This blog post has been contributed by volunteer, Susan Martin.
The name of Lily Dicks on the roll of honour of the Queen Street Congregational Church has caused a considerable amount of interest amongst researchers of the Wolverhampton war memorials. Women’s names appear rarely on WW1 memorials. Her Red Cross card has been found showing she was a VAD during 1915, as have her details on census returns and a marriage on the GRO index to a Thomas Howard in the first quarter of 1916. But what happened to her, and why she is on the Roll of Honour remained a mystery.
Ellen Gertrude Lily Dicks was born in Wolverhampton in 1873. Her father was Alfred Dicks who originated from Burghclere, Hampshire and her mother Hannah Eliza, born Clarkson. Alfred was a master draper and later a commercial traveller in drapery. For most of Lily’s life the family lived at 5 George Street, though by the 1911 census had moved to 8 St Catherine’s, Finchfield. Lily had two older sisters, Emma and Alice, two younger brothers Albert (who died aged 15) and Frank and a younger sister Daisy. On the 1891 census Lily was still a scholar. In 1901 she was at Ivy House, Rolleston, Staffordshire working as a nurse in the household of Samuel Higgott a landowner. The 1911 census shows she was back with her parents, with no occupation given.
The 1901 census described her as a hospital nurse. However I have been unable to find any record showing her to be a qualified nurse. If she had a nursing qualification I feel she would have worked as one after the outbreak of war rather than joining the Red Cross as a VAD. The Queen Street Roll of Honour of those serving 1914-1915 lists her as a nurse with three others. The family had originally been members of Lea Road Church, a satellite of Queen Street but started worshipping in the Queen Street Church not long before 1914. Lily started as a VAD on 20/1/1915 and served in the T.N. Department. I have not been able to find out what that did. Her service finished on 20/9/1915, possibly because she was contemplating marriage. On 25/1/1916 she married Thomas Howard in Wolverhampton Register Office. On the marriage certificate he is described as a 62 year old widow, retired draughtsman son of Robert Howard licensed victualler deceased. He was living at 47 Watsons Lane, South Shore, Blackpool. The witnesses were Lily’s brother and sister-in-law Frank and Elizabeth Dicks.
How had Lily met Thomas? Possibly her VAD work had taken her to Blackpool, or possibly when visiting her sister Emma who was head mistress at a school in Fleetwood in 1911. Thomas would have moved to Blackpool between 1911 and 1915. He was born in Liverpool, but lived all his married life in Preston working as an engineering draughtsman. At the time of his marriage he was probably 67 (calculated from the ages always given on census returns) and may have dropped a few years to narrow the gap in their ages. His first wife Mary Jane known as Jenny had died in 1899 aged 49. They had seven children, four alive in 1911.
Lily’s marriage was short lived. She died on 26/9/1916 in Toxteth Park Workhouse Infirmary, Liverpool. Although a workhouse infirmary, by this time it acted as a general hospital. The brief announcement of her death in the Express and Star 4 October stated it had followed a painful illness. Her cause of death came as a surprise – (1) syphilis (2) gangrene of the larynx. Syphilis was widespread at the time, so much so that in 1913 a Commission established by the Government recommended a high profile education campaign on sexually transmitted diseases. I understand the larynx is frequently attacked by syphilis, causing gangrene. This can be in either the secondary or tertiary stages of the disease. How long it takes for syphilis to develop varies greatly from individual to individual but it is very likely that she had contracted it before her marriage. Her home address at time of death was 47 Watsons Lane, South Shore. She left £41 7s 6d.
I have not been able to trace Thomas Howard’s death. Why was Lily commemorated on the Roll of Honour? Her mother died in 1917 but her father lived to 1935 dying in Hagley Villas, 49 Broad Lane, Bradmore. Her sister Emma continued living there until her death in 1946. How much were the family told about her death? Might they have believed that her illness had in some way been caused by her VAD work? So Lily Dicks on the Queen Street Congregational Church roll of honour still remains a mystery.