Special Collections

Sold between 19 July & 1 March 2017

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The Julian Johnson Collection

Julian Johnson, FRGS

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№ 200


10 May 2017

Hammer Price:

The extremely rare Messina Earthquake and Great War group of five awarded to Nursing Sister B. M. Simmonds, West African Medical Service, attached H.Q. Nigeria, ‘one of the first women to land in German West Africa’ in 1915, a veteran of the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, and the Balkan War of 1912-13. Fluent in seven languages she found employment as an interpreter during the Second World War, despite being in her 70’s

1914-15 Star (Nursing Sister B. M. Simmonds. W. Afr. M.S.); British War and Victory Medals (Nursing Sister B. M. Simmonds.); Greece, Red Cross Medal 1912-13, silver and enamel; Italy, Kingdom, Messina Earthquake Medal 1908, silver, unnamed, with Greek Nursing Badge, dated ‘1897’, British awards mounted as worn, generally very fine (6) £800-1200

This lot was sold as part of a special collection, The Julian Johnson Collection.

View The Julian Johnson Collection


Provenance: Fevyer Collection, November 1998.

Beatrice Mary Simmonds (later Mrs B. A. Mackinnon) is featured thus in Angels in Blue Jackets in the appendix titled ‘Some Characters’:

‘It has not been possible to obtain full details of this lady’s extraordinary life, but even the sketchiest outline is full of interest.

She was born in England in 1873... At an early age she was taken by her parents to Greece, her father being Chief Engineer on the railway from Athens to Piraeus. Educated at the French Convent in Athens, she was fluent in English, French and Greek by the age of ten.

At eighteen she came back to England and qualified as a State Registered Nurse. Returning to Athens, she volunteered for nursing service with the Greek army during the 1897 war with the Turks.

It appears that she subsequently moved to Sicily and was working as a teacher of languages at the Berlitz School in Messina at the time of the earthquake. According to her obituary, she dedicated the next three years of her life to caring for the disabled survivors of the disaster and was honoured by Queen Elena for her work.

In 1912 she again volunteered for service in the field, this time in the Balkan War. It is stated that she received the Royal Red Cross at this time [this was in fact the Red Cross Medal 1912-13].

She next appears in Kenya and Tanganyika, in 1915, working as a nurse with the British and South African forces fighting the Germans led by Von Lettow Vorbeck [she actually served in the German South West Africa theatre of war from 19 March 1915]. Subsequently she received the 1914-15 Star, and the British War and Victory Medals.

At about this time she married Charles Mackinnon of Skye, a manager for Barclays Bank DCO and nephew of Sir Charles Mackinnon of Mackinnon Road fame [the road between Nairobi and Mombasa]. The couple subsequently lived in Pretoria and Durban.

During the Second World War, when Durban was a clearing house for prisoners of war and wounded soldiers of many nations, and despite being in her early seventies, she worked as an interpreter in local camps and hospitals. Apart from her childhood languages, she was fluent also in German, Afrikaans, Italian and Swahili.

She died in Durban, at the age of 99, in January 1972.’

Sold with a photographic image of the recipient wearing her medals, and copied research.