Here we are, almost at the end of September. This month has passed quickly. Mr THL has been gone for almost five weeks, deployed for the foreseeable future to the Baltic region. It’s never easy when he goes away for a long one and this year, of course, everything is a bit strange. No self pity, but all of that to say it’s felt a little rough at times.
Everyone who has a loved one who goes away, military or otherwise, finds their own way of coping with the down days. Mine is to do something. Take action. And if ever I need a bit of inspiration from a woman who knew the value of action and getting things done, I’ll look to the achievements of one Bridget Elizabeth Talbot.
Must admit, I hadn’t heard of the formidable Miss Talbot until very recently. Just before Mr THL left, we went off on a Champing adventure, sleeping in a historic church in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Before we settled in for the night, we took The Wolf for a long walk across the fields and stumbled across this…
It’s an understated tribute to an immense achievement, isn’t it?
Bridget Elizabeth Talbot was born in the family home in Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire. That’s only about six miles from the place where we came across her memorial. Why is the stone placed here, rather than at her family home or in the village? I wondered that, too. The answer is quite touching. This little spot in the pretty English countryside is where her ashes were scattered.
The stone in her memory may seem an understated celebration, but the sweeping views across the countryside and the downs are also a tribute to her actions and tenacity. Much of the land belonged to the nearby Ashbridge Estate. Following the death of Earl Brownlow in 1921, the estate was put up for sale and at risk of falling into the hands of developers. Bridget Talbot, determined that the countryside should be preserved for all, led a campaign to preserve the estate for the National Trust. She also put her money where her mouth was and made a substantial financial contribution.
So, Bridget Talbot began and ended her days in the place that she managed to save for future generations to enjoy, but she didn’t stick around around for a quiet life in the Buckinghamshire countryside herself. Born into a wealthy, well connected family I’m sure she could have married well and filled her days with entertaining and country pursuits. Not a bit of it. Fasten your seatbelts folks, her life was quite the adventure…
During the First World War, she went off to work with the Anglo-Italian Red Cross. Her work on the Italian-Austrian front led to her being awarded the Croce de Guerra, or Italian Meal for Valour. An OBE followed for further work with the Red Cross and she remained a committed supporter of the organisation all her life.
She didn’t put her feet up after a spell on the frontline, though. She went on to work with refugees in Turkey and Russia, before becoming interested in the conditions of those sent to serve at sea. Initially she campaigned for improvements in the conditions for merchant seaman, but upon learning more about the dangers they faced she took a more pragmatic approach. She invented a watertight torch for life belts to give sailors gone overboard a better chance of rescue.
A brilliant invention, I think we can all agree. Interesting though, that it took a woman from the English countryside to push the creation that has probably saved thousands of lives. Where did she gain the insight that led to the invention? Experience. When she developed an interest in improving the lot of the merchant mariners, she took herself off for a stint on a ship. Living the problem before she cast the solutions. Modern day politicians and policy makers could learn a thing or two, hey?
Having nailed down the invention and determined the need for it, Miss Talbot then used her political and family connections to get the case into Parliament making the torches compulsory kit for the Merchant Navy, Royal Navy and Air Force. Given what came next in the form of WW2, her timely campaign saved a lot of lives.
Bridget Elizabeth Talbot died in 1971, following a life of tireless campaigning and a career in politics. I’m slightly embarrassed that I’d never heard of her until I happened upon that simple and understated stone on a country walk. Goes to show, doesn’t it, that stories are waiting to be discovered everywhere.
I’m fascinated by Bridget’s life story. I love that she could have taken the path of least resistance, but didn’t. I love that she wasn’t afraid to put herself out there and rattle a few cages in the name of a good cause. The big take away for me is the reminder that what we do today can have a huge impact on someone else’s tomorrow. I think that’s more relevant than ever in these strange times.
Take care, stay positive & stay safe.