By Ed Perkins.
In a quiet churchyard in Poole, lies the grave of Lily Emma Scammell, who died in the First World War.
Although commemorated as one of the war dead with her gravestone maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lily did not lose her life as a result of enemy action. But though she may not have been a heroine, she was certainly a pioneer, who died when comparatively young.
For Lily served in the First World War as one of the earliest members of the Women’s Royal Air Force, joining it in 1918. And she passed away that same year of an abdominal infection at her home in Alder Road, Poole, at the age of just 45.
Lily was born in the village of West Tytherley in Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Scammell. Thomas was a carpenter.
By the time Lily was seven, the Scammell family had moved to Poole, close to the Woodman Tavern in what is now part of Branksome.
Two years later, around the same time as the Scammells’ youngest child, Sidney, was born, the children’s father, Thomas, died, aged 49. He was buried in January 1883 at Branksome Park. His widow, Elizabeth, was left to look after their six children, including the new-born baby.
After she grew up, Lily, the oldest of two daughters, was to have a number of jobs. At 18, she was working as a housemaid at the home of a family, living in Burton Road, Branksome Park.
Ten years later, she is listed as a waitress at a restaurant and was now living back with her family at Firwood, Langley Road, in Parkstone, just off the Bournemouth Road.
Soon afterwards, Elizabeth, her youngest boy, Sidney, and daughter Lily moved to another home called ‘Ranelagh’ in nearby Alder Road. By now, Sidney was working on the corporation trams and Lily was in domestic service.
In 1914, the year the First World War broke out, Lily’s mother died at the age of about 74. Like her husband, she was buried in Branksome Park.
The war saw aircraft being used for the first time in conflict and, as the conflict progressed, more and more military planes were taking to the skies. Before the war ended, in the early spring of 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to form the RAF, with the Women’s Royal Air Force alongside.
At the time of the merger, 9,000 women – many of whom were already in military service – joined the new WRAF.
Two months later, Lily Scammell, too, enlisted in the WRAF. Her age was recorded as 42, though she was three years older.
She had followed her younger brother into the service for Sidney served as a private in the RAF’s Kite Balloon Section.
Lily worked as a seamstress with the WRAF and was stationed at the Beaulieu airfield at East Boldre in the New Forest. Women in the WRAF had the rank of Member and she was given the service number of 9239.
RAF Beaulieu was a training airfield that expanded greatly during the course of the war. In the year Lily enrolled there it, it had huge aircraft hangars, workshops covering everything from carpentry to welding, and accommodation buildings that included one for specifically for women in the WRAF.
Many squadrons passed through the training airfield, some before going to the Western Front. Pilot training was dangerous in itself and 41 airmen are believed to have died in accidents at East Boldre.
Women carried out many tasks at RAF Beaulieu, according to the East Boldre Parish Council website .
‘By early 1918,’ it says, ‘women were performing several vital roles. Some were lorry drivers, or officers’ chauffeurs while others worked in the workshop, which was also on the north side of the road.
‘This workshop comprised a Sewing Room where the material was stitched onto the wings, and a Doping Room where the material was ‘dipped’ in stiffener. It was a terrible place to work due to the fumes given off by the dope.’
As a seamstress, it is likely that Lily Scammell worked in the Sewing Room.
Lily had enrolled for duty with 17th Wing at RAF Beaulieu on 3 June 1918. Just 80 days later, she died back at her Alder Road, Poole, home. Her younger sister, Ida, was at her side.
The cause of death was given as ‘Tubercular Peritonitis’ – an inflammation of the abdominal lining causing severe pain. Her death certificate also included the words ‘Five months’, suggesting she may have been suffering even before she joined up.
Her funeral took place days later with Lily’s brother, Frank, liaising with the War Graves Commission. The service was conducted by the Rev Charles Arthur Strange, a clergyman from St Clement’s Church in Boscombe, whose brother, the Rev Geoffrey Lionel Strange, was a minister at All Saints.
Lily was buried under the shade of trees in the north of All Saints churchyard at Branksome Park, not far from where her mother and father had been laid to rest.
At St Nicholas’s Chapel in York Minster, her name is included in the roll of honour of more than 1,500 women who died in the First World War, recorded on oak panels on a screen.