A Tale of True Female Heroism.

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Gertrude Mary Powicke and The Heatons War Memorial.

It’s one of The Heatons’ most iconic landmarks. The war memorial standing outside St Paul’s Church is a permanent reminder of the courage and sacrifice of all the local men who paid the ultimate price when serving their country in the First World War.

The memorial was commissioned to commemorate those servicemen from both Heaton Moor and Heaton Chapel killed in the Great War. There was some initial debate in the community as to whether a statue should be erected or whether a more utilitarian memorial, in the form of a gymnasium, should be provided. However, after a public meeting it was decided to proceed with the statue and Manchester sculptor John Cassidy, was asked to come up with an appropriate design. The result was the bronze memorial of a soldier on a stone pedestal, at an estimated cost of around £2000. (Around £89,000 in today’s money.)

St Paul’s Church provided the land on which to erect the memorial and Cassidy agreed not to use the same model for any other memorial within a thirty-mile radius. It was intended to include stone seating at the rear, but the cost prohibited this. Instead, a semi-circular, finely dressed, ashlar wall was designed and built by James Henry Sellars.

The memorial was completed and unveiled in January 1921. In the local press, Cassidy was congratulated for producing a statue which ‘suggested great ideals: it suggested something of the infinite; it suggested heroic endurance and sustained fortitude and triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.’

The men of The Heatons had been remembered in the finest way possible. But wait!

Look closely at the names engraved on the plinth, and you’ll find the name Gertrude Mary Powicke. She is believed to be the only woman commemorated on any memorial in the Borough of Stockport. She was a civilian, and her date of death is recorded as 20th December 1919 at the age of 32.

Gertrude was born on the 19th December,1887 in the Hatherlow area of Romiley and grew up in the local parsonage where her father, Frederick, was the minister of the local Congregational Church. After attending boarding school in Kent, Gertrude returned to Manchester. She was an exceptional student, starting at the Victoria University of Manchester in 1908 and graduating with a degree in Modern Languages in 1911. Following the completion of her studies, she moved on to become a teacher at the Manchester High School for Girls between the years 1911-1913. When war was declared in 1914, she was keen to go into service. She joined the war effort, learned to drive, and trained as a nurse.

In 1915 she joined the Friends Emergency and War Victims Relief Committee which had been formed by the Quakers. It undertook medical duties, including founding a maternity hospital at Chalons-sur-Marne. Gertrude worked in France, but it is not known where.

In 1919, she travelled to Poland to treat an outbreak of Typhus. The epidemic, caused by the sudden surge of refugees returning to their farmland after the war, was ravishing both the Polish people and the Ukrainians. Gertrude described the horrors of the refugee camps in one of her last letters home, ‘I think it’s one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen, they have come in in hundreds, sometimes thousands and there is no wood or coal to heat the barracks…If only people in England knew how terrible it is out here, I’m sure they would be running head over heels to help.’

Gertrude travelled through many areas of war-ravished Europe and worked in towns which were regularly exposed to aerial bombardment. She was nursing in the area of Lemberg when she contracted Typhus. She was hospitalised on her return to Warsaw but sadly died on 20th December 1919. She was buried in the Evangelical-Reformed cemetery in Warsaw.  Her death was felt very strongly in England, and contributions of clothing and money for the Polish relief effort were collected by the Manchester Women’s Union in her name

Her name is inscribed on the University of Manchester War Memorial and also on the family grave at Hatherlow Churchyard.

So next time you’re passing our war memorial, take a little time to seek out Gertrude. She is resting peacefully on the north side of the plinth with the Joys and the Sackets.

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