25 September 2012


In genealogical research, you often get side-tracked down unrelated, but fascinating paths. For the researcher with more than a fair share of curiosity, it proves too much to not take those paths. This story is one such case, where I could not resist - and today I cannot even recall what or who I was researching when I came across Selma Amy VALENTINE and her connection to South Africa.

She served during World War I in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), a voluntary organisation providing field nursing services. Following the end of the Anglo-Boer War, the British War Office was concerned that in the event of another war the medical and nursing services wouldn’t be able to cope sufficiently. In August 1909 the War Office started its Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid in England and Wales, which set up both male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to fill gaps in the Territorial medical services, with a similar scheme for Scotland following in December 1909. By early 1914, 1757 female detachments and 519 male detachments had been registered with the War Office.

Selma was awarded the Military Medal and is listed in the World War I Medal Index. She also served with the Women's Royal Naval Service (known as the Wrens), where she was a clerk and interpreter. Later she was part of Lady Muriel PAGETS's Mission (Crimea Unit), which saw former Wrens doing relief work in Eastern Europe. Her interesting life led her to South Africa during World War II.

Selma Amy VALENTINE during her fund-raising tours of South Africa
Selma was born in Russia on 17 July 1893. She was of French-Ulster descent on her father's side, and of Swedish-Russian descent on her mother's side. Her father, George F. VALENTINE, according to family stories, was the grandson of a French aristocrat who had fled the French Revolution (1789-1799) and was wrecked on the Irish coast as a child, later marrying the Honorable Miss BROWNE of Sligo.

The 1793 Aliens Act was passed in England, stipulating that arriving immigrants had to be recorded at the port of entry. The Act was created to log and monitor the large numbers of non-British nationals arriving in the late 18th century, and in particular the thousands of French fleeing the French Revolution. Their arrival prompted government concern that the social unrest being witnessed on the continent might spread to England. Thirty-two thousand French citizens arrived in England during this period, many of whom were clergy and aristocracy fleeing the Revolution. The UK Aliens' Entry Books 1794-1921 record these people.

George F. VALENTINE married the eldest daughter of the Acting Governor of the Baltic States (Lithuania and Estonia). Selma's mother had been a pupil at the Imperial School (Smolny Institute) in St Petersburg, a school for aristocratic ladies where they were taught etiquette, dances, sewing, cooking, history and languages. The Smolny was Russia's first educational establishment for women and continued to function under the personal patronage of the Russian Empress until just before the 1917 revolution. In 1917, the school building was chosen by Lenin as Bolshevik headquarters during the October Revolution. George was educated in Belfast (Rugby and Oxford). He lived at The Moat, Strandtown, Belfast.

Selma spoke four languages - Russian, English, French and German. She studied at Wordsworth College in London, where she obtained a Diploma in Physical Culture, and a Certificate in Speech Training. In December 1916 she returned to Russia, where she spent a year living in Petrograd (St Petersburg). Here she attended speeches given by Lenin, Trotsky and the Tsar, before moving to Shenkursk to teach and help her now-destitute parents. She was taken hostage when the British attacked in 1918, but managed to escape and joined the British forces. During the summer months she served as a Wren, interpreting for the Royal Navy at Archangel in North Russia, and was made a Petty Officer on the H.M.S. Attentive. During the winter months she returned to Shenkursk with the British Expeditionary Force as a VAD to nurse the wounded. It was here that she earned her Military Medal, which she received in May 1919 from King George V. She was also interviewed by Queen Alexandra. The British Journal of Nursing, dated 2nd August 1919, carried the following report:

The King has approved the award of the Military Medal to Miss S. A. VALENTINE, V.A.D. The medal is awarded for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on October 10th and 14th, 1918, tending wounded under heavy fire on ship and shore while attached to the hospital river steamer Vologjanin. On several occasions her conduct under fire had a marked effect on the morale of jaded troops.
Military Medal
After the Anglo-Boer War, the British War Minister, Richard HALDANE, created the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), in case it was necessary to take part in a foreign war. By August 1914, there were about 120 000 soldiers in the BEF.

Selma is mentioned in the book, The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki — Campaigning in North Russia 1918-1919, "Shenkursk... This was where Miss Valentine, the English girl who had been teaching school for several years in Russia, came on to nurse the Russians during the flu and later became very friendly with the Americans, and was accused of being a Bolshevik sympathizer, which story is wound all around by a thread of romance clean and pretty."

In 1919, Selma was evacuated with the British Fleet from Archangel. Shortly afterwards she returned to Russia voluntarily as secretary, interpreter and Matron to Lady Muriel PAGETS's Mission. She was evacuated through the Crimea and Constantinople in the final retreat of the White Army. The book, Reminiscent Sketches 1914 to 1919 - by members of Her Majesty Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, published in 1922, describes life in Archangel.

Selma next made her way to Africa. Miss S.A. VALENTINE, age 24, departed from Southampton on-board the Saxon (Union-Castle Mail) on 06 August 1921, bound for Durban. She worked in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo in Mozambique) and Johannesburg (South Africa) teaching elocution, physical culture and ballet. In 1925-1926 she returned to England, and worked as a lecturer for the British Government and toured the country as part of electioneering campaigns. Refusing offers of permanent government employment, she next set off for India. Here she was friends with Sir William BIRDWOOD (Commander-in-Chief of the Army in India) and his wife Lady Birdwood. Other friends include Lord and Lady IRWIN, Sir David PETRIE (Director of the C.I.D. In India) and his wife Lady Petrie, Sir Lancelot GRAHAM and his wife Lady Graham, Colonel Wilson JOHNSON (Political Agent at Noba), and Miss WARBERTON (daughter of a C.I.D. policeman). Selma lived with Colonel BATTYE and his wife for two years. Once a week she taught physical culture at Viceregal Lodge in Delhi and Simla. She lectured on Russian and world affairs, from Benares to Bombay, in Kashmir and Quetta. She visited Tibet twice during this time.

From 1928 to 1938, she nursed a friend and cousin through illness. They travelled to various European cities such as Rome, Carlsbad and Vichy for treatment. In 1932 she met Hitler in Weimer. During the Italian visit she met Mussolini. She was in Austria when the Nazis entered, and fled to Switzerland by car. In 1938 she became ill and went to Italy and Switzerland for treatment. Just before war broke out, she left Italy for France, staying with Dr. Benes' sister-in-law at Versailles. Here she met many European diplomats and military figures. Selma's sister, Elizabeth, was married to a French inventor, politician and diplomat to China. Selma's work in Paris involved detection of Fifth Column activities, interpreting and nursing. When the Nazis entered Paris, she escaped by walking to Poitiers. From there she went to Bordeaux and Bayonne. At the end of June 1940, she found passage on a Dutch ship. After a period of illness in London, she left for South Africa again, leaving Liverpool for Cape Town on 27 July 1940 on-board the Cape Town Castle (Union-Castle Mail).

Letters of Introduction given to Selma
Selma's booklet
During August-December 1940, she helped raise funds for the South African Women's Auxiliary Services (SAWAS) in the Cape, for provision of ambulances, and for the Methodist Church's Canteen Work. In 1941 she raised funds for the blitzed cities of Britain and providing mobile kitchens. She handed over four spinning wheels at the opening of the Navy War Funds Depot in Somerset West. In August 1941 she was advised by doctors to take a year of complete rest. At that time the Cape Argus, dated 18th August 1941, listed the funds she deposited at the Standard Bank in Adderley Street. She still managed to raise funds in that year, speaking in the East Rand, Eastern Transvaal and Swaziland. This was followed by visits to Bechuanaland and Basotuland. Her talks were often organised by SAWAS, the Navy War Funds, Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) and Memorable Order of Tin Hats Women's Auxiliary (MOTHWA). In Pretoria, she spoke under the patronage of General SMUTS. She spoke at various Rotary Clubs. More talks followed at military camps across the country, raising money for the Fighting French. She was given the Croix de la Reine for this and other services to France. Selma spoke at so many places in southern Africa that a booklet was written about her fundraising efforts. It was published by The Times in Uitenhage, with a copy at the National Archives in Cape Town.

SAWAS was the largest uniformed women’s organisation supporting the war effort, but not part of the Union Defence Force. SAWAS consisted of 408 branches with almost 65 000 members, each under command of a Provincial Commandant. Working voluntarily, SAWAS ran institutions that included soldiers' clubs, junior clubs, canteens, after-care homes, creches and hostels, that totalled 213 by December 1943. One of SAWAS’ most widespread schemes was its hospitality scheme, under which its officers arranged private hospitality for servicemen on leave, including thousands of men from overseas who spent time ashore as convoys passed the Cape. By 1943, 25 000 officers and men had stayed in private homes around Cape Town. SAWAS became synonymous with service to men in the Forces and their dependants. In the countryside, SAWAS drivers used their own cars to save servicemen train travelling time.

From October 1943 to February 1944, Selma was forced to rest, owing to heart strain, although she still managed to fit in talks in Natal and East Griqualand. During her tours she paid for her travel, accommodation and related expenses out of her own money. Sometimes she paid for hall rentals and advertisements as well. She kept accounting record of all funds raised. Often she bought food parcels for friends and strangers. Her fundraising work was reported in many newspapers across the country. Selma always spoke as a freelancer, to avoid any accusation of being used for propaganda purposes.

She left Durban on-board the Arundel Castle (Union-Castle Mail) on 20 April 1951, for Southampton. On 19 September 1952 she left Southampton on-board the Dominion Monarch (Shaw Savill) for Cape Town. On 24 July 1959 she left Durban on-board the Pretoria Castle (Union-Castle Mail) for Southampton. She returned to South Africa some time after (voyage details not found), as she passed away in Graaff-Reinet on 06 November 1968.

Her estate file at the National Archives in Pretoria (MHG 11245/68) lists her as a spinster, retired lecturer, and then living at 36 Kinross Road, Parkview, Johannesburg (Lot No. 285 situated in Kinross Road and Tyrone Avenue). Selma bought this property in 1949. Her parents are listed as deceased, G.F. and E. VALENTINE. Her death certificate lists her as Thelma Amy, age 75. The death notice lists her as Selma Amy. Cause of death was "cerebral anoxia, status asthmaticus". Her sister Elizabeth is listed as next-of-kin, divorced and living at 7 Rue Mechain XIV, Paris, France.

Selma's Will, dated May 1950, left much to Miss Frances BANKS, with whom she was friends. The Will established a Trust in order that Frances could carry on writing books. She was granted the lifetime exclusive use without payment of Selma's house at 41 Tyrone Avenue, Parkview, Johannesburg, and all its contents. All the utility and tax accounts, including one servant's wages, were to be taken care of by the Trust. An undated handwritten note on the Will by Selma, listed Frances' address as 28 Stow Park Circle, Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales. After Selma's death, the sole heiress was her sister Elizabeth. The house was sold at public auction on 18 September 1969 to a Trustee for a Company, Kinross Investments (Pty) Ltd. Selma also had two freehold stands in Roodepoort, bought in 1950, as well as shares.

Is this Selma's family?
William VALENTINE of Belfast
Thomas VALENTINE married Elizabeth Harriet PURDON in 1852 in Belfast.

George Frederick VALENTINE was born in 1858 in County Antrim. His father was Thomas.

A List of Subscribers to the Historic Memorials First Presbyterian Church of Belfast published in 1887 lists Thos. VALENTINE, J.P. (Justice of the Peace) at The Moat, Strandtown, and William VALENTINE, J.P. at Glenavna, Whiteabbey.

Moate House / The Moat, in the parish of Holywood, was a house and land of 5 acres in Ballymaghan townland, Holywood Rd, Strandtown. It was leased by John L. BELL in 1863 from Thomas McCLURE. It was the residence of Thomas VALENTINE in 1886 and Francis WORKMAN in 1902.

Thomas VALENTINE of Strandtown owned 87 acres of land in County Down, Ireland, in the late 1870s.

St Mark's Church Dundela lists Thomas VALENTINE as a church warden in 1879 and 1881.

The 1880 Belfast / Ulster Street Directory lists Thomas VALENTINE, J.P. at The Moat, Strandtown. It also lists William VALENTINE, J.P. at Glenavna, Whiteabbey.

Bassett's County Down Guide and Directory 1886 lists Thomas VALENTINE of The Moat, Strandtown, Belfast as a Magistrate in Down County.

Thomas VALENTINE, of the parish Holywood, lived at The Moat, Strandtown, and was a Magistrate in 1886.

Thomas VALENTINE, J.P. of the parish Knockbreda, was a mill owner; appointed a Magistrate on 06 May 1870; rector's church warden at St Columba's Church of Ireland in 1896 and 1898; died in October 1898 (Return of the Names of Persons Holding the Commission of Peace in Ireland; and the book St. Columba's Parish Church 1896-1996, Knockbreda, by Betty Rainsford)

Thomas VALENTINE, J.P. died in 1898 in County Down.
His grandsons were Capt. T.V.P. MCCAMMON, R.M. GAGE, Cecil F.K. EWART.
Sons-in-law were Col. T.A. M'CAMMON and F.W. EWART.
Nephews were James W. VALENTINE, Louis A. PLUNKETT, Valentine GRAINGER, Henry PURDON and Frank PLUNKETT.

James VALENTINE lived at The Moat, Strandtown, Belfast, County Antrim, Ireland. A daughter, Ina, died on 11 September 1944. She married Lloyd CAMPBELL in August 1895.

Thomas VALENTINE lived at The Moat, Strandtown. A daughter, Mary Anne Elizabeth, died on 31 December 1922. She married Frederick William EWART on 14 June 1883.

David GRAINGER, Esq., of Liverpool, merchant, married Mary in 1860, only daughter of William VALENTINE Esq. of Whiteabbey, Belfast.

In 1888 William Valentine GRAINGER, only son of David GRAINGER, Esq., of Stanacres, Cheshire, married Sarah Georgina STIRLING.

17 April 1865 at Carnmoney Church, James W. VALENTINE, Whiteabbey, married Edith Mary, daughter of the late Joseph HILL, and step-daughter of John SHELLY, Esq., H.M. Customs, Belfast.

In 1892 Ethel VALENTINE, daughter of James W. VALENTINE of Whiteabbey, married Ralph Erskine LANGLANDS.

Marianne, wife of William VALENTINE, died in 1888.

In 1894 William VALENTINE died aged 82 at Glenavna, Whiteabbey. He was Manager of Messrs Richardson Bros., Director and Chairman of Northern Bank. Survived by a daughter and two sons, James and Louis VALENTINE.

In 1860 at York Street Presbyterian Church, Belfast, Matilda CARUTH married William VALENTINE, storekeeper. William was the son of Thomas VALENTINE, labourer. Children of this marriage included James, William, Alexander and Agnes.

William VALENTINE in the 1860s was a Justice of the Peace (J.P.), chairman of the Belfast Steamship Company, Director of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway, Director of the Belfast and County Down Railway, Northern Bank, and William Renshaw & Co. He may be the man in the photograph above, which was taken some time between 1865-1880s. His Last Will shows that William VALENTINE, late of Glenavna, Whiteabbey, County Antrim, Esquire J.P. Bank Director, died 24 January 1894 at same place. The Will was proved at Belfast by James Wetherald VALENTINE of Colleen Jordanstown, Merchant, David GRAINGER of 5 Chapel Street Liverpool, Ship Owner, and Thomas VALENTINE of Sandhurst Knock County Down Esquire J.P.

The 1861 directory of Belfast and the Province of Ulster lists William VALENTINE at Avonmore.

The Ireland Civil Registration Births Index 1864-1958 lists George Fairfield VALENTINE's birth registered in 1870 in Belfast. The Ireland Births and Baptisms 1620-1911 lists his date of birth as 17 November 1870, born at Castlereagh No 1, Antrim, Ireland. His parents are listed as George VALENTINE and Letitia WARDLOW.

The Ireland Civil Registration Marriages Index 1845-1958 lists Letitia Jane WARDLOW and George VALENTINE's marriage registered in Belfast in 1866. The Ireland Marriages 1619-1898 lists date of marriage as 26 July 1866 in Belfast, Antrim, Ireland. Her father was Hamilton WARDLOW.

George and Letitia had the following children:
daughter born 30 Jun 1867 in Belfast
son born 03 May 1869 in Belfast
George Fairfield born 17 Nov 1870
Mary Alice Emma born 17 Nov 1870
Eliza Thompson born 16 Jul 1872 in Belfast
Thomas Hartley born 16 Jul 1872 in Belfast

The Witness newspaper dated 04 September 1874 listed a birth: VALLENTINE - August 31, at 23 Bruce Street, Belfast, the wife of George Valentine, of a daughter.

Thomas VALLENTINE of the parish Magheralin, was the son of George VALLENTINE. He was aged 28 when he married Jane SHAW on 16 January 1851.

There are numerous VALENTINE families in the Census of Ireland 1901/1911

There are many unanswered questions. Who was the Honorable Miss BROWNE of Sligo who married a VALENTINE? How and where did George F. VALENTINE meet a Swedish-Russian woman who attended a school for the Russian aristocracy? Was he living in Russia when Selma was born there in 1893. When did he return to Belfast? How did Selma's parents become destitute? Who was the Acting Governor of the Baltic States?

Sister Frances Mary
The Miss Frances BANKS mentioned in Selma's Will was a spiritual person. She spent 25 years as Sister Frances Mary of the Community of the Resurrection, in Grahamstown, an Anglican community. She was also Principal of the Grahamstown Training School, and taught Psychology, English and Art. Eventually she left the community and, during the last eight years of her life, she concentrated on her spiritual work. She returned to England, and became a tutor at Maidstone Prison and from this experience wrote her first book, Teach then to live. Frances died in 1962 at the age of 72, from cancer. Her last book, Frontiers of Revelation, was published in 1962 by Max Parrish (London) just before her death. It was an account of her research into psychic and mystical phenomena.

Grahamstown Training School was founded in 1893 by the Sisters of the Community of the Resurrection, with the help of a Government grant. The College trained female teachers, and played a valuable role in the development of education in southern Africa. Cecile ISHERWOOD was not yet 21 years old when she answered a plea from the then Bishop of Grahamstown, Allan Beecher WEBB, and set sail from London for South Africa on 04 October 1883. Together with a small group of women, she began working among the local community. In 1884 the Community of the Resurrection was founded and Cecile was clothed as a novice in the chapel at Bishopsbourne. She became one of the great educational pioneers of the Eastern Province, touring the country for weeks to find girls for the first classes of teacher training. In1894 Dr. MUIR, Superintendent of Education at the Cape, spoke in Grahamstown about the need for establishing a Training School for elementary teachers in the Eastern Cape. Sister Cecile put forward her plan, and three weeks later the Grahamstown Training School started with eight student teachers and four teachers. From 1894-1896 there were 40 teachers, many only 14 or 15 years old, and from farm schools. They studied up to Std 6 and taught as student teachers in schools under the care of the Sisters. In 1895 there were seven second year and six first year students. In 1903 the Training School became a Training College. In 1931 Sister Frances Mary became Principal. She had been on the staff for eight years, and had recently returned from study leave overseas where she had gained a Masters Degree in Psychology. She retired in 1946. During this time she had also written and published books of her own. The Training College closed at the end of 1975, having trained over 8000 teachers.