Manuscript memories of working for The War Victims' Relief Committee of the Society of Friends.
WORLD WAR ONE: RENTON, Sara
Category: First World War
No Place No Publisher. c.1920.
Manuscript account of Sara Renton's service with the Friends War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC)from January 25th 1917 to March 26th 1919. Written in ink in a note book, loosely contained within a custom made folder, vellum over boards and hand decorated. 19 by 22cm. Eighty five hand written pages, with numerous postcards, photographs, some tipped in others loose, also a number of travel documents and one ink sketch of Renton's landlady whilst in France. The FWVRC was an official arm of British Quakers, set up in times of war to relieve civilian distress. It was first established in 1870, following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. The FWVRC was revived at the outbreak of the First World War. Organised training began in 1914 under Roderick Clark and Ruth Fry, with whom Renton worked, was appointed secretary.
In France, the FWVRC took charge of hospitals and convalescent homes and provided district nursing care as well. Two hospitals were set up in Sermaize, in a district almost razed to the ground following the first German offensive. Pre-fabricated houses were used, to replace homes that had been destroyed. In Chalons sur Marnes, Hilda Clark and Edith Pye set up an urgently needed maternity hospital in one wing of an old people's home. And this is where Renton served most of her time in France. She describes in considerable detail her work giving practical help to refugees displaced by the German Offensive at the start of the War. An aspect of the War know largely forgotten. "All have the same tale that they thought it would be only for a few days and in their hurry, flurry and fear they scarcely knew what to bring with them and in fact what could they bring? on foot for the most part with babies, small children dragging at their side, or old grandparents to bring along.- walking many kilometres, and sleeping out of doors, often for days - and on looking back seeing their homes in flames." The FWVRC dispensed aid, providing amongst other things a boot shop and giving the women refugees with embroidery kits in "brilliant colours" so that they were able to earn money. She worked with Ethel Pye a sculptress who was part of the Bloomsbury Group, who left a moving image of this period in the form of a bronze of a mother with children. In 1918 with the German offensive Chalons was heavily bombed and a new wave of refugees had to be supported. ".....on the other side of the street, a few yards down, was struck that night, by a torpedo bomb & 41 people in the cave were either crushed or suffocated to death." Later in 1918 Renton was sent to Evian to help receive French who had been held in Belgium by the Germans and were now being repatriated, "they were for the most part old people, women & children, & invalids, for whom the Germans had no use". They came in at 6.30am and 6.30pm on trainloads of 600 to 700 day after day. Renton spent the last few weeks of the War in charge of a home for elderly refugees. ".....the Armistice day arrived! And a sigh of relief seems to go up to Heaven that the awful slaughter was at an end, & the continual boom from the guns was heard no more." The book is very good, the writing is clear and legible although one or two pages have come loose.