Sister Violet Fraser (1883 – 1919)
Only one woman is recorded on Dunbar’s World War 1 Memorial: Sister Violet Fraser. And therein lies a bit of a mystery – who was she? She seems to have left little trace in Dunbar itself, but when the net is cast wider her story begins to resolve.
Violet Thomasina Millie Fraser was born in Partick, Glasgow, on 27 November 1883, the third daughter of Thomas Fraser and Emilia Buchanan Johnston. Violet’s father was himself the third son of Dunbar’s premier grocer. But he left Dunbar, trained as an engineer, joined the merchant navy and, after marrying, set up as a marine engineering draughtsman. His trade kept him at the Clyde shipyards for a while but the family went to the US in the early 1890s: Emilia can be traced in several transatlantic voyages and Thomas is buried in Camden, New Jersey, where he died on 10 October 1914.
Where Violet acquired her training is unknown but in 1911 she was back in Britain as a nurse on the staff of King’s College Hospital, Portugal Street, London. After the outbreak of war it is likely that her uncles and aunt, then resident and tenants at the farm of East Pinkerton, alerted her to the establishment of the VAD hospital at Dunbar Battery. Letters survive to show that Violet was in Dunbar during the period 1916-17. The commandants of the hospital in this period were Mrs Alice Anderson and Mrs Evelyn Hunter, so it is likely that Violet was one of the two trained Red Cross nurses on the establishment: essentially, the key providers of nursing care, assisted by the VADs. Records of the hospital have not been traced.
Violet’s next move came on the 12th December 1917, when it was reported in the British Journal of Nursing that in reference to a group of additional staff volunteering for Unit 6 of the Serbian Relief Fund
Miss V Fraser has gone with the unit as Lady Cook.
The hospitals of the Serbian Relief Fund worked principally behind the lines catering to the needs of the people displaced from the fighting zone. The end of the war provided no let-up in the pace of work because, if anything, it actually increased. It was a perennial struggle against endemic disease in often the most primitive of conditions, which could sadly be detrimental to the health of those providing care.
Violet was only one of many to give their lives. She died at Predejane 5th March 1919 where her headstone still stands in a shady corner of the town’s graveyard. Violet’s mother was in Dunbar around this time; perhaps it was she, and Violet’s Dunbar relatives, that ensured her sacrifice was recorded on Dunbar’s War Memorial. Violet is also recorded on the Women’s National Memorial at York Minster.
The inscription on the headstone reads:
In loving memory of Violet M Fraser born 30 November 1883 died at Predejane 5 March 1919 youngest daughter of the late Thomas Fraser of New Jersey US and Mrs Fraser Conashan Stirlingshire Scotland She gave her life for others. The stone was erected to her memory. The Serbian Relief Fund grateful appreciation of her service. Ovde počiva Engleskinja koja je dala svoj život negujući Srbe (Herein lies the Englishwoman who gave her life fostering Serbs)