The nursing complement included Matron, Mrs. Mitchell, Nurse Walton, Nurse Meldrum, and Nurse Mary Rodwell, At around 12:30 pm, in pitch darkness and one mile East of Folkestone Gate, the Hospital Ship "Anglia" hit a mine laid by a German U boat, within 15 minutes the ship had sunk. Claiming the lives of over one hundred soldiers, crewmen and also the life of nursing sister Mary Rodwell.
According to the Nursing Times 27th November 1915, "The horror of that first moment have been indescribable when the doomed vessel plunged her bows into the water at an angle which suggested her instant death, and the staff were faced with the problem of getting nearly 200 cot cases up from wards and lower wards in almost impossible conditions. "
The water at once rushed into the lowest wards, and the orderlies who went to investigate reported that it was up over their heads. From the other wards every man who could move himself scrambled as best he could to the deck, and some of the wounded, officers and men alike, did all in their power to save the others, hunting out lifeboats for them and fastening on All the time the nurses were working steadily, chiefly concerned with the lifebelts, but bringing up all the wounded who could be moved along those slanting corridors."
Some of the men reported sister Rodwell had been injured in the initial explosion. The Matron and sister on deck when urged to get into a boat, which had come alongside, would not hear of it. saying "we have the right to be last this time" "I offered to help one nurse you come with me and I'll get you to safety. i am a very strong swimmer. You'll be safe with me. But she shook her head an said she could not leave her men. So she was with them to the last ".
Between 127 and 164 were killed in the sinking of the Hospital ship Anglia, The survivors described sights which were worse than anything they had seen at in Flanders.
The Army Orders in relation to the tragic sinking of the hospital ship Anglia contained the following Statement:
"The Army Council desire to place on record their appreciation of the presence of mind and devotion to duty shown by the Royal Army Medical Corps personnel on the occasion of the sinking of the hospital ship Anglia which struck a mine on November 17th 1915.
"Through the courage and presence of mind of the Matron Mrs Mitchell, and devotion of the nursing sisters, most of the cot cases were evacuated, from the ship. in this work, lieutenants P.L.T. Bennet and H.W. Hodgson Royal Medical Corps, were conspicuous and aided by Private Darwen and McGuire of the same corps, they succeeded in saving wounded from the lower wards when they were awash and almost submerged Mary Rodwell friends testified that "she was well aware of the risks she ran in serving the sick and wounded on a hospital ship.
The Matron and sister rescued from Anglia say that they cannot speak too highly of her (Nurse Mary Rodwell). The last the Matron (Mrs Mitchell) saw of her was shortly before the explosion, when she came up to fetch some warm woollies for her patients When war broke out she felt it her duty to volunteer for foreign service, and was from February till may 1915 on hospital trains, and on the Anglia since May.
Mary Rodwell prophetically wrote a letter dated 8th September 1915
The large hospital ships have gone to the Dardanelles leaving us only the small ones for France. I saw the XXXXX she takes 3,000 patients and is enormous. I prefer a smaller boat myself, in case anything should go wrong. and just now the German mines are a great many over here. we have also seen (German) submarines at times. ......"So far we have been lucky with the hospital ships. We had a narrow escape with bombs a few weeks ago. The explosion threw us out of our bunks .... The high explosive bomb was only forty yards from us, and several fire bombs only 10 yards from us burnt themselves out on the pier without doing any damage, as they were on a stone pier, but the noise of the explosive bombs was terrific. We just rocked and dashed, the boast listing very much, but recovering itself without any damage done except lights and telephone broke, but a trawler near had some men killed and injured"
Hospital ships regularly had no escort and on one trip the ship's passengers even included the King, who's entourage suffered from sea sickness and who Mary Rodwell nursed.
The wreck of the hospital ship Anglia is now an Official War Grave, which lies on a sandy bed, where she was struck on that tragic night. A number of those killed are recorded on the war Memorial at Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton including Mary Rodwell.
Mary Rodwell was born at Brockdish, Norfolk (near Diss) on June 7th, 1874 the daughter of Mr J. Rodwell, she later lived in the village of Oakley on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.
She trained at Hendon Infirmary Hospital in North West London from 1901 to 1904. Later nurse Rodwell worked at Samaritan Free Hospital, Maryleboune Road, London and later still in private nursing homes in the Capital.
When war broke out she felt it her duty to volunteer for foreign service, and was from February till may 1915 on hospital trains, and on the Anglia from May 1915. It was reported in the British Nursing Journal that she was a supporter of their magazine (as opposed to the (Royal) College Nursing of Nursing Journal the Nursing Times) and that she was supporter of a nursing regulatory body which the (Royal) College of Nursing then opposed.
Mary Rodwell would have undoubtedly therefore have supported the development of nursing trade unionism as outlined by Maude MacCallum's Professional Union of Trained Nurses Nursing Union established in 1919. Miss Elma Smith Matron at Hendon Infirmary stated"She herself could wish for no better end than to die with the patients under her care".
Mary Rodwell was also recorded as being an enthusiastic suffragist being an member "ardent" supporter of the Crystal Palace and Anerley Women's Freedom League (WFL). She seems to have become involved in the local branch while living with her uncle Robert Eagle in Upper Norwood, South London (22 Palace Road).
After her tragic death the The Crystal Palace & Anerley Women's Freedom League stated that Mary Rodwell's "name will be held in honour and reverence"
The WFL was a "progressive" more working class women orientated breakaway group from the WSPU established by Charlotte Despard, Edith How-Martyn and Teresa Billington-Grieg on 22nd October 1907. The WFL objected to the lack of democracy in the WSPU, it's deferance to wealthy women rather than tackle the issues facing working women's, they also opposed the WSPU's vandalism and particular it's arson campaigns.
The WFL while willing to break the law in furtherance of "Votes for Women" through direct action, Muriel Matters a WFL famously sailed over London in a hot air balloon showering London with "Votes for women" leaflets, The WFL was completely non-violent (over 100 of its members went to jail for direct action demonstrations and refusing to pay taxes and )
The colours of the Women's Freedom League (WFL) were Green, Gold and White.
Mary Rodwells name appears at the church in Ditchingham, Norfolk.
On 2nd July 1920 a memorial bronze plaque was unveiled at Colindale hospital, it was stated that the memorial would remind nurses "who come after, of their courage self abnegation and devotion to duty when the hour of trial came".
BJN British Journal of Nursing 11 December 1915 (and others)
Nursing Times 27 November 1915