On 26th February 1918, Acting Matron Katy Beaufoy lost her life when HMHS Glenart Castle, the hospital ship on which she was serving with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, was torpedoed by German submarine UC56 ten miles west of Lundy Island. The ship was making her way from South Wales down the Bristol Channel, bound for Brest, France, and was clearly displaying hospital ship markings, including lit Red Crosses and being painted white with green stripe on the sides. The torpedo hit the no. 3 hold at 03:47am, destroying most of the lifeboats in the process, and the ship sank within eight minutes. Only 32 people survived, with 162 losing their lives.
Born in Aston on 20th December 1868, Katy Beaufoy was the fifth of the seven children of parents, Thomas (a Post Office clerk) and Susanna (née Marston) who had married at Foleshill in 1861. Thomas and Susanna had both been born in Foleshill and the couple’s two older children, Thomas (born 1862) and Elizabeth (born 1864) were also born there before the family moved to Birmingham sometime between 1864-1865. The remaining children, Joseph Elliott (1865-1930), Samuel Marston (1867-1938), Katy (1868-1918), John (1871-1956) and Ellen Elizabeth (1876-1963) were all born in Birmingham.
Katy trained as a nurse at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital from 1893-96, becoming a Sister in charge of an operating theatre in 1896 and Matron of the 80-bed Exeter Fever Hospital in 1899. In August 1900 she volunteered for service with the Army Nursing Service Reserve, and was in South Africa during the Boer War. She was reported in newspapers of 2nd April 1901 as being one of 130 people “dangerously ill” with disease, chiefly enteric. The following day’s papers carried an update dated 29th March to say that Nursing Sister Katie [sic] Beaufoy was “progressing favourably”.
Returning home after the end of the war in 1902, she applied in 1903 to join the newly-formed Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), giving her address as her parents’ home in South View, Whitehouse Common Road, Sutton Coldfield. However, her application was rejected on the grounds of “Social status not what is required.”
Following this rejection, she worked as theatre sister to a private surgeon in London, and also as a nurse tutor, training nurses in Italy. She applied to QAIMNS again in 1908, giving her address as 31, Eardley Crescent, Earls Court and it seems that she was accepted into the QAIMNS Reserve. Her mother, Susanna, died on 9th February 1911, aged 74 and her father died on 3rd May 1917. Both parents, therefore, were spared the knowledge of their daughter’s death.
After her father’s death, Katy apparently inherited his house in Sutton Coldfield. However, it seems that her home when not nursing wounded soldiers was mostly with her sister, Ellen Elizabeth (Mrs Joseph Howard Kirk), at The Grange, Shirley.
On 17th August 1914, Katy Beaufoy volunteered for war service and was initially sent to Devonport Military Hospital before being transferred to No. 15 General Hospital in the former Abbasieh School at Alexandria, Egypt. Her first ship posting was to the Ionian during the Gallipoli campaign and, from June 1916, she was back at sea aboard the Dover Castle.
The Dover Castle was sunk by torpedo on 26th May 1917 but Matron Beaufoy was not aboard, having been invalided home on 7th May with inflamed haemorrhoids which were attributed to the poor conditions in Salonika. After recovering from her operation and being declared fit for duty on 13th September, she joined the Glenart Castle as Matron on 13th November 1917.
Four months after the ship was torpedoed, Katy’s sister Ellen received confirmation that Matron Katy Beaufoy was missing, believed drowned. An Admiralty Court of Inquiry on 27th February 1918 heard witness statements from survivors.
Katy Beaufoy kept detailed diaries of her nursing work, which were held by the family until they were sold at auction in August 2016. A book based on the diaries was published by one of her great-nieces in 2014.
On 26th February 2002, the 84th anniversary of the sinking, a memorial to those lost aboard the Glenart Castle was unveiled at Hartland Point. Katy Beaufoy is commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton, and at St James Church memorial, Shirley as well as on the Women’s Screen in York Minster.
Two of Katy’s nephews are known to have served in the First World War. Old Silhillian, Clive Marston Beaufoy, son of her brother, Samuel, died on 25th September 1918. John Eric Beaufoy (1898-1965), son of her brother John and his wife Ada (née Tallis), who lived at “The Beeches”, Shirley, joined the Australian Imperial Force in January 1917 and served in France from September 1917 until August 1918, when he was invalided back to England suffering from influenza. He was demobilised in London in March 1919.
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