Tuesday 12 June 2018

Celia, Lady Congreve (1867 – 1952) – British poet and WW1 nurse

Celia was born in India on 24th April 1867. She was baptised Cecelia Henrietta Dolores Blount la Touche on 3rd November 1867, in Rajkot, India, where her father was based.  Celia’s parents were Charles William Blount La Touche, a British Army Officer, and his wife, Rosa Wilhelmina, nee Müller.

On 3rd June 1890, Celia married Walter Norris Congreve VC KCB MVO (who was later knighted and became General Sir Walter Congreve), known as “Squibs” or “Old Concrete”, at St. Jude’s Church in Kensington, London, UK. Walter was an Army officer who served in the British Army during the Second Boer War and the First World War.  After WW1, he was General Officer Commanding the Egyptian Expeditionary Force between 1919 and 1923, Commander-in-Chief Southern Command between 1923 and 1924 and Governor of Malta from 1924 until his death in Malta in 1927.

Celia and Walter had the following children: William La Touche Congreve, VC, DSO, MC, Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, Rifle Brigade, b. 1891 on the Wirral - William, known as “Billy”, was killed in action in 1916; Commander Sir Geoffrey Cecil Congreve, DSO, RN., b. 19th July 1897, who was killed in WW2, and Major Arthur Christopher John Congreve, b. 1903, who also served in the Second World War. Geoffrey Cecil Congreve was created a baronet of Congreve in the County of Stafford in July 1927.

In 1891, Celia was registered as living in Burton Hall (later Burton Manor), Burton, near Neston, Wirral, UK.

During the First World War, Celia served as a nurse in Belgium and France and was awarded the Reconnaissance Française and the Belgian Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth for being one of the last nurses to leave Antwerp with the wounded in 1914. She was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre for her bravery as a nurse at Rosières-aux-Salines, near Nancy, France.  The hospital was shelled and bombed by aircraft in 1918.

Celia died in Harrow on 4th September 1952.

Cellia’s WW1 poetry collection was “The Castle and other verses” (Humphreys, London, 1920).  One of her poems was included in “The Fiery Cross: An Anthology”, edited by Mabel C. Edwards and Mary Booth (Grant Richards, London, 1915) and, more recently, Dr Vivien Newman mentioned Celia in her book “Tumult and Tears:  The Story of The Great War through the eyes and lives of its women poets” (Pen & Sword History, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2016).

“Lay your Head on the Earth's Breast” by Celia Congreve

Lay your head on the Earth's breast and you will hear her crying,
Sobbing, softly, hopelessly, for her sons who are dead and dying.
Splendid and gay they are marching still to the music of bugle and band,
Bravest and best of my beautiful sons they are going from every land.
Are there none who will stay of all my sons? Must you all go?
Yes; all that you love, the pride of your eyes, Mother, you'd have it so.
Mangled and torn they lie in heaps, broken, dying and dead.
O scarlet blood of my splendid sons, you have dyed my green fields red.
What can I do for you, O my sons? My last, last gift is small,
A few poor sods to cover your heads and a scatter of snow o'er all.
Lay your head on the Earth's breast and you will hear her crying,
Grieving, softly, hopelessly, for her sons who are dead and dying.

Celia Congreve.  “Country Life”

From “The Fiery Cross” p. 92

Sources:  Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War:  A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978).