Monday 14 February 2011 by Nicholas Schmidt. 4 comments
News, Personal Stories, Collection, Collection Highlights, ANZAC Connections

Recently, I have been working on the papers of Field Marshal the Lord Birdwood, the First World War British General who commanded the Australian Corps for much of the First World War (including at Gallipoli). Amongst the papers, donated by the Birdwood family in the 1960s, I have found a story I think is suitable for a Valentine’s Day blog entry.

My research is continuing but it was the romantic notion of ‘The airman who married the General’s daughter’ that caught my attention. It is the story of Constance ‘Nancy’ Birdwood, the eldest daughter of Birdwood, who married a Western Australian grazier, Colin Craig. Nancy was an Australian Red Cross nurse while Colin was an airman who flew for the Royal Flying Corp during the First World War.

Nancy (back right) with other nurses in the grounds of No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital (1AAH), Harefield, England, c. 1916. Nancy (back right) with other nurses in the grounds of No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital (1AAH), Harefield, England, c. 1916. P02402.012

My first hint of the story was a letter from Colin’s former schoolmaster which was apparently in reply to an enquiry from Birdwood. Later I found several letters from Colin Craig to then Lieutenant General Birdwood. With the letters was a photograph of Colin looking rather dashing in his uniform (below).

Colin’s letters are filled with nervous anticipation and reassurances as he introduces himself and explains his background and his desire to marry Nancy. He tries to be frank about the life Nancy would live on remote sheep stations in Western Australian. Apparently, Lady Birdwood approved of Colin but was distressed by the thought of Nancy being so far away.

From the letters and Birdwood’s own memoirs, it would appear the couple met sometime in 1916 and love blossomed. They first confided in Lady Birdwood before telling Birdwood. However, any thought of marriage must have been put on hold when Colin was shot down over Arras and held as a prisoner of war by the Germans. As a result, the happy ending to the story did not happen until March 1919 when Nancy married Colin at Brompton Parish Church.

Birdwood and his wife visited their daughter and son-in-law in Australia on several occasions. Their official tour in 1919-20 was extensively covered by the newspapers of the day and met with great enthusiasm especially by veterans. The visit happily also coincided with the birth of Nancy and Colin’s first child.

Update 21 March 2011

I've just found this picture of Colin and Nancy's wedding in the Memorial's collection. I do wonder how I missed it but then the Memorial does have over 300 000 photographs online!

Colin and Nancy's wedding Colin and Nancy's wedding D00500

Comments

Chromatix Web Design Melbourne

What a marvelous find! This was a great story for valentine's day! It would be fantastic to hear more detail from the story of Constance ‘Nancy’ Birdwood, maybe some snippets from Collin's letters if possible?

Katherine Summers

I love your blogs - the stories that bring history and real people alive. Keep up the great work folks!

Katy Birdwood

Really interesting to know, I'm currently in Australia and I've been finding out bits and pieces about my ancestry. Thanks

Tony Birdwood

Amazing to read this detail about a forebear of mine. Recently, I have been in touch with the current owner of the sheep station on the Williams River near Perth. His grandfather served under Birdwood in WW1.