Lesley Dolphin discovers some Suffolk heroines
PUBLISHED: 11:50 08 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:50 08 April 2014
Two remarkable women separated by a century
As the centenary of the First World War in August approaches it’s fascinating to hear local stories. One we’ve come across at BBC Radio Suffolk is about a woman called Flora Sandes. Flora, whose father was a vicar in Suffolk, grew up learning to ride and enjoying country pursuits. She gloried in stories of the Boer War and the Charge of the Light Brigade, so when war was declared, at the age of 40, she joined a medical unit heading to Serbia where women were allowed to help on the front line.
Flora was the only British woman to enlist as a soldier when the Serbian army was facing defeat and fought at the front. Her fellow soldiers were so impressed they called her ‘brother’. She became a sergeant major and was awarded Serbia’s highest military honour after she was severely injured by a grenade thrown by the advancing Bulgarians. She carried the shrapnel and injuries for the rest of her life. Listeners recalled seeing her around Wickham Market in her bath chair when she finally returned to Suffolk.
Flora died in 1956. I wish I could have invited her to be a guest on my show – she was obviously a woman ahead of her time. If you want to know more, Louise Miller has written a fascinating biography, A Fine Brother: The Life of Captain Flora Sandes published by Alma Books.
The other inspirational woman is Hannah Challis who works for Suffolk Family Carers. As you know, we’re raising money with our 8 Days a Week appeal for a mobile centre for the charity and when I invited Hannah to be on my afternoon sofa I discovered she had her own story to tell.
Hannah started caring for her mum when she was just three and continued to look after her while she was growing up. Her mum suffers from bi-polar disorder and regularly needed hospital treatment, but when she was home Hannah did all the work as well as providing emotional support. I was staggered to hear that several times she came home from school to find her mum unconscious after taking an overdose.
Hannah’s caring role obviously impacted on her school work – she reckons she missed a total of five years education, but she hasn’t let that stop her. She clearly remembers standing in her garden when she was 14, deciding she would go to university. It wasn’t easy or straightforward – she did her homework once she had got her mum to bed, holding on to the medication so her mum couldn’t get up and take another overdose.
Once Hannah got her GCSEs she went to college and got her A-levels. Then she won her dream place at university and loved it. For the first time she was living a ‘normal’ student life away from home. But it wasn’t to be. Hannah’s mum couldn’t cope without her and she had to go home. Hannah then tried going to university nearer home but that didn’t work out either. Determined, she eventually secured a place at UCS and has just got her degree in early childhood studies, winning an award for her dissertation, which looks at the way the media portrays young carers.
Hannah’s story made me realise just how much difference young carers make. One of her teachers at school spotted she needed support, which meant she got time away to meet other young carers in a similar situation.
Now Hannah wants to use her knowledge and experiences to help others. Her dream is to become a lecturer at the university and work with young carers – I have no doubt she will succeed.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you want to find out about the 8 Days A Week appeal you can read more at www.suffolkfamilycarers.org. My fundraiser, Cakes for Carers, is also up and running. All you need to do is bake a cake and sell it. With Easter on the way why not make a scrummy all in one chocolate cake from the recipe donated by East Anglian Daily Times food writer Emma Crowhurst? http://www.suffolk-carers.org.uk/images/Choc_cake_recipe.pdf