Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 & 20 July 2017)
Date of Auction: 19th & 20th July 2017
Sold for £5,500
Estimate: £800 - £1,200
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, O.B.E. (Civil) Officer’s 1st type badge, silver-gilt (hallmarks for London 1918), on lady’s bow riband; The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Officer’s badge, silver and enamel, on lady’s bow riband; Italy, Kingdom, Al Valore Militare, bronze, the reverse engraved, ‘Hollings, Nina, Cormons Gorizia, 18 Dicembre 1915 – 30 Agusto 1916’; Italy, Kingdom, War Medal 1915-18, bronze, with 2 silver stars on riband; Italy, Kingdom, Victory Medal 1918, bronze; Italy, Kingdom, United Italy Medal 1848-1918, bronze, mounted as worn; together with the related miniature group, good very fine and rare (12) £800-1200
FootnoteO.B.E. London Gazette 30 March 1920: ‘Nina Augusta Stracey, Mrs. Hollings, Joint Commandant, Red Cross Radiographic Unit No. 4, Italy.’
Order of St John, Lady of Grace London Gazette 2 February 1917.
Italian Al Valore Militare 3 December 1916.
The recommendation states: ‘The Lady Commandant of the 4th English Radiotelegraphic Section provided useful and valuable work for the Italian wounded on the Isonzo front, willingly going wherever called, even crossing through areas under artillery fire where she was, on several occasions, a target for the enemy. She demonstrated courage, intrepidity, and contempt of danger, and always accomplished her work with zeal, exalted courage, and devotion. - Cormons - Gorizia, 18 December 1915 - 5 September 1916."
Nina Augusta Stracey Hollings (née Smyth) was born in 1862, in Sidcup, one of eight children of Major General John Hall Smyth, C.B., and Nina Struth, daughter of ‘Madame de Stracey’ and granddaughter of Sir Josias Stracey, Bart. The family had moved to Frimley in the mid-1960s and Nina met and later married, in 1886, Herbert John Butler Hollings, of Frimley, a J.P and D.L., who died in 1922. They had two sons and one daughter: Lt. John (‘Jack’) Herbert Butler Hollings, 21st Lancers, killed in action on 30 October 1914; Lt. Comm. Richard Eustace Hollings, R.N., died in Monaco, 1928; and Hildegarde (Hilda) Nina Hollings, ARRC, V.A.D., died 1942.
Born into a extremely well-connected family of Anglo-Irish extraction, the six sisters were clearly of strong independent minds. The two nearest elder sisters being Mary and Dame Ethel Mary Smyth: Mary married Charles Hunter, a wealthy American mining businessman, and became a celebrated Edwardian socialite and art collector, well known to Monet, Sickert, Rodin and John Singer Sargent, who painted her; and Dame Ethel Mary, a composer, writer, militant suffragette, who also served in France with the British Red Cross in the radiography field, and went out to support Unit No. 4 in Italy for a short time.
Nina Hollings was an excellent horsewoman and member of a number of hunts. She was also an avid motor car driver and traveller. In 1903, Nina Hollings met Helena Gleichen, great-niece of Queen Victoria, cousin of King George V and a celebrated artist and sculptor friend of Dame Ethel’s. In her memoirs, Helena Gleichen remarks, “About that time I made friends with Nina Hollings, Dame Ethel Smyth’s sister, a friendship that has nearly equalled that of the Ladies of Llangollen as it has lasted ever since. The attraction was first horses and hunting, Nina being a wonderful rider to hounds. She was also a first-rate companion, always good tempered and cheerful, very quick in the uptake, very energetic and highly amused at everything. So, we arranged that when I left Eddie (Helena’s brother) she should meet me in Munich and we would go together to France for me to paint.”
Later during the same trip, “I consider that Nina saved my life one day. It had been very hot and we dawdled up the river to look for a place that the townspeople had recommended to us for bathing. We must have misunderstood them, as when I jumped in to what looked like an ideal pool, I was instantly caught by an undercurrent and swept under the bank; there my legs became entangled amongst some strong roots and I was perfectly helpless and hardly able to keep my head above water, the current being so fast. Luckily Nina was very strong, and throwing herself down on the ground managed to catch hold of my arms. Even so it was not easy to get out and we were two very exhausted people by the time she hauled me up on to the bank.”
During the years before the Great War, Nina and Helena cemented their friendship, notably in 1904, Nina and her daughter, Hilda, were invited by Empress Eugenie to go yachting in Copenhagen and Stockholm, and invited Helena to join the party.
In December 1914, following the death on the Western Front of her eldest son ‘Jack’, Nina Hollings, aged 52, went over to France on behalf of Lady Eva Wemyss to identify a location for an English hospital in France. She would have been memorable for the fact that she wore a black arm band in remembrance of her son throughout the War. The Chateau du Fayel in Compiegne was chosen and Nina and Helena worked at the Wemyss Hospital there from February to May 1915, driving ambulances and fetching wounded from the centre of Compiegne. A Surgeon Mencieres visited the hospital and invited Nina and Helena to take up radiography. At the time, Marie Curie was developing the French radiography services and with Mencieres’ introduction, Nina and Helena went to the Pantheon Military Hospital in Paris and studied for six months, obtaining 1st class certificates in radiography. They returned to London to work under Sir James Mackenzie Davidson, the renowned X-ray specialist, in order to assimilate his methods with those learned in France. He was so impressed by their endeavours that he gave them a 70hp Berliet and the Red Cross in London donated a Mercedes to add to their own Austin, which would carry their equipment. Relations were tasked with raising the funds to purchase the necessary mobile X-ray equipment whilst Nina and Helena were undergoing training. They first offered their mobile services to the British War Office and were turned down on the grounds of being female radiographers. They approached the French who were enthusiastic but mistrust developed as time and again jobs were promised but permits to go to the front were never forthcoming. Eventually, the French Red Cross asked them to go to St. Pol, but this turned out to be a rather tawdry ruse by which the French were only interested in commandeering their three vehicles and the X-ray equipment and no less than four attempts were made to do this, with Nina Hollings long-standing friendship with General Sir Henry Wilson proving vital on one of these occasions in scuppering French ploys. They then met with Honourable Sir Arthur Stanley in Paris, who instantly suggested that they approach the Italian authorities and on 7 December 1915, they were on their way to the Italian Front where they were to remain until October 1917, making history in the process as Joint Commandants of the only X-ray unit run by women during the Great War. The Duke of Aosta was quoted as saying “we are cleverer than the English then, because we employ who and what we can for our wounded regardless of whether they wear trousers or petticoats.
The original documentation outlined previously provides much background to already published works, some material illustrating Helena Gleichen’s written memoirs, others providing further evidence of Nina and Helena’s story filling in many gaps. Notable published works regarding Countess Helena Gleichen and Nina Hollings’ experiences: Contacts and Contrasts (Countess Gleichen) provides a detailed account of the work of Unit No. 4’s, and Outposts of Mercy (E. V. Lucas, a chapter and photograph of the pair, photocopy of the whole work included here). Refer also: Women and the Great War: Femininity under Fire in Italy (A. Belzer), Women Heroes of World War I (Kathryn J. Atwood) and 1916: A Global History (Keith Jeffery). Contemporary and recent press articles include The British Journal of Nursing and The Times.
There are many stories of heroism on the Italian Front included in Helena Gleichen’ memoirs, but perhaps the most fitting tribute to the two women and their work is recounted in a letter from Nina Hollings to Feo Gleichen in November 1916 when the two women were summoned by General Lombardo to attend ‘an important event’, which turned out to be a medal presentation ceremony at the Gorizia Opera House, after the 6th Battle of Gorizia:
“Have you got an English flag which you can lend me?” I gave him one and he departed. I instantly sent an Orderly to find Helena who was working somewhere else and tell her to come in to Gorizia that night. About 10 a.m. next day, a Staff Officer arrived to fetch us, and we walked with him to the Opera House, an enormous and beautiful building with huge gaps made by shells in its roof. When we got to the entrance a wonderful sight greeted us. They had removed all the seats and the floor of the house was packed with soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder with the light gleaming on their steel helmets, accoutrements and rifles. Tier after tier, the boxes were decorated by wreaths of different-coloured roses. These had been picked by the soldiers at the risk of their lives, during the night before, from the Rosen Allee (the principal rose garden in Austria, which lay the far side of the Italian trenches and barbed-wire entanglements). Each box held officers, representative of the different regiments which had taken part in the Battle of Gorizia.
As we were escorted down the centre of the house to our box all the men turned towards us, standing at attention, and the officers in all the boxes round the house rose to their feet and saluted. All this time aeroplanes which had been ordered to guard the Opera House against the Austrian planes were humming to and fro across the sky, which was visible through the open roof.
The General and staff were on the stage, backed and surrounded by banks of roses ... a bugle sounded ... and the General stepped forward to address the troops. He said, “We are here to do honour to those who have not only gained Italy’s greatest prize, the Medal for Military Valour, but have given their lives in so doing. I do not ask if they are present, I know they are.” He then called a name in a loud voice which echoed through the house. The answer came:
“Presente.” Again, the General spoke. “Colonel, you who were fighting so bravely in the trenches when you were shot through the spine; although mortally wounded you refused to be moved, and by your example inspired your men to hold on to an almost impossible position. We give to you and to your family the Gold Medal of Valour.” Then the General handed the medal to an officer of the dead man’s regiment, who stepped forward, saluted and received it.
The other gold medal was given in the same way, the name being called by the General and being answered by a voice that echoed through the silence of the hall: “Presente.” Other medals were given to officers and men who came up to receive them.
The General then turned to our box which had been decorated with the Italian and British flags.
He spoke in a loud voice, “Soldiers here present, we greet these two English women whom we look upon, not only as two of our most gallant officers, but as beloved members of our families, and we offer them, and ask them always to wear the medal we have had struck for all the officers who took part in the Victory of Gorizia.” He then stepped forward and reached up to our box and handed us each a silver medal with a replica of the seal of the town of Gorizia on the one side and a figure of Victory on the other.”
In September 1917, concerns for Nina and Helena’s health come to the conclusion that both women should return home. A letter from The Hon. Sir Arthur Stanley, Chairman of the Joint War Committee, British Red Cross and Order of St. John notes “Dear Mrs Hollings, Many thanks for your letter of Aug. 15th, I can well understand how unhappy you must feel at giving up the wonderful work that you have been doing for so many strenuous months, but I cannot help being glad to hear that you are coming home as several people had reported to me that you and Lady Helena were beginning to suffer from the X rays. It is very kind of you to give so much of your equipment to us and I hope you will be good enough to come and see me when you get home so that we may discuss how to make the best use of it”.
Nina Hollings suffered for the rest of her life as a result of the X-ray work she had done on the Italian Front. The press later reported that Nina and Helena had taken over 17,000 X-rays during their time in Italy. An exhibition of Lady Gleichen’s pictures from drawings of the time took place in Milan in 1934.
In 1922, her husband, Herbert Hollings died. Nina moved to Breconshire and in 1939 resided with Helena Gleichen in Ledbury, Hertfordshire where during the World War II, Nina worked with the British Red Cross and Women’s Voluntary Service and Helena formed the first Home Guard in Much Markle in March 1940, also working with the British Red Cross and Air Raid Precautions. Helena Gleichen died in 1947 and Nina Hollings died a year later in 1948, when residing at Oaklands, Crowthorne, Berkshire. Nina Hollings was interred in St. Peters, Frimley, Surrey.
The Medal Index Card and Medal Rolls confirm that no British war medals were issued to Nina Hollings. In fact, Helena Gleichen makes reference, in Contacts and Contrasts, to the fact that the British Red Cross had communicated that there was a choice as to “whether to take the English ones or the Italian ones”.
Sold together with a large collection of photographs and ephemera, including the award certificate for the Al Valore Militare, and other certificates presented to and photographs taken by Nina Hollings, the latter illustrating parts of the battle and seizure of Gorizia, (6th Battle of the Isonzo) in 1916. Each large format album page is marked to the edge in ink ‘N. Hollings’ and page numbers as follows: 1-3, 7-9, 12, 24, 27-29. Pages are unbound without covers.
1 Al Valore Militare Award Certificate, large photo of Opera House adorned with roses prior to presentation of medals after the Battle of Gorizia, two small photos of Gorizia after the battle, Requisition Order No. 767 from British Red Cross Section No 4., dated 24 June 1917, Gorizia.
2. Seven photos, including the Duke of Connaught giving British orders to General Capello, two of Nina Hollings and Helena Gleichen with and without their motor car, April 1917. Certificate for the 4th Italian Army medal presented to Nina Hollings and a stamped military envelope and letter, dated 26 June 1917, from General Cattaneo, Governor of Gorizia.
3. Three photos, including one of Radiographic unit IV in Gorizia (Nina Hollings, Miss North and Miss G. Hanbury-Williams, Corporal Stagni and Cook Comminetti), a military stamped envelope, dated 17 July 1917 from General Cattaneo, and a letter of appreciation, dated 26 September 1917, from General Capello, Commandant of the Italian 2nd Army, just prior to Hollings leaving the front.
7. Six photos of Gorizia, illustrating two panoramic views of the town.
8. Five photos of Gorizia before and after shelling bombardment, including one of Hollings and Gleichen.
9. Nine photos of Gorizia, two of shells bursting opposite ‘our’ house in Gorizia, one captioned ‘Nuns in Gorizia who refused to leave notwithstanding bombardment’, one of Hollings captioned ‘sandbagging of our quarters in Gorizia’, bomb damage at Lucenico, etc.
12. 4th Italian Army Certificate named to Nina Hollings and dated 1 December 1916, three photos, one of Captain Milani Genio, one group photo including Hollings, Gleichen and General Cattaneo and a press cutting entitled ‘Women’s Work on Italian Front: Medals for British Red Cross’ which reports that “The King of Italy has conferred upon Lady Helena Gleichen and Mrs Nina Hollings, Joint Commandants of one of the radiographic units maintained in Italy by the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John, the Italian bronze medal for valour…”. Lady Gleichen reports ‘during the last attack they were asked by the Italian authorities to arrange a permanent X-ray set for hospital No. 86, a section specially for head and abdomen cases. The arrangements were made by Mrs. Hollings, and Miss Gretton and Miss Chapman were detailed for the duty, and did excellent work all through the attack…special mention is made of the good work done by Mrs. Hollings during this time. Throughout the attack, she was living alone at Gorizia, and besides her own work of attending to four hospitals during the day she repeatedly had to go over to No. 86 to put the machinery right for the assistants. On two, if not three, occasions after a hard day’s work, she heard that the assistant at No. 86 was in difficulties; and with heavy shelling going on walked the kilometre and a half which separated the hospitals, spent the night helping them, and returned at 6 a.m. to find urgent calls waiting her for the day. This X-ray unit dealt with 1,532 cases, radioscopes and radiographs between January 1 and April 30.”
24. Letter of thanks from Antonio Morandini, ex-soldier of 108 Batterie Bombarde and ex-patient at the Field Hospital at Villa Trente, Sala Gariboldi, writing to Dr. Brock, Chief Physician, British Army, of the 6th Italian Army Corps, in which he finishes “Please also give my sincere regards and thanks on behalf of Italy’s soldiers and all nations to Mrs. Helene Gleichen and Mrs. Nina Hollings, also to Mrs. Watkins.”
27. A large press cutting entitled ‘Radiographic Work in Italy, by an English Red Cross Sister’, noting that whilst there are radiographic sections in many countries, only one is managed by women, on the Italian Front. The report is effectively a resume of the type of work done and the conditions under which Radiographic Unit No. 4 worked. There is a glowing tribute to the work of Hollings and Gleichen, in particular for the training provided by them to continue the work after they returned to England.
28. A British Red Cross and Order of St John Joint War Committee letter of thanks for work over the past 3 years, signed (The Hon. Sir) Arthur Stanley, 25 September 1917.
29. A British Red Cross and Order of St John Joint War Committee letter of congratulation to Hollings, in Italy, on the honour bestowed upon her by The King of Italy, signed (The Hon. Sir) Arthur Stanley and dated 18 August 1917.
Also sold together with a variety of other medals, badges and ephemera:
Medals: A Red Cross Medal in gilt metal and enamel with steel ring suspension, obverse ‘Cormons Gorizia Zagora 1915 1916 1917’, reverse ‘Helena Gleichen Sezione Quarta Nina Hollings’, around; a silver medal, engraved to one side, ‘Wemyss Hospital Chateau du Fayel 1915’; a silver and enamel Italian Red Cross medal, obverse depicting a female aiding a wounded soldier, reverse, crescent with red enamel red cross to centre, ‘Gorizia 11.8.1916 Ospedale Da Campo N. 144’, around (Field Hospital No. 144); two Italian medals, one bronze as presented to Nina Hollings in April 1917 by the 4th Italian Army (certificate in album) and one silver, the officers’ medal for the Victory of Gorizia, obverse ‘Piazza di Gorizia’ (certificate in album), the two medals hung on either end of a black leather and velvet band, with rose gold-plated mounts; a silver medal with white ribbon, obverse, ‘Sept. L.L.D.C. 1931’; Borough of Leyton Charter Day 1926 Medal with pin.
Badges: St John Ambulance Brigade and Association (4); Royal Life Saving Society, early enamel and bronze type; A.P.A. President of Committee and Founder Member’s Badge; WW1 War Workers badge (brooch fitting to reverse, pin missing).
Loose ephemera: Photo of a group visit to France, published by the Office Centrale de Lisieux, including a Miss Hollings (names identified in pencil to the reverse; likely to be Miss Hilda Hollings, Nina’s daughter). Photo mounted on card of General G. Cattaneo, Italian Army; A British Red Cross and Order of St John ‘Chevron Certificate, No 7401’, named to Nina Hollings, dated 22 May 1918 and signed by Lady Margaret Ampthill, Chairman, Joint Women’s V.A.D. Committee, confirming Nina Hollings’ service from 15 December 1914 to 1 October 1917, and entitlement to wear 1 red chevron and 2 blue chevrons; large format 3 page ‘monthly operational report’ from Nina Hollings addressed to Lord Monson, dated 31 May 1916, outlining the month’s activities with a list of cases, and noting that the King of Italy and The Prince of Wales visited Unit No. 4 to review their facilities and in particular to see the radiographic equipment demonstrated. Photocopy of Outposts of Mercy.
For the medals to the recipient’s daughter, see lot 1246.