In April we held an open evening for potential volunteers to come along to Bodmin Keep, to meet the Wenches in Trenches – Roses of No Man’s Land and audition for the roles of Nurses in performances of The Trench Bodmin.
One nursing volunteer, Mandy Poots, told us she has a special interest in The Trench Bodmin, and brought along some photographs of her grandparents, Dick and Dolly. Mandy shared with us the story of their love against the odds.
Mandy, with photographs of her grandparents taken during WW1
Dick (Charles Richard) Mabbs was an outstanding sportsman in all fields. He was the boxing champion of his regiment, and attained numerous medals and trophies in football, running, rowing and cricket.
Private Dick Mabbs, left
At the outbreak of the First World War Dick and his brother Jack (pictured below) joined the Royal Fusiliers. Dick was trained in guerrilla and commando warfare, and fought in Mombasa in 1915 alongside his brother. Dick was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery when holding their ground against the enemy, however both Dick and Jack were wounded in Mombasa and sent home. Jack was discharged and didn't fight again - his health suffered for the rest of his life. The profession he chose on leaving the army was photographer.
Dick transferred to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and was wounded at Vimy Ridge in April 1917. He was treated at a field hospital, before going to the Canadian general hospital at Etaples. From here, he was sent back to Britain on the hospital ship "Princess Elizabeth". It was there that he met a young nurse, Dolly (Dorothy Victoria) Corpes.
Dolly was a V.A.D. (voluntary aid detachment) nurse, and was only 16 years of age when she began working at Freshwater Camp on the Isle of Wight. The scenes Dolly must have witnessed or heard about at the young age of 16 are difficult to imagine - however, the affection between Dick and Dolly blossomed during his treatment and recuperation, and the two fell in love.
Their happy engagement was unfortunately interrupted by the war. After his recovery, Dick re-joined the DCLI, and chose to remain as a regular soldier in 1919, again seeing active service, this time in Iraq in 1920.
Dick and Dolly were finally able to marry in October of 1923, five years after meeting and falling in love in the military hospital camp on the Isle of Wight – and Dick’s brother, Jack, was the photographer at their wedding (see image below). However, for the second time in their lives, war overshadowed their lives. Dick re-joined the Duke of Cornwall’s light Infantry during the Second World War, but was too old for frontline combat, instead training men in commando warfare. After being invalided out of the army, he joined the home guard and remained there as a Lieutenant for the remainder of the war.
Dick’s two brothers, Duke and Jack, both served in army, and all four siblings survived the First World War, to their parents' joy. Their sister, Isobel Mabbs, was a nurse in a Belgium hospital. When the German army took over the hospital, she was captured but was sent back with the badly injured to Britain. After the war she married one of the men she'd nursed during the conflict – just as her brother and sister-in-law had done!
Dick and Dolly spent the many happy years together, and after Dolly’s passing, the last years of Dick’s life were spent as a Chelsea Pensioner. These days, Beryl and Frances, the daughters of Dick and Dolly Mabbs, still reside in Bodmin. Their granddaughter Mandy is delighted to be able to honour her grandparents by taking part in The Trench, following in the footsteps of her grandmother Dolly, and wearing the V.A.D. uniform with pride. Mandy said: “It seems the correct thing for me to become involved in this amazing project to commemorate those who gave their lives in WW1 and honour those who survived, plus the ones left at home. It is fitting that the project involves the local community and the visitors from further afield to participate in this interactive commemorative event. Nobody can imagine what it was like to be a soldier (or any other service personnel) or civilian in wartime of 1914-1918.
Their experiences and expectations are so different from the present day; however, The Trench Bodmin may provide some insight and understanding of life “at home” through watching the plays, and allow further understanding of what it was like to be on active service by participating in the Trench experience.”
The nurses from the Wenches in Trenches - Roses of No Man's Land will be attending The Trench Bodmin on selected evenings. You can get tickets for The Trench Experience or the shorts plays, here.