Southam in WW1

Centenary Archive

Honouring those who died and all who served


VAD Daisy Chamberlayne (overseas number 4517)

Margaret Elisabeth Chamberlayne (b. 1884) known as Daisy was the second daughter of William Tankerville Chamberlayne and his much younger wife Evelyn of Stoneythorpe Hall.  They lived in the ancient mansion surrounded by parkland near Southam with a governess and nursery maid to care for the children and a staff of eight other live-in servants.

Daisy was a bold, sporty child and she grew up to be adventurous, riding regularly to the hounds with the men at a time when many women followed the hunt in protective little carriage rigs. She played cricket and holidayed with shooting parties in Scotland.

As the daughter of the local landowner she was proactive in good works and was Commandant of the Long Itchington St John Ambulance. In Autumn 1914, immediately war broke out, Daisy trained as a VAD in Southam and there were joint exercises with Southam Red Cross.  This picture shows the two Commandants side by side, scouts with their leader, Red St Cross members in early hats (replaced by tie-on hats in 1915), six Red Cross nuns, and male and female members St John volunteers.

Late in Spring 1915 Daisy, like many affluent well-educated young women of her ilk, went to France as a VAD.  On a Red Cross Barge she tended the wounded following the fierce bombardment of Berges, near Dunkirk in June/July 1915. These rare postcards below are pasted into the Chamberlayne family album and they show where she worked in or near a tented hospital. Daisy is seated on the right (front row) with one other VAD amidst a group of European medical workers. 

In the male ward inside the Red Cross barge where bandaged little boys and frail elderly men are being treated, Daisy is in the distance and another nurse on her left holds a baby.[1] Daisy returned to Britain after one VAD Red Cross contract (4715).[2]

She was involved with Southam VAD Hospital which opened in April 1917.   On 29th September 1917 she married Captain John Inchbald Johnson RAMC whom she had known  since the cricketing days of her youth before the war. He was serving at the hospital of the army camp at Chiseldon in Wiltshire, where a special station was built to off-load the vast trainloads of the wounded. He had two or three days off and their wedding was a high profile event with the county hunting set and many titled individuals attending. All the VADs from Southam Red Cross Hospital led by the Commandant attended and followed the bride down the aisle. The soldiers made an archway at the entrance to the church then all went to Stoneythorpe for the celebration. In the evening there was a feast also laid on for the tenantry.[3]

In this picture taken in November 1918  Daisy stands next to another VAD who was her colleague in France back in 1915. This young woman has not been identified. Nor has the officer standing immediately behind her; was this her husband?

After the war Daisy lived in Culworth as a country doctor’s wife.  They had only thirteen years together as he died in 1930. She lived until 1962 and they are buried side by side in Culworth Churchyard. Her great neice Gill Reid remembers visiting her at Culworth in the ‘50s.  Although by then an old lady, Daisy was still involved with hunting and the injured, as she was tenderly caring for a sick hound.

[1] Copies of photographs are in Southam Heritage Collection by permission of Gill Reid (nee Chamberlayne).

[2] British Red Cross Overseas Register of Volunteers. We are grateful to the late Sue Light ( who helped research the role of Daisy Chamberlayne.

[3] Leamington Courier  5th  October 1917.