One thing I’ve come to realise as I get older and do more of this local history stuff is that nothing is ever quite what it seems. This morning, Graeme Clarke sent me the clipping relating to the remarkable story of Ruth Elizabeth Bagley, later Taylor. Graeme had found the clip in the archives at Pelsall History Centre whilst researching war losses in the local community, and was engaged and fascinated by it. This almost fantastic tale of travel, bravery and courage stirred the heart, for sure… But when I read it, I felt the faint, very faint pangs of unease; the Titanic element was troubling, and I had a nagging feeling that if she really had been so remarkable, she’d have been mentioned in the same hushed, reverential tones as the great Dorothy ‘Sister Dora’ Pattison; yet nobody seemed to have heard of her. I know Brownhills and Walsall Wood often conceals its gold carefully, but this left me feeling a bit sceptical.
The big problem is that when you feel the need to call horseshit on something like that, you can’t. It looks peevish, and after all, it’s a newspaper report, it must have veracity, right? This is the razor’s edge you sometimes walk gingerly down when dealing with local history.
However, the item was in print, and I had to take it in good faith. I know that with the historically engaged readership of the Brownhills Blog, the truth will eventually shake out, and I can see that Andy Dennis has already done a fairly forensic examination. I suspect he may be currently dancing on the very same blade that I was.
While I was out cycling in the rain this afternoon, Graeme Clarke contacted me to point out that he now thought the story was a fraud. He sent me the following message:
I shouldn’t use that last clipping !! I have found out that In the NA WO100/229 Folio 9 is “Sister Taylor. Ruth Elizabeth Taylor, afterwards the wife of Amos Bagley. She wore a Queen’s Medal & 5 clasps also the King’s Medal & 2 clasps. These medals had been tampered with. She was convicted in October & November 1909 for fraud. She died in the General Hospital, Birmingham 4 January 1917 and was given a Military Funeral. She was a fraud. Medals “returned to Husband 10.4.17”.
Oh dear !!
I wrote a quick reply on the phone and smiled wryly. Since it seems that Ruth herself or the story are frauds, there’s still an interesting history there, just not the one we initially thought. It’s also a good illustration of why single point references are bad – we have a supposedly authoritative source, a newspaper report – and it seems to be rather specious. I think Graeme found my amused response a bit strange st the time, but to me, the story was starting to truly unfold. I actually felt more comfortable with it.
Graeme contacted me again later in the afternoon to point out that he’d been discussing it on the interesting looking Great War Forum, where some Military history wonks were applying all their armoury to researching this remarkable tale.
It wasn’t looking so good for Ruth – the full thread can be found here, but I’ll post the most relevant bits beneath:
I cannot find Ruth on either the Passenger list or Suvivors list from the Titanic.
Is there anything to substantiate any single fact in this? She doesn’t appear in Kieron Spires list of nurses who served in South Africa, which included details of those women who received the QSA medal, although a few entries are not legible. It also includes nominal rolls and the names of locally employed nurses.
Boer War Nurses
It was not possible for women to train as nurses at 14 or even ‘before 14’ as I think it quoted somewhere, though of course she could have worked in private service as some sort of nurse-maid.
She was not a member of the Army Nursing Service.
‘An Army sister attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers’ does suggest that she was there officially as some part of the Army Nursing Service or Reserve, but it seems from the records that she was not.
She doesn’t appear in the 1911 Medical Directory (1911 being the nearest in date to one in which she should have had an entry if she was a doctor). What was ‘the service’ that she was due to retire from in 1914?
I find it hard to believe any part of the ‘Mons’ story, and if there is any truth in it, why has nothing been heard of it before. How would a civilian woman find her way to a hospital ‘within the sound of the guns’ at that stage in the war, before any of the official British nursing service members were there and female nurses were confined to the bases?
Is there a picture, or any other provenance for the award by Kitchener?
The whole thing sounds like fabrication to me – there have been one or two others on the forum in the past few months. This one is more difficult as most of the ‘action’ happened very early on. It would be interesting if anyone could find anything that supports just a little part of it.
Well done, Sue, for seeing through this one. In the NA WO100/229 Folio 9 is “Sister Taylor. Ruth Elizabeth Taylor, afterwards the wife of Amos Bagley. She wore a Queen’s Medal & 5 clasps also the King’s Medal & 2 clasps. These medals had been tampered with. She was convicted in October & November 1909 for fraud. She died in the General Hospital, Birmingham 4 January 1917 and was given a Military Funeral. She was a fraud. Medals “returned to Husband 10.4.17”.
So, it seems, the story is wholly, or at least partially, untrue. A fabrication. Ruth seems to have existed, as she was tried for fraud as Jim points out above; yet she was buried in an apparently military funeral in 1917, 8 years later. Did she continue the fraud? Is there more to this, or what? One of the things I did whilst mooching around South Staffordshire in the rain this afternoon was hunt for her grave in Ogley Hay cemetery. I couldn’t find it; but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. The stone may have been removed, I may have overlooked it or even been looking in the wrong part of the graveyard.
I’d like to know more about Ruth – this is a wee history all of it’s own, and needs debunking so at least the truth is out there should anyone else find the story as Graeme did. Invented military careers are not unusual, of course; a chap was prosecuted in recent years for parading at Bedworth, Warwickshire in the remembrance ceremony with so much metalwork on his chest that it alerted genuine veterans, and I believe a flypast in Norfolk was staged in recent times for a supposed Battle of Britain pilot who turned out to have been nothing more than a cook (actually, if you know about that one, I’d love a link, but it may be apocryphal). That the phenomena goes back so far is a bit of a surprise.
It makes me wonder where Ruth was in the intervening period, and if she ever secured favour or financial gain through it, and exactly what the truth is. I’m hoping perhaps readers can help me here – if anyone from the Local History Centre in Walsall has anything relating to Ruth, or perhaps Peter Cutler might like to trawl the newspaper archive. The truth must be out there. Please, help if you can.
Single point sources are dangerous. Always remember that, even when they look credible. What a wonderful, fascinating mess this appears to be. I’d appreciate any help possible in getting to the bottom of this bizarre incident.