Part One: Daisy Lavender
Countless lives were shattered by the Great War. But it also brought people together, including a young nurse from New Malden and her future husband.
Daisy Lavender worked in service at wealthy Eaton Place in Belgravia during the early part of the Great War.
The house, number 79, was next-door to the one eventually used for TV drama Upstairs, Downstairs – her favourite programme in later years because it reminded her of her work there.
But she left the safety and routine to do her duty for Britain, becoming a volunteer nurse at the New Malden Red Cross hospital. It would change her life.
Ernest Rainforth. Photo courtesy of Miriam Bailey.
Ernest Rainsforth was a confirmed bachelor, working as an engineer but still living with his parents in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, into his 30s.
After war broke out he enlisted in the territorial West Riding Regiment. Sent to France in January 1917, he fought for 58 days before sustaining severe injuries to his left arm and leg.
He was evacuated to London, and transferred to New Malden to recuperate.
Daisy’s granddaughter, Miriam Bailey, said: “Daisy came back home to New Malden and signed up to be a ‘VAD’ [voluntary aid detachment]. They needed anyone that could roll a bandage.
“That’s where they met. They must have fallen for each other.
“He brought her back to Gainsborough – they married in March 1918. It’s quite romantic, really.”
Daisy Lavender and co-workers at the aircraft factory. Photo courtesy of Miriam Bailey.
Remarkably, within a week of marrying Ernest, Daisy began work at the Marshall, Sons & Co factory in Gainsborough, building Bristol fighter planes.
Ms Bailey, 62, of Lincoln, has put 10 years into researching her family. She added: “She didn’t hang about. That was for the war effort. She was a real worker.
“Daisy always used to go back to New Malden every summer. She used to take her daughters. She never lost her connection.
“I was 30 when Daisy died. She was a big part of my life when I was growing up. She liked gadding off – she liked going off out for the day. She was a lovely old girl. She never spoke of her experiences at all.”
Part Two: Albert Dean
Arthur Dean. Photo courtesy of Miriam Bailey.
Daisy’s large extended family also lived in New Malden.
One of her uncles, Albert Dean, had been a milkman before the war but signed up to be an ambulance driver with the Royal Army Service Corps.
Before shipping out he made his cousin, Albert King, promise to look after his family – wife Mabel, and young sons Arthur and Joseph – should anything happen to him.
Tragically, Albert died of pneumonia aged just 36, less than three weeks after the armistice was signed.
Ms Bailey said: “He fought all the way through the war. He catches Spanish flu and dies days after the war ended. It’s so sad.”
He was buried at a cemetery in Rouen, France.
Details of this story came to light thanks to Ms Bailey’s persistence – and a large dose of serendipity.
Daisy was christened at Christchurch, New Malden, where her parents married. Ms Bailey asked the vicar if she could look at church records for her research, mentioning the family names Lavender and Dean.
The vicar had a flash of recognition – he remembered speaking to Arthur Dean, Albert’s younger son, at an Armistice Day ceremony just days before, and put the two in touch – what Ms Bailey called “a fluke”.
She visited Mr Dean at his flat in King Charles Road, Surbiton, with a friend, and took along an old bible belonging to his father.
She added: “When he opened the door he said to me, ‘You must be Miriam, because you look like Daisy.’ He told us the whole story.”
Mr Dean remembered hearing news of his father’s illness, aged just five.
But Albert King had made good on his promise, marrying Mabel Dean and helping raise her sons.
The hospital where Daisy worked as a nurse. Photo courtesy of Miriam Bailey.
Conversation turned to Daisy, and Mr Dean recounted how during the war his family used to visit the Lavenders at their home, 2 Rose Cottages, to sing around the piano.
He then burst out into a rendition of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’.
Ms Bailey added: “He pressed this £10 note into my hand and said, ‘Would you put some flowers on her grave for me?’ He’d never forgotten her.”
Mr Dean died in January 2010, aged 96.