"I hope it won't be so exciting as this": Sister Hayward's Great War Diary

Working on a project commemorating the Great War, I came across the incredible story of Sister Jessie Clementia Hayward, a nurse from Norfolk who survived the sinking of HMS Transylvania in 1917. Sister Hayward was on her way to a hospital in Salonika with thousands of troops when a U Boat torpedoed the vessel. A copy of a diary entry at Norfolk Record Office, and her Service Record at the National Archives, help us to tell the following story...

Jessie Clementia Hayward was born in Hardley in 1883, the daughter of Edward Walter Hayward and Clementia Eliza (nee Goddard). She grew up at Hardley Hall Farm, near Loddon in Norfolk, just as her mother had done a generation earlier.

Jessie was probably youngest of six children. Marion Jane, the eldest (1876-1957), went on to become housekeeper when her mother Clementia died in 1892, leaving her father Edward with five children between 9 and 16. The other children were Ellen (1877-1914), Edward Nelson (1879-1938), Hylton Goddard (1880-1881)and Ada Goddard (1882-1958).

The censuses of 1891 and 1901 show Jessie at home with her family in Hardley. She later trained as a nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and by 1911, we find her working as a Charge Nurse at the Workhouse on Woodbridge Road, Ipswich (part of which is now part of Ipswich Hospital).

At some point, Jessie was recruited to the Territorial Force Nursing Service which had been set up in 1909. As a sister organisation to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, their role was to supplement the QAIMNS during national emergencies – all those recruited to the TFNS were already nurses in civilian life with a minimum of three years’ experience. The TFNS was renamed the Territorial Army Nursing Service in 1920.

Sister Hayward was called up on 10 August 1914. For two years she worked at the 1st Eastern General Hospital in Cambridge. During the Great War, the hospital was headquartered at Trinity College, growing into temporary buildings at Clare and King’s Colleges. According to (which also has some photographs), by the end of 1915, there were 1500 beds at the hospital. The Matron of the 1st Eastern was also Matron of Addenbrooke’s, where the archives of the hospital are still held.

With a year’s service under her belt, Jessie was noted as “conscientious, hard working and sympathetic. Not always firm enough in administration, but keeps a good tone in her ward”, the Commanding Officer described her as “very satisfactory”. A year later she was reported as “a refined woman who looks after the interest of her patients”. However, the Matron also noted that she lacked a “little self-confidence”. The Commanding Officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps stated simply “A capable sister”; a comment with which his colleagues concurred.

In February 1917 Jessie received a typhoid inoculation and was subsequently examined and found fit to “undertake nursing duties in a military hospital abroad in an Eastern climate”. Shortly thereafter she found herself on-route to Salonica, via France. A copy of a diary entry at Norfolk Record Office allows us to follow her adventures and we can join her at camp in Marseilles on Wednesday, May 2nd.

Jessie tells us that she was glad to be going to Salonika, but for the fact that the mail was not yet in. She was awake by 4am on the morning of Thursday May 3rd, and, along with 64 other nurses and Matron, said her farewells and left camp. By early afternoon, all were aboard the Transylvania and Jessie had made the acquaintance of the Steward (“a good sort”) and eaten a good meal. The life boat drill, which took place afterwards, was, apparently, “a farce as usual”. Jessie reports that 3500 Tommies were aboard and that Matron wore a new alpacca. During dinner, the ship started, while Jessie and five others are sitting with Matron (“some have honours thrust upon them”).

The Transylvania was a Cunard passenger liner. Having been completed just before the outbreak of war, she was taken over as a troopship on completion.  It seems Jessie thought the boat “lovely, beautiful berths, lovely eiderdown looks so nice”. A few of her companions were sea sick and took Mother Sills’ pills. The ship was accompanied by Japanese Destroyers for safety from U boats.

After dinner, the Sisters had a private rehearsal, with Matron, of what to do if torpedoed. “We walk to our life boat. I am to be in charge of our corridor. Life belts always to be worn (some grumble)”.

Next morning, Jessie met a Tommy in ‘her’ life boat. It turns out she had cared for him, Private Francis, in hospital in Cambridge. Later, “Sister Swinford and I choose chairs and get our work and books and settle for the morning. Our VADs come along and we all have a chat and everything seems so nice. At 10am Matron comes along and insists all life belts are to be worn continually. We obey.”

15 minutes later:

“A bang which those who heard will never forget...There is no panic, everyone goes to her allotted place, what white faces all around...we are to get in “Ladies First” how often I have read but never expected to hear that cry...Private Francis helps me in I immediately find my feet wet, but this a mere detail. Matron and 45 of us all pushed in, three Tommies, and then the boat is lowered. I really think this is the worst moment.”

There is no crew available and the Captain asks for volunteers, resulting in two coming down the ropes. One is Jack. “We shall never forget him. Only a lad of 17, but how brave and splendid he was throughout...[his] smiling face at the rudder, cheering us all and shouting our orders.”

“Our boat sets out and the men from the ship give three cheers! I cannot look back. The sea seems quite rough. The Sisters help with the oars, we are in sight of shore...I feel pretty fit at this stage...”You did not get me well at Cambridge for nothing, Sister Hayward.” It seemed strange to hear my own name...It seems a long way to shore. A second torpedo strikes our ship...the Transylvania seems to be going down...Many boats are now launched all around us. Why don’t they pick us up?”

“Our boat is filling with water, we start bailing out, but it seems so fruitless and the waves are so big...Another band and H M S Transylvania is no more...The sea seems alive, men clinging to oars, rafts and boats, they look sadly at our boat and we are sinking...I and all the Sisters think we shall sink with the boat. I wonder what they will think at home. A lot flashes through my mind...Each wave we think must be the last...I am washed out and find myself clinging to an oar and piece of rope. At first I felt very frightened and believe I was calling out. Francis is also washed out and I still find I am next to him. He said “Hold on Sister don’t be frightened”. All around we see boats. Will no one pick us up?”

“After a time I felt calmer, but my arms were aching and I felt I must give in...the waves so big, quite over my head, the salt water makes me feel so sick. I thought of home and all my dear ones...I could see and feel little now. A Cheer! From the distance it seemed and then someone said the destroyer was alongside. I thought my head was going to be knocked and it was a pity to be killed after all the “holding on”.”

Sister Hayward was rescued just before it “all went black”. She was given brandy and wine out of a bottle and a towel for warmth. It was not long until she was able to laugh and talk again and bask in the relief of survival. “Officers, Tommies and Sisters were all helping each other. It was a strange sight.” On reaching Savona, the Sisters went on deck, from where they could see a shoreline crowded with men rescued from the Transylvania and already delivered to shore. “What a reception we had...The Cheers! We felt quite heroines and had done nothing to deserve it...We must have looked weird, some wrapped in blankets, others in men’s coats and all with wet draggled hair (I saved two hairpins only).”

The Sisters were looked after by kind Japanese, Italian and English armed forces and civilians. They were eventually taken to a convent where they were treated very well and were “literally put to bed”. Despite worrying about getting pneumonia or pleurisy, Sister Hayward was relieved to find her ribs ached only due to bruising. There were tea parties hosted by women in Savona, and then, sadly, a mass funeral on Sunday 6th.

By Tuesday 9th, Jessie was back at the Nurses’ Camp in Marseilles, from whence she began the journey back to England on Sunday 14th. It was on the train that she wrote her diary “out of sheer ennui”. The nurses embarked on Tuesday 16th. “None of us slept very well and [we]clung to our life belts although the steward said they were not necessary!”

The diary transcript ends with ”Father and Min meet me on the door step. How lovely to be really home. I am very thankful. Go to bed and sleep well and that’s the end. I must try and write another diary if ever I get out to the East, but I hope it won’t be so exciting as this.”    

Ten crew, 29 army officers and 373 soldiers lost their lives. The Transylvania was discovered again on 8 October 2011, 630 metres down.

On 16 May 1917, Jessie sent a letter to her Matron reporting her arrival home to Hardley Hall, Loddon, a day before her diary would suggest. Just over a week later, a letter dated 27 May 1917, again to her Matron-in-Chief, confirms that she will “proceed to get my kit ready”. The only note in her record to indicate that anything amiss had happened during her first, thwarted, journey to Salonika is the statement in this letter that “I am still in possession of my TFNS badge as I was wearing it at the time of the catastrophe”.

Being fit for general service, she travelled back later that year, arriving in Salonika on 09 September 1917. She later served at the 41st General Hospital as a Home Sister. On demobilization in 1919, Jessie returned to her civil appointment – Health Visitor for East Suffolk County Council, a position which had been held open for her through the war. She received British War and Victory Medals (after the exchange of a few letters!) as well as the Territorial Force War Medal. By the gracious permission of Queen Alexandra, she was allowed to keep her TFNS badge due to completing more than four years approved War Service.

Sister Hayward resigned from nursing on 4 March 1936, and died in 1971 at the age of 87. She is buried at Loddon along with both of her parents and at least four siblings.


Service Record, National Archives: WO/399/11927

Diary, Norfolk Record Office: MC 2127/1, 441X7


The Norwich Plague of 1666: Anne Beckett's Last Wishes

Having just organised a series of events looking at the plague, medieval diagnosis, medicine, and doctors and nurses, I had to post the following transcript from a probate entry I found this morning while putting together displays for the 'In Sickness and In Health' series.

I had hoped to find a will belonging to a plague victim based on a list of burials at St Peter Mancroft church, Norwich. As it happened, browsing through 1666 probate for anyone noted as being of 'St Peter Mancroft' I struck gold virtually straight away. Ann(e) Beckett was buried at St Peter Mancroft church on 07 July 1666 (register online here: Comparing the burials July/August 1665 to those a year later is staggering.

Anne's probate brings her story to life in a way I never quite expected, as it turns out her last wishes were expressed while she was effectively on her death bed:


Memorandum That on or about Friday the Seaventh of July in the

year of our Lord One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty & Six Anne Beckett late of

the Parish of St Peters of Mancroft within the City of Norwich Singlewoman being

sick of the sickness whereof she dyed with a mind to dispose of her Estate being

of p[er]fect mind and Memory did dispose of her Estate as followeth viz:- I give and

bequeath unto Jane Hawes the wife of John Hawes of the City of Norwich

Butcher all that I have desiring her to provide a Coffin for me and did cast the

Keys out of a Window to her and bid her to be take the Keys of what she had for

that she had was hers after her Death or words to that effect In witness

whereof we whose names are here undersubscribed have set to our Markes the

one and Thirtieth Day of July in the year of our Lord 1666.


Somehow, just a few lines bring to mind a woman desperate to be buried decently at a time when several funerals a day were being performed at most city churches. A woman unwilling (or unable) to let friends into her house for fear of infection - preferring to cast the keys into the street from her window - and a woman certain of her own imminent demise from the plague (the church register confirms hers as a plague death). Incredibly, if the date given in the probate entry is correct, then she was buried the same day as her last wishes were expressed. I wonder if she ever got her coffin?

I think wills are fabulous sources for local and family history, and this example just strengthens that opinion.

If you'd like to find it yourself, the Norfolk Record Office catalogue reference is: NCC Stockdell 281. It's on MF/RO 237/7 at either Norfolk Record Office or Norfolk Heritage Centre.

All Norfolk wills are name indexed at - spanning 1276 to 1858 when the court system changed from ecclesiastical to civil. The main courts are the Norwich Consistory Court (Bishop's Court), Archdeaconry Court of Norwich and Archdeaconry Court of Norfolk. There are also some peculiars, which are also name indexed. If you can't find the will in Norfolk courts, make sure you check in case the person you're looking for had their will proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. If you find one proved in Norfolk between 1800 and 1858, you can even view it online for free at 

If you'd like to see the items on display for 'In Sickness and In Health' you can visit the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library between this evening (27 September) and 13 October. There are also talks during the series, details here: The two on the plague are already fully booked, but those by Dr Joy Hawkins and myself still have a few spaces.

Go #explorearchives! 


Thoughts on...Moving House

It's supposed to be one of the most stressful things you can do, but at least as someone with an interest in local history, moving house gives you a new avenue of research.

I regularly speak to people who are checking up on a potential new purchase (chalk workings around the Norwich area are a particular favourite) and might soon be back in this position myself.

When you buy a new property, you get environmental searches done, which generally point out any possible contaminated land, flood risk, radon levels etc. What these don't necessarily tell you is the historical detail; but there are ways for you to make your own investigations to find out more about the history of your plot...

Take for instance a site nearby identified as an old industrial working. The search report might not tell you what it was beyond a general description, nor when it was operating, who operated it or for how long. A visit to a local studies library or record office to view various editions of local OS maps and trade directories would be a great start to get a more accurate description to add to an overall history of your home and the land that it sits on.

As for flooding, you may find the following page useful, which currently has Surface Water Management Plans for Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn: as well as links to other pages. For historical flooding events you know of, you may wish to consult minutes of various organisations as well as old newspapers. 

If you're interested in street names, if no one locally can provide you with an 'answer' as to why a street is called by a particular name, then go looking for published sources. In Norfolk for instance, we have a whole index of mini descriptions of streets as well as several printed volumes, although it must be said these are particularly comprehensive for Norwich, and inside the city walls. Planning Committee minutes may also be worth a try and detective work of your own can also be fruitful. For example, on investigating Trory Street I searched the NRO catalogue to find a particularly influential Trory in that area, who it appears, owned the land before it was developed. Mayors, politicians, reformers and otherwise well known individuals are also often commemorated in this way, so Le Strange's Lists may be a handy text for inspiration.

You might also like to find out roughly when your home was built as this will come in useful, particularly when you come to apply for home insurance. There are many records which may be useful for this, not least the deeds if you have sight of them, and the source that gets you closest to the build date will vary a little depending on the approximate age of your home. Maps are an obvious place to start, particularly if your home has been built since the first edition OS maps of the 1880s. Before this date you still usually have access to tithe/enclosure maps and in Norfolk Faden and Bryant will also be useful as earlier reference points.

You may also find the census useful, if your house was built before 1911 and was described well enough to identify the right building - you will usually find you need to cross reference with other sources. In the city, trade directories may show lists of residents on the street, or when the street appears. Also in the city, you may find a reference in the City Engineers building control plans which arrived following the Public Health Act of 1875 (try NROCAT using 'N/EN' in the CatRef field and the name of your street etc. You'll also find land tax (c1782 onwards), electoral records (1832 onwards) and poll books/hearth tax handy. Visit your local record office or local studies library for more details.

Even if your house is a new build, you'll find that often the land it sits on has a tale to tell. For my current home, I ended up researching the farm the land once belonged to instead!


Norwich Bomb Damage

Recently, I've had a lot of queries about bomb damage in Norwich, so I thought it might be worth a quick post to point out some of the first ports of call if you're looking for resources.

From home, you already have access to some fantastic free online resources, some of which are:

  • Norfolk's Historic Map Explorer, which includes a 1946 aerial photograph layer ( Granted this is a little after the war, but 'gaps' can give you clues as to the level of damage in a particular area, and this is a County wide layer, giving more than just central Norwich coverage.
  • Picture Norfolk, which includes hundreds of photographs of bomb damage, many by George Swain (, also on twitter @PictureNorfolk)
  • East Anglian Film Archive, including all sorts of digitised footage, for example 'Captain Rowsell's Norwich' in 1945 (
  • Interviews with those that remember the bombing in the Norfolk Sound Archive. Search 'bomb damage' on NROCAT ( and you'll be able to listen online in some cases. In others, you can use the equipment off the NRO searchroom.
  • Some trade directories are available at or which might give an insight into which street numbers were unoccupied after the war (although coverage is patchy during). Personally I still prefer taking a volume off the shelf because it's the easiest way to navigate them.


  • Maps are a great resource for this type of research. One of my favourite items at the Norfolk Heritage Centre is 'Wally's Map', drawn by Wally as a 14 year old boy in 1942, cycling around Norwich and marking the damage from the Baedeker Raids. The same map is reproduced at the Bridewell Museum. To order the map up from the store, just ask at the desk and take along your Norfolk library or CARN card.
  • A 1944 bomb damage map is also available at Norfolk Heritage Centre.
  • Norfolk Record Office have electronic access to another bomb map in their searchroom, of a slightly more official variety.
  • Ordnance survey maps are available in large numbers across many editions at the Heritage Centre, too. A key is on open access for 6" and 25" maps up until OS went metric, starting in 1969, after which you need a key from behind the desk to order up your areas of interest.
  • Scrapbooks, diaries, books, ephemera and newspapers (sometimes less information than you might think during WWII) are all available at the Norfolk Heritage Centre. Search the library catalogue for details at
  • Various committee minutes at the Norfolk Record Office, use NROCAT or finding aids in the searchroom (N/EN 1 is a good place to start, also N/TC 28).

Collections at both NHC and NRO occur twice an hour. You just need a CARN card, which works in many other archives across the Country.

Happy researching!



Summer Time!

Hi everyone,

Having now got my final project out of the way, it's finally the summer, and aren't we having a great one so far?

Just the dissertation to go now before my MSc is completed, and until then I'll be trying to blog more often. Hopefully I can bring you new sources, interesting finds and thoughts of a local and genealogical nature.

For now, I'll just say that I have a few talks coming up this summer, including one on Assisted Emigration from Norfolk in 1836/7 at Norfolk Record Office, and another about my illegitimacy case study based around Shipdham 1785-1834 at Norfolk Heritage Centre. I'll tweet details nearer the time, and both locations will advertise their full programmes on their websites ( and

Happy researching!