A recent addition to my collection is a slim volume by Susanne Foster Atkins entitled "How a Red Cross V.A.D. Became a Russian Countess and Other Soldiers' Stories" *.
It caught my eye largely because I have both a VAD and Russians in my own Atkins family tree and naturally my curiosity was aroused.
Lilian went on to study and teach piano and it was while she was undertaking extra study in Berlin in 1914 that her world changed forever and she never played piano again. She joined the war effort as a V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) and after serving in London, France, and the island of Lemnos, ended up " ... as a Quartermaster of three hospitals under the British Committee of the Russian Red Cross". Atkins further summarises her Great Aunt Lil's achievements as follows:
It was for her work in Turkey with Russian refugees escaping from the Bolsheviks that earned her the highest Tsarist accolade from General Wrangel, the leader of the White Russian Army and Provisional Government. (Both of the Russian Orders carry personal nobility, thus Lilian was entitled to call herself a Countess.)
"She is quite possibly the most notable Australian woman to have served in the Great War ... She received the British War Medal, the Victory Medal with an oak leaf for being mentioned in despatches, the Russian Orders of St. Stanislas and St. Anne, and the O.B.E. for service to new settlers when she returned to Australia [and] the Coronation Medal with an Authorisation letter from Buckingham Palace 1937".
Lilian returned to Australia and continued with welfare work until she died in 1955. She was also a regular volunteer at Anzac Day Dawn Services in Melbourne.
* Published Colando Press 2004, PO Box 484, Hobart, 7001. Copyright Susanne Foster Atkins.