Nurse, Margaret Janson Birkett, (25) – Died of Exhaustion

Red Cross, Voluntary Aid Detachment, 16th December 1914

Miss M J Birkett, Voluntary Aid Detachments. Died December 1914 16 December 1914. Copyright: © IWM (WWC H2-131-A).

Synopsis of Life and Military Service

Very little information survives of Margaret Janson Birkett who was born in Chislehurst, Kent in 1889. Her father was Louie Birkett a wool brokers merchant who appears to have been quite well off with shares in the Great Western Railway, and the 1901 census shows that he had three servants. In 1911, Margaret was employed as a Governess for Walter Greville and Mary Beatrice Moore, looking after their two children Geoffrey and Desmond, in Cheltenham Gloucester.

It’s not clear when Margaret returned to Chislehurst but she had joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment while in Cheltenham.  At Midnight on 13th October 1914, orders were received to mobilise the Chislehurst Voluntary Aided Detachments which was known as Kent 60. A hospital was set up in Lubbock Road, Chislehurst of which six buildings were used: ‘Brooklyn’, ‘Coed-Bel’, ‘Christ Church Hall’, ‘Hillside’, ‘Lamas’ and ‘Abbey Lodge’.

Abbey Lodge in use as a VAD hospital.

Margaret was devoted to her duties. When casualties started to arrive, she was one of the first nurses to be first at her post. She started in ‘Brooklyn’ on night duty and was by all accounts, adored by the injured soldiers. Her knowledge of French may have been useful in translating letters from local girls to the Belgian troops who were sent there.


By 14 December 1914, Margaret was working the day shift in Abbey Lodge working all day. She was ill the next day and sadly, the next day, 16 December 1914, Margaret died. It was said she was the first Red Cross Nurse on home service to have died at her post. There is a photograph of Mary in her VAD uniform. Even though the quality is poor it is clear to see the exhaustion on her face.

Margaret’s funeral took place on 18 December 1914. Her coffin was borne half a mile from her family’s home to St Nicholas Church where the Rector, Canon Dawson, conducted the service. Nurses, stretcher bearers and those patients who could walk attended the funeral. After the service, two Belgian soldiers lowered two wreaths tied with the Belgian colours with the inscription:-

“Hommage affecteux a notre regrettee nurse. Les soldats Belges, Brooklyn.


The following family members have been identified:-

  • Father – Louis Birkett, born c.1853 at Southwark, London.
  • Mother – Agnes Birkett, born c.1853 at Crayford, Kent.
  • Sister – Mary F Birkett, born c.1883 at Stamford Hill, London.
  • Sister – Elsie W A Birkett, born c.1884 at Chislehurst, Kent.
  • Brother – Harold Wreford, born c.1885 at Chislehurst, Kent, d. 9 September 1916.
  • Brother – Norman W., born c.1894 at Chislehurst, Kent.

Her brother Harold Wreford Birkett was a Private in the Canadian Infantry when he was killed on the 9 September 1916, he is honoured and remembered on the Vimy Memorial, France.


Records show that Margaret lived in:-

  • 1901 – Summer Hills Villa, Chislehurst, Kent.
  • 1911 – St Govans, Eldorado Crescent, Cheltenham.
  • 1914 – 3 Summer Hills, Chislehurst, Kent.


There is no record of Margaret having been awarded any service medals.


Margaret Janson Birkett is honoured and remembered on the following memorial:-

  • Women of the Empire – WW1 Screen – York Minster, Deangate, York.
  • The Nursing Memorial, WW1 & WW2 – National Arboretum, Croxall Road, Alrewas, Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Nursing Memorial – National Arboretum – © IWM (WMR-76515)

Links to Additional Information




  • Trevor Torkington
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