Nurse Knaggs

Today’s post is brought to you by our dedicated research volunteer, Elizabeth, who’s writing and discoveries are always a treat, and is today uncovering Winifred Knaggs’ story. On first glance it would appear that the two photographs we have of Miss Knaggs in Nurses uniform, would be a big clue and we would hope that her life within official records would unfold. However unlike her other family members, most her life remains quite the mystery. It heightens the fact that we are lucky to have visual records of these individuals at all, how rare a chance it was for a Nurse from Trinidad to stop by Knights-Whittome’s shop on 16th Feb 1914… 


Winifred Knaggs, 16 Feb 1914

Winifred Knaggs was born in Port-of-Spain in Trinidad in 1893 and was the eldest surviving child of a large and extended family.  Her father, Leslie Knaggs, was Assistant Colonial Secretary and Clerk to the executive Council for Trinidad and Tobago, and her uncle, Samuel Knaggs, was the Colonial Administrator for the colony.  The two brothers had come to Trinidad in the 1860s with their father – Robert Knaggs, who was a surgeon from England- and they had married two sisters:  Margaret and Violet Harragin.

Trinidad at the turn of the century was ruled as a Crown Colony with no elected representation.  Slavery had been abolished in 1838 and, although there was an emerging Black middle class, it was still controlled by a White elite.  It was a society divided by race, religion, and class with still some friction between the English Anglican Creoles and the French and Spanish Catholic Creoles.  There were many plantations producing sugar or cocoa, and in 1884 the British Government encouraged 2,500 indentured Indian workers to migrate to the island to create a further supply of labour; and adding to the cultural mix.

Children of the White ruling classes were usually sent to England for an education – Winifred’s cousins were educated in England, but there is no record that she was. It is likely that Winifred and her many sisters were educated at home, although in 1892 a Ladies’ School had opened offering a ‘sound English education’ for the upper–class Anglican girls.  There were also various other small private schools in Port-of Spain.  There were few opportunities for the education of working class Black or Indian children as the British government feared that an educated middle class could challenge White dominance.

A fire in 1903 destroyed most of the country’s records, and the National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago are not yet digitised.  So our first record of Winifred is in December 1910 when, aged 17, she travelled First Class to London via Southampton with her aunt, Mrs Violet Knaggs.  In 1901 her aunt and cousins had been living in Richmond, and by 1911 they had moved to Bromley – but Winifred is not with them.  Mrs Knaggs returned to Trinidad in 1912 alone, and the cousins returned in 1913.  Our next record of Winifred is in February 1914 when she went to have her photograph taken by Knights-Whittome.


Winifred Knaggs, 16 Feb 1914

In the two photographs Winifred appears to be wearing a nursing uniform, but her name does not appear in any of the nursing registers for the UK and Ireland, so it is possible that she trained as a private nurse.  The Overseas Nursing Association had been established in 1895 to provide trained nurses to work in hospitals for families in British Colonies, or for private work with families. There were two colonial hospitals in Trinidad and it is possible that Winifred planned to return to Trinidad to supervise and train local nurses. The St John’s Ambulance Service had been established in Trinidad in 1889 offering classes on childcare, first aid and nursing, so what inspired a privileged young White woman to leave her family and sail to England to become a nurse? She came from a medical family – her grandfather was a surgeon, and relatives in England were also working in medicine – and she might have wanted to follow her father’s cousin, Amy, into nursing.  Amy Knaggs had trained at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1888 and had served in the Boer War with the Army Nursing Service Reserve. She received the South Africa Medal for this work, but she was also awarded the Royal Red Cross which was presented to her by King Edward VII at St James’ Palace in 1901. Amy continued to serve with the ANSR until about 1907 when she left to set up her own Training Institute for Nurses in Southport, Lancashire.  It is likely that Winifred would have heard about Amy’s achievements – and decided that she, too, wanted to become a nurse.

There is no record of Winifred between her arrival at the end of 1910 and these photographs in 1914. Perhaps she went to Lancashire to train with Amy, although there is no evidence for this.  Another possibility is that she was training as a nurse at the Children’s Infirmary in Carshalton (now Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children) where the Metropolitan Asylums Board had established a nursing training school. After the war Winifred was stayed in Wallington – Chez Nous in Belmont Road – where the Herring family lived.  The family was living in Belmont Road in 1910 and it is likely that she lodged with them if she was training at the Children’s Infirmary in nearby Carshalton. Perhaps she had just finished her training when she went to have her photograph taken – probably to send home to her family in Trinidad.  Although there is no record of Winifred serving with the Red Cross as a VAD nurse the 1914 report of the Surrey Branch of the Red Cross lists a ‘Miss Amy Knagg’ as the Lady Superintendent of No. 56 Farnham working at Waverley Abbey Hospital. Was this the same person – the records are not clear.

Winifred stayed in the UK during the war until October 1916 when she returned to Trinidad travelling First Class from Glasgow. The shipping records indicate that she had been living in Scotland for at least a year – which might explain why she does not appear in the England census for 1911.  Her three cousins came to England in 1916 to work as V.A.D.s in Cheltenham – waiting on wards and washing up – but there is no Red Cross record for Winifred.  So she was either working as nurse in a Scottish hospital or as a private nurse. There is no obvious reason why she would return home in October 1916 – it was possible that she was needed to help with her family – a new sister had been born in 1912 and a final brother would arrive in 1917. Perhaps she wanted to use her skills at the Colonial hospital in Port-of-Spain?

Trinidadians had rushed to enlist at the outbreak of war and Captain Alfred Harragin, a cousin, led the first Trinidad Contingent of officers and went to Palestine with the British West Indies Regiment.  Many other men wanted to come to England and enlist, but were deterred by the cost of the journey – £17 and 10 shillings – which many could not afford.  The Colony was British and each wanted to fight for their country.  Many Trinidadians joined the Royal Flying Corps and there was a series of fundraising events to buy a plane for the RFC, which was flown in India throughout the war.  Winifred’s cousin, Kenneth John Knaggs, joined the RFC in August 1916 and became one of their most outstanding fighters; he was in No.56 Squadron – which took part in aerial battles against Von Richtofen’s elite flying squad over France. In May 1917 there was the first ever large scale aerial fight with only five survivors. Kenneth managed to get back to base, but he was seriously injured and was sent to England for medical treatment. Once recovered he went back to fight and was finally shot down in March, 1918 during a German offensive over France. He is remembered, along with other Trinidadians who gave their lives, on the Cenotaph in War Memorial Park, Port-of-Spain.

In 1920 Winifred returned to England and to Wallington. But by 1921 the Herrings had left Chez Nous and the house was empty until 1922 when it became a hostel. When Winifred travelled back to Trinidad in 1925 she was living at Cranley Gardens, SW1 and on the shipping records she stated that she was a nurse. It is likely that she left England to marry – she married Richard Bradley, a merchant from Trinidad, in 1926.  They stayed in Trinidad and had two children, returning to London in 1935 for a brief visit – possibly for a final visit to her aunt who died in 1937 – and briefly in 1954, but there is no further online record of Winifred. She died in 1960.

These photographs are a reminder that the war swept through the lives of people many thousands of miles away from London, and the sacrifice that they made for Britain.

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