Matron Clara Deacon of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Cardiff

Clara Deacon was Assistant Matron at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, which pioneered the treatment and rehabilitation of soldiers and sailors who were Great War amputees. The Prince of Wales Hospital was established to provide this service in Wales.

Clara commenced her duties as Matron in Cardiff on 8 January 1917. Her starting salary was £70 per annum, including laundry and board, and she was subject to a 3 month notice period. By 9 May 1917 it was agreed to appoint her as Commandant (a military establishment). In December 1917 her salary was increased to £104 and in December 1918 it became £130.

There’s little doubt that the Committee thought her an exceptional asset; so much so that in November 1918 it was agreed to strike a unique version of the hospital badge in her honour. The hospital badge was normally presented in a base metal to staff who gave good service, but it was agreed that this special badge should be in gold and enamel and set with diamonds.

They also recommended a more formal recognition of her devotion, ability and energy. In March 1920, Clara Deacon became a Member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

This photograph of the hospital staff was taken during the 1920s, and would appear to be outside nos. 1 and 3 Richmond Crescent. It looks as though Commandant Deacon, in the centre, is wearing her MBE.

The esteem in which she was held continued with a salary increase to £136 in December 1919. In 1923 it was further improved to £150 with an honorarium of £30. In 1929 Clara had her status enhanced, becoming known by the title ‘Commandant and Matron’, which seemed to attract a further salary improvement to £220 with £10 annual increments to £250, along with £15 per annum uniform allowance.

In August 1933 Clara decided to retire. Despite requests to withdraw her offer of resignation, she remained resolute and retired in January 1934. The minutes of the Executive Committee of 8 January 1934 note the retirement gift presented to their Commandant and Matron Clara Deacon.

Records of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Cardiff, are available to consult at Glamorgan Archives.

Roy Dowell, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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4 thoughts on “Matron Clara Deacon of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Cardiff

  1. The post-war registers of the General Nursing Council don’t have an entry for Clara Deacon in any section, and show that she was not registered as a trained nurse during her period at Prince of Wales Hospital. During the First World War it was an auxiliary hospital under the umbrella of the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital, Whitchurch – it was fairly small during the war, with 53 beds in 1917, though this might have increased post-war. Each auxiliary hospital was under the control of a ‘Commandant’ – the term was used for the person who had overall administrative and organisational responsibility for the day-to-day running of the unit, though she did not necessarily need to be a qualified nurse. Historically, many large civil hospitals had Assistant Matrons who were not nurses, but used in administrative roles. Clara Deacon would have been responsible for every aspect of the management of the hospital except anything that needed the skill of a professional nurse or a doctor – the photo shows her with a trained nurse on either side. So it would seem that in line with many other hospitals of this type she was Matron and Commandant but not a professional nurse, and obviously very good at her job. The medal/badge she’s doesn’t look the right size/shape for her M.B.E., so something else (though no idea what).

  2. As Sue says it’s not the right shape for an MBE which is heraldically a cross patonce. It would also normally be worn on the other side of the chest, and the ribbon for a lady is more like bow. The side it’s being worn on would also seem to rule out any confusion as to whether she was actually awarded the BEM, rather than MBE. I wonder if it’s actually her special hospital badge?

    • I did check the London Gazette earlier and the award as noted in the original post is correct. I thought at first it could be an error for the Medal of the Order of the British Empire (later the BEM) as the photo does perhaps suggest the lesser order, but definitely the M.B.E.

  3. The picture I had selected for the Clara Deacon piece, showing her with her MBE, was, mistakenly not used when ‘posted’, although the caption was – hence the hiccup! The correct one is available in the archive. Very interested in Sue’s observations about her not being a trained nurse

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