Wakefield nurse remembered for her World War I heroics
She was a selfless nurse who risked her life to help wounded soldiers on the frontline during the Battle of Passchendaele.
And on Monday, military personnel, hospital staff and the niece of Wakefield’s courageous Nellie Spindler took part in poignant ceremonies at the city’s war memorial, and St James’ Hospital in Leeds, to mark 100 years to the day since her death in Belgium.
Wakefield-born Nellie was the only woman to be buried with full military honours at Passchendaele after her field hospital was shelled relentlessly during the fighting.
She was killed by a German shell that landed where she had been resting after another long shift treating badly-wounded soldiers.
Her commemoration comes just weeks after mourners across the world huddled together to remember the hundreds of thousands of men killed in the Third Battle of Ypres.
A small but dignified ceremony was led by Wrenthorpe and Outwood councillor, Charlie Keith, at 2pm on Wood Street, followed by a wreath-laying.
He was joined by a handful of people including three of Nellie’s relatives.
Coun Keith said: “Many think of war as a male thing, but we are here to mark the life and commitment of a female - a local hero.
“Nellie is my hero because she was just an ordinary Wakefield lass.
“At that time, she would not have had a vote and influence whether or not we went to war in the first place. She was talented, and above all, she was brave.
“It’s not about feminism or outlining female involvement.
“Today Nellie is teaching us a lesson that 100 years on, you can’t escape from the fact that in war, nobody wins but everybody will have to give.” Nellie Spindler was born in Wakefield in 1891 and grew up on Stanley Road.
Training as a nurse, she worked at St James’ Hospital in Leeds before volunteering to ‘do her bit’ with the Queen Alexandra’s Nursing Service.
The brave 26-year-old medic arrived in France on May 23, 1917 before being deployed to Belgium where soldiers would face horrific conditions in one of the war’s bloodiest battles.
The field hospital where Nellie was stationed, serving as a specialist in abdominal wounds, lay close to the field of battle at Flanders.
On the morning of August 21, Nellie was critically wounded by shrapnel after the hospital was shelled. At 11am, she fell unconscious and, according to records, died around 20 minutes later in the arms of Sister Minnie Wood, from Birstall.
Nellie is the only woman to be laid to rest alongside more than 10,000 casualties of the conflict at Lijssenhoek cemetery in Belgium. Inscribed on her headstone is her serving rank: ‘Staff Nurse’.
Her Niece, Margaret Truelove, 82, said after Monday’s ceremony in Wakefield: “I think it’s remarkable that we are doing this today, it’s time, it should have been done before.
“We have always known about Nellie, our father used to talk about her.
“I think she was very brave.”
Nellie’s nephew, George Spindler, 86, added: “This is something that we’ve wanted for some time.”
Meanwhile, Coun Keith says that a blue plaque is to be mounted on a wall in Stanley Road to highlight it as Nellie’s last known address.
Although the old houses on Stanley Road were knocked down decades ago, Coun Keith still feels it is vitally important.
He said: “Once it’s there, people will forever ask why this plaque is here, so her story will never die.”
Coun Keith hopes the plaque will be in place around Remembrance Day in November.