“Glory” Battle Hancock
Heroine of the Great War
“War is hell!” British Red Cross nurse, Madelon “Glory” Battle Hancock, wrote to her father and stepmother from the Belgian front in 1918. “I’m still on the front & such days & nights. We are having to be in every night and send as many off next day as possible. It’s interesting but tiring & I’m sick to death of it. We have stretchers and beds in every corner ready for this Push. Lets hope we’ll advance this time. It’s rotten weather and the trenches must be ghastly. We’ve got lots of English in now—are surrounded by them and French. Have seen very few Americans. I haven’t done much ‘lorry hopping’ lately— When I come off duty at 8 A.M. I’m all in and not fit for anything.”
Madelon “Glory” Hancock entered the Great War— World War I— in 1914. In a June 22, 1914 letter to Mrs. Violet Morawetz of New York, Marie Van Vorst wrote about Glory: “Madelon Hancock is determined to go to Antwerp—alone, by herself. … She has bought a nurse’s costume, but what she will do in Antwerp, or how long she will be permitted to stay, I don’t know. . . .” By August, Glory was there.
|Glory Battle and her husband, Don Hancock|
On April 8, 1920, the Tarboro Daily Southerner described her service: “Mrs. Hancock is known to the whole British army as ‘Glory Hancock,’ a name which she won by her untiring and earnest work in the ranks of the Red Cross during the recent great war against Germany. (She was) with the first British field hospital, … to enter that part of the war stricken country, in fact the first British hospital to take service in the front lines, in Belgium. She remained there until October 12 of the same year , when during the retreat by the Allies she brought in under fire many wounded Belgiums and British … .
“She was then attached to the hospital established in Fermes, in Belgium, and nursed there through the first battle of Yser [October 1914], when the hospital was shelled by the Germans and had to be evacuated, the patients being moved to Hoogstadt, where Mrs. Hancock was stationed during the first [October/November 1914] and second [April/May 1915] battles of Ypres and the second battle of the Marne [July/August 1918].
“Until the last battle of the war, Mrs. Hancock was at the above named and other dressing stations close behind the Allied lines of battle until the last moment of the war; never being beyond the sound of the guns and frequently within the zone of fire. She was gassed, was repeatedly in the midst of shrapnel fire but always escaped without serious injury.”
By September 1918, Glory Hancock was exhausted with the stress of battle. She wrote: “I am on Night Duty again and alone and we get 39 and 49 in a night all to be washed and their dressings done besides treatment for most of them and by morning I am like a resurected [sic] corpse. I really never was so tired in my life. We all are. The Staff is so small and they keep filling up with wounded instead of keeping to a number we can cope with without killing ourselves. 4 years of this has about finished me in every way. I think every body feels the same. Worn out mentally and physically. We have lots of German wounded in, such nice mannered boys most of them. I was so surprised and our wounded are good to them, waiting on them and talking to them. Poor devils they don’t want to fight any more than our soldiers do.”
She still managed to carry on a semblance of social life: “I gave a big dinner the other night before this Push started to thank the people who had been so nice to me. … It was lots of fun & every body was in great form. It ended with a big air raid—too near to be amusing and we were kept busy with wounded coming in the rest of the night.”
Glory expressed her home-sickness and weariness at having to keep up a strong front: “I never was so homesick in my life. Boarding school wasn’t a patch on the ache I’ve got to get back to you now and never leave. … honest to Gawd I’m so sick of having people depend on me that I could scream. At the last bombardment I would have given anything I possessed to hang on to somebody and be as big a baby as I want to instead of having to play the Hero of the Johnstown Flood and keep other men from being scared poor devils. I know it’s hard enough when one is up and can look after ones self but to be in bed and feel the universe is apt to fall in on you must be the limit … .”
There were times when she was ready to give up: “…truly–if the war doesn’t end soon I’ll have to chuck it. Isn’t it awful of me. I’ve got a ward of bad cases–& am going hard all night & it interests me of course & I’m more than sorry for them & I just can’t stand the suffering all round me as have all these years (?).”
http://www.fotosearch.com/IST538/1647450/ wounded children.
In spite of the horror around her, Glory still thought of more mundane things: “Do you think you could find me a pair of brown tan high shoes—brown suede or calf [illegible] size 4 ½ or 4C not too pointed toes, Cuban heel & quite high —I was a fool not to get in a supply of shoes as I can’t wear English ones & the shops in England that import American shoes aren’t doing it now. [Illegible] had a chance to go to St. [illegible] & only saw white ones with very pointed toes. Stern Bros on 42 St. [New York, NY] used to send me all my shoes but that was when I was 3B and C.”
And food: “I’m dying for American cooking again. We can’t get [illegible] fruit in the canteens up here now and I dream of waffles and fried chicken and Sundaes.”
By Oct. 7, 1918, the battle was raging: “Ambulances for miles almost touching each other. A continual stream. Hundreds come in and are operated on & are sent on every hour. I’ve never seen such wounds & so many deaths. Dying on the stretchers before they can be attended to. The mud is so impossible. Food had to be gotten to the troops by airmen & some of the wounded lay on their [sic] 4 or 5 days before an ambulance could get to them. Sometimes the men get stuck waist deep in the mud & it is impossible to get them out food has to be taken to them for a day or two if they haven’t died from exposure in the mean time & then sometimes they are shot to get them out of their misery. It seems incredible but this mud is almost like quicksand – it clings & sucks down so. Went (?) in Ypres yesterday the first time I’ve been outside the sheds & operating room for 3 weeks. …”
By Oct. 26, her unit had moved to the ancient and beautiful city of Bruges, Belgium: “Theres [sic] steam heat & gas and I’m in a 7th heaven of delight. It was pitiful coming all through the trenches—such wasted country. All the trees skeletons, corpses & overturned guns & motors every where & miles & miles of inundated country with narrow duck boards to walk on. ½ foot to the right or left, & you’d drown for certain. The roads on the German side are lots better than ours & Bruges is so gay. … The Queen came on yesterday on horseback all in white of all things and all the children and pigeons in Bruges seemed to be clustered around their feet. It was a lovely sight.”
In the last surviving letter to her father, written in late 1918, Glory was hoping for the war’s end: “We are very busy & I’m on night duty & I’m just hanging on from day to day trying to hold out as long as the war does. Guess by Xmas if the war isn’t finished Glory is. … We all live scattered all over town & come to work at 6:30 in the morning like the workmen. Its harrowing these cold dark mornings and when Peace does come nothing will induce me to be uncomfortable or even take an early train again as long as I live.”
By the end of the war, Madelon “Glory” Hancock had received 12 decorations and was the most decorated woman in the world. There were five medals from Great Britain: the Mons Star, Royal Red Cross, Allied Service Medal, British Victory Medal, and King George V Medal, given in person by the king. There were also five from Belgium: the Chevalier de l’ordre de la Couronne (Crown), personally given by King Albert and carrying with it the title of countess; Cruiz de Guerre, Order of the Yser, Order of Queen Elizabeth, and Civic Cross. Two medals from France completed her collection: Crois de Guerre and Medal a Reconnoissance pour les Estrangers.
|Crois de Guerre|
|Chevalier de l’ordre de la Couronne (Crown),
personally given by King Albert and carrying with it the title of countess
|King George V Medal, given in person by the king|
|British Victory Medal|
|Royal Red Cross|
In her letters to her father, Glory makes only one mention of her decorations: “Wish Gov. Craig would catch me the Congressional medal. I’d love to have something American though I haven’t wished directly for them at all.”
Before the War
Madelon Battle was born in Pensacola, FL on Aug. 30, 1881. She attended St. Mary’s School in Raleigh, Wake County, NC.
Although her parents were in Asheville, Buncombe County, NC, Madelon apparently also considered Tarboro, Edgecombe County, NC home. Her father had been born in Nash County and belonged to a family prominent in Nash and Edgecombe counties. The 1920 article in the Daily Southerner carried the headline: “Edgecombe Woman Is Most Decorated in All the World.” In the article itself: “She is an Edgecombe county woman and formerly lived in Tarboro,” and “Mrs. Hancock is at present visiting the family of Mr. Octave Battle [her uncle] near Tarboro.” Madelon herself, in one of her letters, longed for Tarboro: I’d love to get to Tarboro for a minute after I’ve seen you and hugged Sylvia.”
Madelon Battle married Mortimer Pawson “Don” Hancock on July 2, 1904.
|Wedding Announcement from New York Times|
Anne Lewis, wife of Edward B. Lewis of Tarboro, told this story of the Hancock’s early marriage. “She showed up in Tarboro with orange spiky hair! It seems that Don was serving with the British Army in India. At that time, in the early 1900s, women were not allowed to enter the hallowed rooms of the Officer’s Club. Madelon, maverick that she was, was not happy with that rule. One night the entertainment at the club was to be dancing girls. Madelon dyed her skin, donned a costume and joined the dancing girls at the club. She would have gotten away with it, too, if her husband had not recognized (GASP) her ankle! Angry, as you might imagine, he snatched her up, threw her over his shoulder and stormed out of the club, complaining loudly of his humiliation. Well, Madelon had a temper too! Once home, she locked herself in the bathroom with every chemical she could find and dumped it all on her hair. Then she applied the scissors! She had given herself and orange and spiky look that wouldn’t wash out!”
The war put a strain on the Hancock marriage. Glory wrote: “I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to try to hold any one who didn’t want to stay. If he had let me go as he promised to lst year—it would have been all over and forgotten & I’d have been happily married to the man I love.… What fun Don gets out of paying my bills & having me dash out with other men … . I’m proud of his career & help him all I can. But could do the same if I wasn’t legally tied to him & be twice as nice to him.”
In another letter she wrote: “I sent him a bill of mine and asked him to pay it for me and he said he’d pay that one but couldn’t do anymore at present!!!!! I don’t know how he would manage if he was keeping up a house with Westray [her son] and me. Of course both his and my expenses are much less while we are out here only when we go on leave we act as if we have a huge income and for those 2 weeks expense is no object, but that doesn’t happened often. He is very much changed towards me which I don’t blame him for, but if he won’t let me go he has got to keep me. Hasn’t he?”
Madelon and Don had one son, Westray Battle Hancock. Madelon wrote of a visit with him: “When I got to London I found that they’d given me another week’s leave in England to get some supplies & as I got them all together in a day spent the rest of the time in the country & at my little flat with Westray. I couldn’t keep him away from school all the time as his exams were on.”
Westray Battle Hancock, was born in England. At 6’8″ he was the tallest man in the British forces during World War II. Unfortunately, his only son, Westray Douglas Hancock, contracted Legionnaires Disease on a wedding trip with his American wife to the United
States and died in Philadelphia in 1994. Westray Douglas Hancock was the only great grandson of Dr. Samuel Westray Battle, Madelon’s father.
A New Stepmother
Madelon’s mother, Alice Maude Belknap Battle, died in 1899. Her father, Samuel Westray Battle, married Jane Hyde Hall Liddell on Feb. 7, 1918. Although Madelon was not acquainted with Jane, she was pleased for her father. She wrote on Feb. 13: “I’m so so happy for you & wish I might be near enough to hug you both. … to think you aren’t alone any more & that you have a lovely woman to share things with you.” In all her letters, she called her new stepmother Sylva: “I’ve called her ‘Sylvia’ because the picture you sent me of her looked like a lovely one I saw of Carmen Silva.”
Glory was able to get leave and return home in the early summer of 1918. She wrote to her father and stepmother from the ship as she returned to the front: “You have given me such wonderful leave I can’t tell you what it meant to get back to you & having a mother & father to think about I look forward to getting back to is perfectly heavenly my two Darlings.”
She also described the ship: “This boat is a South American boat—very luxurious. 5 decks & every comfort made for the tropics. My cabin is lovely. The fruit & cake & books are splendid & thank you so much. I’m a very pampered pet but its lovely to be spoiled.” In another letter: “Have a beautiful cabin & this boat has every luxury—lovely lounges and sitting rooms. And the deck room is filled with troops so there’s [illegible] much walking space. The boys are such dears. Southerners most of them & home sick already.”
Madelon “Glory” Battle Hancock died Sept. 20, 1920 in Nice France. Except for her visit to Tarboro in 1920, her life after the war is unknown.
An anonymous reader was kind enough to give me the following additional information about Glory Hancock:
“She died 29th Sept 1930 and is buried in Cemetier du Jas, Cannes. Westray Douglas Hancock had made his home in Illinois with his wife Elise Sweeten, and died aged 40 ( as you say, of Legionnaire’s disease), in hospital in St Louis Missouri. They had been married two and half years. He is buried in Wortham, Suffolk England, where he was born and brought up.
The Connector, Fall 2004, newsletter of Tar River Connections Gen. Soc.
The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at http://library.uncg.edu/dp/wv/itemList.aspx?c=1&i=4&ti=World+War+I+Letters .
Tarboro Daily Southerner, April 8, 1920.
New York Times, July 2, 1904.
http://www.fotosearch.com/IST538/1647450/ wounded children.
Bulletin, Issues 26-30, By North Carolina. State Dept. of Archives and History (A Google book.)
Topsail Advertiser: North Carolina Minute, October 05, 2006 12:00 AM