A researcher in Poole History Centre uncovered the beginnings of this story when searching the 1935 newspaper and a Culture Volunteer followed the lead.
In 1935 the Evening News published a letter from a woman who had been VAD nurse working at the Naval Base Hospital in Poole during the First World War. In a series headlined “Tales of the Uncanny”, she told of her dream about a bad case of burns being admitted to the hospital, waking up with Picric Acid at the forefront of her mind. (Picric acid is an explosive but was also used to treat burns.)
She took her dream seriously and acted on it, asking a doctor to ensure a supply of burns dressings was added to their stores. While on duty the following night at 3am, a young airman was admitted with terrible burns acquired while dealing with a fire at the airship station at Upton. She wrote that her dream had undoubtedly saved his life because the hospital was prepared.
The letter writer was a Mrs SFR Hulbert. At the time she wrote about she was actually Mrs Eveleen Maude Wilson, a member of the Poole Voluntary Aid Detachment 66. She had joined the Red Cross as a VAD nursing member in March 1917, and was living at Heathfield, Bingham Road, Lilliput. Her first posting was at the Grata Quies Military Hospital in Branksome Park, then briefly at a hospital in Hindhead, before taking up her position at the Naval Base Hospital in Poole. This was rather a strange hospital, barely more than a sick bay in some respects. It was set up with just 18 beds in the boardroom of the Poole Workhouse in St Mary’s Road. This had the benefit of being close to the Cornelia Hospital, the main military hospital in Poole, with its backup resources of doctors, nurses and stores. Did the burns dressings come from there?
Perhaps Eveleen deliberately sought the posting at the naval hospital, as she had been married twice to naval officers. Her private life before this had been an unhappy one and even been the subject of much public scrutiny.
Eveleen was born in 1885, daughter of Thomas and Louisa Hooman, living in Sevenoaks, Kent. In 1908 she had married Arthur Gardiner Muller, a Royal Navy Lieutenant based in Portland. However the marriage seems not to have been a success, because during 1913 both husband and wife petitioned each other for divorce. Divorce in those days being more unusual and often scandalous. In this case it made headlines in newspapers across the country as the Naval Divorce Case. The press at the time was far more restrained, and the thought of how today’s tabloids would have affected Eveleen doesn’t bear thinking about. Her husband cited another naval officer as conducting an affair with his wife – not only a brother officer, but a friend – Lieutenant Douglas Henry Vernon Wilson. Eveleen sought divorce on the grounds of cruelty and adultery. The 1911 census actually shows Eveleen and Douglas staying at the same boarding house, without Arthur, but she denied any relationship with him. Many witnesses were called to give evidence, which included an anonymous letter and spying through keyholes on board ship. The jury found for the husband and the divorce was granted, with Douglas Wilson made to pay compensation. Eveleen was therefore branded by the court to be a liar, a perjuror and an adulterer. This must have been an appalling position to be in for any woman at the time. Presumably Arthur and Douglas were also badly scarred by the very public humiliation, not least for the effect on their naval careers.
However one outcome was that in October 1914 Eveleen married Douglas Wilson in Weymouth. But this is still no happy story for them. Just over a month later, on 26th November, Douglas died at sea. He was one of over 700 sailors who died when HMS Bulwark blew up, anchored off Sheerness in one of the worst naval losses for Britain in the whole war. Eveleen was now a widow. Whether she was further upset we can’t tell, but Arthur also died just 9 months later – from illness while serving in the Dardanelles campaign.
At some stage she moved to Poole, probably along with her parents, as just over 2 years later she was living in Lilliput and a volunteer nurse. Her dramatic dream about burns must have been during 1918, the year she was at the Naval Base Hospital and perhaps it was there that she met another naval officer, Lieutenant Stanley Frank Ravenhill Hulbert. He became her third husband when they married at St Peter’s Church, Parkstone on 1st February 1919. He was by then in the newly-formed RAF. In 1921 they had a son, Charles and hopefully there was a period of happy family life as he grew up. But in 1940 Eveleen and Stanley were divorced. And worse, in 1942 Charles was killed flying a Lancaster bomber over occupied Europe. Another war, another tragedy for Eveleen.
Eveleen did keep her husband’s name – perhaps as a link to her lost son. She went on to run a small hotel in Hythe, Kent. Hopefully there she had happy dreams, whether uncanny or not!