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Having become quite interested in Genealogy and I've been able to find out a lot about my family including meeting "cousins" who connect 7 generations ago in the 1750's. I knew very little about my mother except for a few snippets - that she was a nurse during the war and was at Bergen-Belsen when it was liberated
My mother, Marie Lillian Gent was born at Whitstable, Kent in 1919 with 4 sisters and 2 brothers. Her mother died 1922 when the children were young and the father, being an alcoholic was deemed unfit to raise the young children, so they were fostered. Fortunately her personal foster parents provided a solid and generous upbringing. (As explained by her nephew, John Gent) She completed her nurse training at St Mary Abbots Teaching Hospital, Kensington, London 1942 and nursed there until May 1944. Left is an image of her that I think is at the beginning of her training. There are no insignia and she is not wearing the Nursing Council registration badges.
Why she changed track is not known but two events occurred in 1943 and early 1944, firstly her brother Donald was killed on a bombing raid over Germany and then a direct hit by a V1 flying bomb, its 2000 lb warhead destroyed most of St Mary's hospital causing many casualties to both patients and nursing staff. These two incidences possibly influenced her decision to join the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), Service No; 318588 in May 1944 with the rank of Lieutenant Sister. She was posted to the 6th. British Field Hospital stationed at Goodwood House near Southampton preparing for the invasion of France. The hospital landed at Arrowmanches, Normandy on D-Day +16 (just 45 days after joining) to establish a 500 bed Casualty Clearing Hospital at Bayeux. At this time Bayeux was only a couple of miles away from the German positions. This became an advanced hospital where injuries were stabilized prior to repatriation to England through the artificial port of Arromanches. The hospital subsequently followed behind the advancing troops through France, Belgium and Germany, leap-frogging other hospitals as they moved forward. She returned to the UK in October for 10 days leave then posted to 29th. British Field Hospital.
When the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated in April 1945 the hospital was in close proximity and she was one of the 12 nurses detailed to attend to the ±40000 inmates immediately after the liberation until more substantial medical assistance could be arranged. (QAIMNS records) This is a subject she never really discussed but, having read quite extensively now, it must have been a horrendous experience with thousands of dead bodies lying around and the total starvation of the inmates. One account puts it as:- "The work was gruesome and could be referred to as ‘horror nursing’ ...”no one could have visualised anything like Belsen”
Of her two brothers, Norman (father to John Gent mentioned earlier.) was killed in the North African desert campaign whilst Donald was killed on operations with 460 Squadron. Bomber Command, over Koln (Cologne) Germany, April 12, 1943. (Bomber Command records)
Released from active service 31st. July 1947 - she then emigrated to Rhodesia, February 1948 to nurse at the Que Que General until marrying Guy Savory in December 1949. Marie died following a vehicle collision in Natal, South Africa 1986.
Image from the book "Sisters in Arms" by Nicola Tyler. Marie is in the front row.