, was now in the district of Magheragall.
At some stage she trained to be a nurse, probably in Belfast. From various sources we know that she worked at the Baltic and Corn Exchange Hospital in 1915 and in the Brundall Auxillary Hospital in Norwich. The Baltic and Corn Exchange was officially No.8 British Red Cross Hospital, in France-Calais, Paris-Plage and then Boulogne.
The Medal Information Card shows her as Hannah Maud Cottingham (British Red Cross Society and order of St John of Jerusalem). At the time of her death at 31 she was the Matron (or Sister-in-Charge) at ‘The Beeches’ V.A.D. Hospital [aka The Detention Hospital].
Her cause of death is given as Influenza and Bronchopneumonia. The British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers shows her as Nursing Sister Hannah Maude Cottingham. Obviously, she was much loved and respected by the young men of the Inns of Court OTC in her care. The IOCOTC, which was stationed in Berkhamsted from 1914-1919, paid for her memorial, a young woman who died far from home, in the service of her country. (917)