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Ada Smith WWI Nurse

Ada Smith 1869 - 1925

Ada Smith was for 21 years the Matron of the Tunbridge Wells General Hospital, which was situated in Grosvenor Road, between the junctions with Upper Grosvenor Road and Goods Station Road.

She was born in Reading in around 1868 to Charles Smith, Architect, J.P. and Mayor of Reading and Mary Ann Steward, the daughter of a grocer. Ada lived at 164 Friar Street, Reading with her siblings, Charles, Edith, John, George, Eva, Maria and Florence.

She attended Royal Holloway College in Surrey and had the honour of singing in the choir in front of Queen Victoria when the Queen attended the opening of the school. She continued her education by training as a nurse at Charing Cross Hospital, London. The 1901 Census indicates that Ada achieved the position of Senior Sister.

Ada joined Tunbridge Wells Hospital as Matron in 1903, a position she held until her death in 1925. During this period smallpox, typhoid, diphtheria, TB and the influenza pandemic put huge demands on local health services. She was also in charge of nurse training at the hospital, and many of those she was responsible for were reported as going on to find good nursing positions elsewhere.

During the First World War Ada had the added responsibility of overseeing the running of the many Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals that opened in the Tunbridge Wells area. During this time she worked very long hours, reportedly walking the wards at night, ensuring that the dying were not alone and that those who could not sleep were comforted. The Kent and Sussex Courier (March 1915) reported how the Matron liaised with the Red Cross Clothing Committee to ensure that all the wounded soldiers were ‘provided with useful garments’.

In 1918, in recognition of her war work, Ada was awarded the Royal Red Cross, a military decoration awarded for exceptional services in military nursing. She was presented with the award by King George V at Buckingham Palace, and afterward attended a reception hosted by Queen Alexandra at Marlborough House. The Royal Red Cross is engraved with the words, Faith, Hope and Charity, and fittingly Ada’s grave stone was also constructed with the three plinths that represent faith, hope and charity.

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