An uncanny dream and the sad story of a WW1 nurse

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.

Eveleen Maude Wilson, from the Daily Mirror 1914

Eveleen Maude Wilson, from the Daily Mirror 1914

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!

A Poole man’s experience of being at sea

Local men would occasionally write to the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper about their experiences of being in the First World War. A Culture volunteer working on the First World Project has looked at one man’s experience of being on HMS Grafton.

HMS Grafton was an Edgar-class cruiser and was launched in London on January 30 1892. She was commissioned in 1895 and operated off China until 1899. Following this tour of duty she became the flagship in the Pacific. At the beginning of the First World War, HMS Grafton was part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron whose role was to blockade German ports. This type of ship was quickly found to be unsuited for this work and, following a withdrawal from service, Grafton was later transformed into a bombardment ship and was used in the Gallipoli campaign.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported in its November 26 1914 edition on an interview with Mr H.G. Lucas who was on HMS Grafton at the time it was involved in blockade work in the North Sea. Mr Lucas lived at ‘Dreadnought’, Longfleet Road, Poole and was a member of the Poole Board of Guardians. He was part of the Royal Navy Fleet Reserve and was called-up on August 2 1914. The newspaper interviewed him when he was home on leave for a couple of weeks. He said that there were nearly 70 men from Dorset on the Grafton including Messrs Short and Baker from Poole and Mr Brown of Broadstone. Lucas was on the Grafton from August 3 to November 15 and he reckoned he must have sailed nearly 30,000 miles as the Grafton searched shipping and hunted for submarines. He said that they stopped all types of merchant shipping from numerous different countries. This happened day and night which he said was “terribly trying”.

In the interview he said that the Grafton was the first British vessel to take down a German ensign after the declaration of war when it captured a German ship. He said they also had some luck. The cruiser Hawke came on station at 4am to allow the Grafton to take on coal – not long afterwards the Hawke was torpedoed. He comments in his interview that various ruses were used by the enemy to entice the ship to investigate, such as throwing debris in the sea, but the sailors soon realised that if they were not careful they would be sunk by a torpedo from a waiting submarine. While life on the ship was ‘very strict’ the men were ready for anything and were eager to protect the coast of Britain. Lucas also talks about other aspects of ship life. A sprig of white heather was kept on-board for ‘good luck’ and the ship’s elderly cat, called ‘Jack Johnson’s pupil’, would chase about the deck while the fife and drum played a tune each morning.


  1. The British blockade of German North Sea ports began on August 12 1914 with the aim of stopping merchant ships reaching Germany. By 1916, over 300 deaths a day were being attributed to starvation, there were food riots in many German cities and on June 28 1916 around 55,000 German workers went on strike because of the conditions. It has been argued that the naval blockade was a significant factor in Germany’s surrender.
  2. Lucas makes no mention if ‘prize money’ was received for the captured German vessel. It was not uncommon for captured shipping to have the original crew taken off and replaced by a ‘prize crew’.
  3. The North Sea was extensively mined by both sides. In contrast to the German policy in which shipping had to take their chances, the British policy was if a merchant ship put into a British port it would be searched, any illegal cargo confiscated and then the ship would be escorted through the coastal minefields.
  4. Jack Johnson was a famous American boxer of the time.


Gardiner Shipbuilding and Engineering Company – a hope for the future?

Post-First World War was a time to look to the future and given the large numbers of returning men there was a pressing need for jobs. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project explores the short history of one attempt to develop a shipbuilding industry in Poole.

As early as November 1917 there was talk of creating a massive shipbuilding industry in Poole. Iron ore would be imported from Spain, after which it would be smelted, turned into steel and then engine components manufactured – all in Poole. It was claimed that orders for more than 40 ships would follow when the company was up and running. Captain Gardiner, who lived at ‘The Birches’, Parkstone, and was behind the scheme, hoped to have the first ship finished by August 1918. He claimed that this would be aided by special ‘secret’ machines from America which would mean the company could build ships much cheaper than in traditional shipyards. At the time, there was a heavy loss of shipping because of submarine warfare and there was a great need for new ships. The project went into abeyance because it was nearly two years before anything further happened.

A letter dated 8 August 1919 was received by Poole Harbour Commissioners announcing that Gardiner Shipbuilding and Engineering Company had purchased the Admiralty Shipyard Extensions No 62 (formerly the Hill, Richards and Co Ltd shipyard) at Hamworthy. The company had been contracted to build twelve 7,600 ton ships. The keels for the initial two were to be laid shortly and February 1920 was the expected launch date. They expected to utilise the existing six berths and had plans for two 10,500 ton ships and two liners for the Atlantic trade. The letter expressed a hope that Poole Bar, just outside the entrance to the harbour, would be dredged as quickly as possible to aid the project.

The prospectus for the Gardiner Shipbuilding and Engineering Company was published on 15 December 1919. The Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper reported that the value of the twelve ships to be built by the company was £2.25 million. It was also hoped to carry out repair work. The advantage of the project was that the Lake Shipyard was already fitted out and had an existing workforce on the 151 acre site. It was anticipated that it would be ‘one of the largest’ shipbuilding companies in the country.

The shipyard had the benefit of a rail link to the London & South Western Railway mainline and this would allow materials to be easily delivered. It was anticipated that it would employ, when fully operational, 2,500 to 3,000 men. It was also expected to attract other businesses to Hamworthy and its branch line would become highly important to the area. The housing shortage in Poole would be alleviated as Captain Gardiner proposed using some of the 300 acres of his own land for the construction of a ‘garden city’ of 500 houses in Hamworthy. Gardiner had purchased Lake House in 1919.

Who was Captain Gardiner? According to a newspaper article, he was born in Manchester, was 52 years of age in 1920 and was in the Royal Navy during the First World War. Apparently, he was in command of a ‘Q’ boat, used in combatting submarine warfare, which sailed out of Poole.

It was reported on November 20 1919 that the first ship would be finished by May 1920 and the remainder would be completed ‘every six weeks’. The company hoped to start work on two liners in February 1920. Oddly, it was also announced that nearly 2,000 men would be transferred from the Clyde shipyards.

A newspaper article of January 15 1920 said that 3 keels had been laid. A few months later, it was reported that the ships would have their engines and boilers added at Glasgow which meant they would have to be towed to the Clyde. A concern with shipping movements in and out of Poole Harbour was the restriction placed by the bar of sand just outside the harbour entrance. However, it was said that no dredging was needed as the vessels would only have a draft of 9ft while the Poole Harbour Bar had a draft of 16ft at high water spring tides.

The prospect for Poole, the harbour and jobs was considered very bright. However, just a few months later, a compulsory winding-up order against Gardiner Shipbuilding was announced. Spanish companies wanted the return of £400,000 that had been paid for ships which had not been delivered – although there was disagreement over whether the money had been paid. A merchant banker was prepared to give £200,000 based on the value of the company’s assets but would require more time to raise the funds.

Another debt of £430 was claimed by a Birmingham company. Captain Gardiner alleged he was owed £50,000 by Gardiner Shipbuilding but it was also claimed he owed the company £21,000. It was stated that the financial problems had arisen because the company was paid in instalments for work in progress and these payments had not been made. Captain Gardiner believed that the company would be able to continue to function as he was in the process of raising £250,000 of capital.

In December 1920, an article in the local newspaper said that a compulsory order was being sought for the liquidation of the company because of unpaid debts. The company claimed it had ‘bills of exchange for £10,000’ in a foreign currency and these could be used to pay the debts when converted into British pounds. It was agreed that the order would be dismissed if the money was paid.

However, in March 1921 there were two winding-up petitions against Gardiner Shipbuilding – the Campania Naviera Mundaca Sociedad Anonima and W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co. claimed they were owed a total of £293,000. The Gardiner Company wanted further time as they were awaiting the result of the international War Reparations Committee concerning a loan of 42 million francs for major shipbuilding projects that had been requested by the company. The case was adjourned for a week but the newspaper article noted that the shipyard had not done any work since July 1920.

There is a strange ending to this story. Clara, his first wife, died when bailiffs were about to take over Lake House. A law forbade bailiffs from going into a dwelling if a body was ‘at rest’ and Gardiner had his wife’s body kept in the house for around two years. She was eventually buried in Hamworthy Parish Cemetery in 1921. A large crypt was built and can still be seen in the cemetery; strangely, there appears to be no inscription.

Hamworthy Cemetery

Hamworthy Cemetery

And what happened to Captain Gardiner? In 1925, he was on trial at the Old Bailey, London accused of a £200,000 fraud relating to when he was managing director of Gardiner Shipbuilding in Poole. It was alleged he had published false information to encourage people to take out shares in the company. The seriousness of the case meant that the startling amount of £60,000 was the reward for his capture. The case and his life story captured the public imagination. An Australian newspaper article had the headline ‘Picturesque Hero of Astonishing Adventure’. The article outlined his remarkable life which involved taking part in a revolution in Chile, being on the side of the Chinese in the Chino-Japanese War, commanding Australian troops during the Boer War, and being on a minelayer during the Russo-Japanese War. During the First World War, he carried out salvage work on the ‘Oceanic’, invented several anti-submarine devices, commanded a ‘Q’ boat, and claimed he was involved in the planning of the Zeebrugge blockade. Part way through the trial the jury concluded there was no case to be answered and Gardiner was released.

He died at the Seaman’s Hospital, Greenwich, in 1930 and is believed to be buried alongside Clara in Hamworthy Parish Cemetery.