When war broke out 100 years ago, the owner of Morden Hall Park, Gilliat Edward Hatfeild, offered the Hall to the War Office for use as a military hospital. This year, to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, Attic Theatre Company brings the untold stories of the men and women who lived, worked and nursed at Morden Hall Park to life in Fields Unsown, a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Ella Chapple and her Family

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Ella Chapple was the starting point for the Fields Unsown project.  In our earliest searches for information about the auxiliary hospital at Morden Hall, we came across a newspaper article from the New Zealand paper, the Feilding Star, dated 20 June 1916.  The article reported on the recovery of Ella’s father, William Chapple, who had been an MP in New Zealand before moving to England.  It ended:

‘Major Chapple’s daughters are “doing their little bit”: Miss Isa is on the nursing staff of the Second Eastern Hospital at Brighton, Miss Nelca is nursing at the Morden Grange Hospital, and Miss Ella is similarly engaged at the Morden Hall Hospital near Wimbledon.’

So Ella became the first person we identified who had worked at Morden Hall Park during the war.  She was born Elizabeth Ewing Chapple in 1896 in Wellington, New Zealand, to her doctor father, William Allan Chapple, and his wife, Sarah Douglas Turnbull, the daughter of a wealthy architect from San Francisco.  She had two older sisters, Louisa Douglas Chapple, born in 1892, and Nelca Allan Chapple, born in 1894.  Their younger sister, Jean, was born in 1900.  Sarah gave birth to twins in 1905, who died as babies.

In 1891, Sarah Chapple’s wealthy architect father built the family a grand house in Wellington, but William Chapple’s ambition to be an MP was soon to take the family far from home.  In 1902 and again in 1905 he stood for Parliament in New Zealand, but without success.  In 1908 he won a seat at a by-election in June, but failed to keep it in the general election three months later.

This seems to have motivated the family’s move to England.  William won a seat as Liberal MP for Stirlingshire (he had Scottish roots, which later led his grandson, Nelca’s son Ian, to become a well-known Scottish historian) in January 1910, and kept it until the general election of 1918.  So the entire family moved to England and the four girls went to school at Roedean, the independent girls’ school in Sussex.  Thanks to the Roedean archive, we know that Ella excelled at school in almost everything – she won swimming cups, was captain of the cricket team, played the piano and won cooking badges.  Reviews of school plays commend her acting ability, too – one review, of Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (in which Ella evidently played the lead) notes that “Ella Chapple was quite up to her usual form as Mrs Wiggs”.

In 1914, war broke out.  Ella was then aged 18.  Her older sisters, Louisa and Nelca, were 22 and 20 respectively; Jean was only 14 and still at school.  We do not know when Ella and her sisters first began nursing, but by 1915 many private homes were being offered as auxiliary hospitals to help with the large numbers of injured men arriving home in England. Furthermore, in 1914, William Chapple introduced into Parliament the bill which would become the Nurses Registration Act 1919 – William believed, along with the Royal College of Nursing but in opposition to the Matron of the London Hospital (which at that time had the monopoly on the training of nurses) and her predecessor, Florence Nightingale, that a formal system of standardised training and registration was required.  William Chapple and the Royal College of Nursing believed that this would make nursing more professional and enable those employing nurses to be satisfied that they were properly trained.

It may be that their father’s involvement with the Royal College encouraged Ella and her sisters to enrol as VADs.  Louisa (“Isa”) went to nurse in Brighton, while Ella was posted to Morden Hall and Nelca to Morden Grange, another property owned by Gilliat Edward Hatfeild.  Morden Hall, as you will see from other sections of this exhibition, specialised in caring for soldiers suffering from shellshock, so Ella must have witnessed the trauma of many soldiers who were sent there from the main hospitals.

By May 1918, Louisa Chapple had been posted abroad, where she became ill.  An entry in the diary of the Matron in charge of all the Western Front hospitals from May 1918 reads:

24.05.18 Sick Sisters 211 Miss Chapple, VAD: DGMS forwarded wire from War Office saying that Major Chapple wishes his daughter to be evacuated to England to the Sick Sisters’ Hospital, Vincent Square. As this lady had been discharged from hospital, she has been granted 7 days’ leave pending acceptance of her resignation.

When Louisa’s daughter and grand-daughter came to see Fields Unsown, we learned that the reason Louisa had travelled to France was that the man she loved and intended to marry was missing, presumed dead.  Louisa went there to care for those alongside whom he had fought.  We have reproduced on this website a letter from Louisa’s grand-daughter, Helena, to the man she grew up knowing from her grandmother’s stories.

After the end of the war, in 1919, the Nurses Registration Bill, for which William Chapple had fought so hard, passed into law.  That same year, in February 1919, Nelca married Eric Grimble, who had served in the RAF during the war.  They emigrated to Canada (later moving to Hong Kong) and ship passenger records show that Ella visited them, sailing from Liverpool.

Still more adventurously, in January 1920, Ella and Louisa sailed to Hong Kong with the apparent intention of staying there.  Louisa met her future husband, Cedric Blaker, in China, and in March 1921 she and Ella sailed home for the wedding. On 4 November 1921, Louisa and Cedric sailed back to Hong Kong and lived there until 1941, when they left for Canada following the fall of France during the Second World War, which led to the evacuation of European families from Hong Kong. Cedric (who became the Chair of HSBC) and Louisa had two sons – Peter Allan Renshaw Blaker (1922-2009), who became a Conservative peer, and Derek John Renshaw Blaker (1924-1991).  At some point, Louisa returned to Sussex.  Cedric died in 1965, and Louisa twenty years later, aged 93, in Haywards Heath.  They are buried at St Leonard’s Church, Turners Hill, along with Louisa’s mother and father in law, who was the first priest of Turners Hill.

Back in 1921, Ella had done much of her travelling with Louisa, but now began to see the world with her younger sister, Jean.  In 1924 Ella and Jean, like lots of other wealthy young people, took advantage of the new trips to South Africa being offered by the cruise lines.  They returned to the family home in Horseferry Road, SW1, from Durban via Mombassa in November, arriving a month after William lost his seat in Parliament in the general election of October 1924.

In September 1929, Charles Eric Bodington Sinclair, the son of the eminent Anglican priest, Eric Bodington, petitioned for divorce from his wife, Mollie, citing her adultery.  His divorce became final in October 1930, and he and Ella married one week to the day later, on 27 October 1930. Ella was 34.  They married at The Chapel of the Savoy, a church owned by the Queen, which was described by a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as “the place where divorced couples got married in those days – a poky little place”.

In 1936, Nelca and Eric Grimble divorced.  Her children were then aged 16 and 15.  William Chapple died the same year, in October. Nelca had a happy second marriage, but died, aged only 55, in Yorkshire.

Ella, Isa and Jean spent their later years living very close to each other in their adopted homeland in Sussex.  Ella and Charles were married for 40 years. They moved to Hove, near Brighton, where they lived until his death in 1970, aged 66.  Ella died the following year, aged 75. They had no children. On her death, Ella left £5,000 to Jean and the remainder of her estate to Nelca’s son, Ian.

Jean also moved to Hove, and lived there until her death in 1994.  She was the last of the Chapple sisters, and the only one to remain a Chapple throughout her life.

A timeline of the Chapple family appears below.


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