Video: Students travel to Belgium to pay respects to WW1 nurse with remarkable story

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The poppy-laden grave of a Wakefield nurse singles out her plot out from those of nearly 11,000 men at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Inspired by the tragic story of Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler, one of only two British female casualties among the 600,000 First World War dead to be buried in Belgium, two students from her hometown travelled to her much-visited graveside almost a century on from her death on Saturday.

Anna Chambers (top left) stands at the graveside of late Wakefield nurse Nellie Spindler in Belgium. Picture by Zoe Polydorou

Anna Chambers (top left) stands at the graveside of late Wakefield nurse Nellie Spindler in Belgium. Picture by Zoe Polydorou

The 26-year-old, from Wakefield, was killed by an artillery shell while working at a casualty clearing station at Brandhoek during the Third Battle of Ypres during the First World War on August 21 1917.

The memory of Staff Nurse Spindler, who was given a full military funeral attended by over 100 officers and four generals, has been marked by Horbury Academy pupils Emily Slade and Anna Chambers who made a special visit to Lijssenthoek, near Poperinge, Belgium, as part of a Government-funded First World War centenary trip.

Anna, 13, told the YEP: “It’s very interesting to have someone who you know is from your hometown to be here in Belgium.

“Her grave is one of the most important in this place as she’s the only woman, so I’m almost proud because she’s from Wakefield and she’s saved lives.”

Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler.

Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler.

As part of the Centenary Battlefield Tours (CBT) programme two pupils and one teacher from every state-funded secondary school in the country are being invited on free First World War battlefield tours until 2019.

The £5million scheme, which is led by the Institute of Education and tour operator Equity, is part of the Government’s commitment to commemorating the victims of the conflict 100 years on.

The battlefield tours involve students tracking down soldiers from their communities to their resting places abroad as part of tours of sites near the France-Belgium border with teachers, guides and current British Army soldiers.

Horbury Academy history teacher Emily Harrington added: “This gives a personal impact and makes it very real for them especially because she was a woman.

“She’s very well known at home and the girls did some research and decided they would try to find her.”

CBT guide Duncan Barnes added: “Poperinge came to a stand still for the funeral (of Staff Nurse Spindler). Her death made an enormous impact in Britain – women weren’t supposed to die in this war.”

The Horbury group travelled with over 70 Yorkshire students and teachers to take part in the trip last weekend, which prompted the likes of Ossett Academy and Cockburn School, in Beeston, to trace the names on their school war memorials.

Cockburn history teacher Neville Gill and his students tracked down some of the 72 men, including 68 former pupils, who were killed in the First World War.

His students Joseph Dolan and Kalaghm Waterhouse found the name of former teacher Lance Corporal John William Mountain, of the West Yorkshire Regiment, at the Thiepval Memorial to the 72,000 missing from the Battle of the Somme.

Mr Gill said: “It’s putting a story to a person, so when they are sitting in a classroom they can think one of these soldiers could have been where they are sat or teaching where they’re taught.

“That reaches out and brings them in – the names are there, right in front of them.”

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- This is the third in a four-part series on the First World War’s links to Yorkshire. See tomorrow’s YEP for more.