Hannah Jessie Hankin-Hardy was believed to have been the last English woman survivor of the Siege of Ladysmith, during the Boer War in South Africa, when she died at Berrister House, Raunds,at the age of 78 on Sunday, the 25th of June 1944.
She was born Hannah Gordon in 1886 in Worcester, the niece of Bishop Philpot of the same city. She held a Nursing Diploma from the Medical Training School at Melbourne, Australia, a country which she visited no less than 12 times during her life. A seasoned traveller, she had circumvented the globe three times.
Her medical Diploma was put to good use during the Spanish-Cuban War, which led to Cuban Independence and also, as previously mentioned, the Boer War, where she established a hospital with the Natal Volunteer Service. During the siege she was known as “Little Mother” because of her devotion to the sick and wounded.
She met her future husband, Samuel Hankin-Hardy, during the siege, where he was serving in his role with the Church. The siege lasted from 2nd of November 1899 until the 27th of February 1900. They married in 1901.
As well as nursing she had been involved in Northamptonshire with the “Women’s Total Abstinence Society”, in which she served on the National Executive. She was also on the English committee of the”World Prohibition Federation”, on whose behalf she attended conferences in various parts of the world.
At the start of the First World War she spent five weeks in France, before heading out to Serbia. Her husband also served in France as a Chaplain attached to the RAMC. She left England on the 12th of December 1914 aboard a troopship bound for Serbia, arriving on the 4th of January in Kraguyervatz, where she decided to stay. She had one Serbian lady surgeon and some inexperienced orderlies to look after about 600 patients, both wounded and sick, but no changes of clothes or bedding.
Eventually thousands of wounded soldiers were sent from Belgrade. Hotels, restaurants and any other available buildings were requisitioned as hospitals. Within a very short period of time over 20,000 soldiers were there with wounds, and such diseases as typhus, typhoid and influenza and with the coming of warm weather, it was feared that cholera would appear.
In February 1915 she formed the “National League of Serbian Women” and was duly elected President. It was formed to fight typhus amongst all citizens and its plans were put before the Military Medical Authorities who approved it, as did the Serbian Government. Four thousand copies of her address to the women of Serbia were distributed for free around the country and many branches were set up, but unfortunately the League did not have enough equipment to fully carry out its programme.
In Kraguyervatz she made improvements to the sanitation and also set up a dispensary for the poor, where Doctors took turns to treat the sick; 9,000 of them in four months. She had hoped to be able to carry this out on a country wide scale, but lack of funds prevented this, so she was asked to visit England to try and raise the funds to furnish a hospital accommodating 4,000 patients. Just before leaving for England, a War Office team arrived with disinfecting apparatus.
She left for England on the 3rd of April 1915, via Nish, where she visited the Ministers of the Interior and Finance. From there she went to Pirot, where she inspected the Army disinfecting station, which she found to be “thoroughly well equipped in every detail.” From Pirot she made her way to Salonica and from there on to England, arriving on the 22nd of April.
She immediately set about raising equipment for the hospital, getting the support of Sir Thomas Lipton and other notable personalities. The Wesleyan Church also gave generously. She was in need of many articles including 4,000 bedsteads, 25,000 blankets, 1,500 pairs of sheets and many more items by the thousands. Her friends also gave generously as did the Serbian Relief Fund, which voted £3,000 and also the Serbian Red Cross with £2,000. Whilst raising funds she also gave many lectures around the country.
At the end of July 1915 she returned to Serbia, arriving there in early August. She was working in the name of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, initially in Kraguyervatz and then Nish, where she was welcomed by the Chief of the Military Medical Staff. In the hospital she found cases and bales stacked to the ceiling from all parts of the world as a result of her propaganda. It was estimated to value nearly 2 million Francs.
She immediately started the job of distributing the supplies to where they were needed, a task not helped by the lack of transport. A Corps of men was organised, including Austrian prisoners, to do the work of distribution. With all the supplies she was able to furnish hospitals with everything including food.
When the retreat from Kraguyervatz started, she was able to help others who had lost everything. She retreated along with all the refugees and soldiers, through Pristina and Montenegro and over mountain ranges, suffering great deprivations before finally arriving in Albania. The journey took seven weeks and she was accompanied by a boy, a horse and a donkey and almost dying of starvation and exhaustion, but by all accounts she took all of the hardships and privations in her stride. She eventually made her way to Brindisi and said that after going through the Spanish-Cuban War, the Boer War and five weeks in France, she had never seen such sad sights as those that she saw in Serbia.
The Serbian Government made her a Commander of the Order of St Sava, for services to Serbia and also her husband for allowing her to go to their aid. They said that when they had asked her to return to England it was to pass on their thanks for Britains help and to also plead for more help. She returned with a ship load of things. Her services to the Serbians have been likened to that of Florence Nightingale to the British Army in the Crimea.
Rev. Hankin-Hardy became the Superintendent Minister of the Raunds Methodist Circuit in 1927 and when he retired from the Ministry in 1937 they returned to the town and moved in to Berrister House.
Right up to her death she was carrying out good works, making necklaces which were sold to gather funds to purchase parachutes.
Hannah Hankin-Hardy was buried on the 28th June 1944 in the Methodist Chapel Yard, Brook Street, Raunds, after a service which took place at 3.30 pm. As well as her husband she left a daughter and two grand children to mourn her loss.
Samuel Hankin-Hardy died in 1948 age 77 and is buried next to his wife. Their only son Harald (sic), who had died in 1931, lies in an adjacent grave.
The above account is made up from the very small amount of information available about this very extraordinary lady. Any errors are down to the author.