Catherine Cathcart-Smith

Catherine Cathcart-Smith, the daughter of a large landowner, was born in Chester in 1900. On the outbreak of the First World War she became an ambulance driver. She worked both in London and in France. Her boyfriend was killed at Passchendaele in 1917. Catherine's brother was badly wounded on the Western Front and died soon after returning to England.

Catherine, who never married, worked in a bank after the Armistice. She was also Chairperson of the London Townswomens Guild. Catherine Cathcart-Smith was interviewed about her experiences in 1993 when she was 104 years old.

Primary Sources

(1) Catherine Cathcart-Smith was 24 when she joined the VADs in 1914. She was interviewed about the war in 1993 when she was 104 years old.

A friend taught me to drive on the farm. Father had some of the earliest motorised transport, but it was very easy, you know, because there were no other vehicles on the road. You had the road almost to yourself.

I wanted to do my bit for the war so I volunteered to drive an ambulance. We had to meet the troop trains at the big London railway stations - Waterloo and Victoria. The trains had hundreds of wounded soldiers packed on them. Their wounds were were frightful. Young men with no arms or legs. Many had been gassed. Others blinded. I had two nurses with me, we made a good team.

We worked eight hours at a time. I worked at night a lot, because the trains came in all through the night as well. Then I was moved to the south coast to meet the boats as they arrived from France. Hospital Ships they called them.

(2) On one visit to meet a hospital ships, Catherine Cathcart-Smith recognised one of the wounded men.

I saw this young man on a stretcher. It was my brother, so I said to the soldiers who were carrying him: "Put him in my ambulance, I am his sister." They did look surprised. But oh dear he was in a sorry state. Thank heavens my mother and father didn't see him. Our captain said - "Catherine, take twenty-four hours and stay with your brother." He knew my brother wasn't going to last, you see. So when he died the next day I was with him, holding his hand.

(3) Catherine Cathcart-Smith's boyfriend was killed at Passchendaele in 1917.

The war was an awful thing. So awful for everybody. I lost my young man, you know. He was killed at Passchendaele. I kept his photo for many, many years - until it fell to pieces.