CWG: Nurse Lilian Chinn

Nurse Lilian Chinn

Lilian Ella Chinn was born in 1893, one of six children to Walter and Kate Chinn. Walter was the butcher in the Somerset village of Middlezoy, and this is where the family had made their home.

There is little recorded of Lilian, and the information is confusing – another Lilian Chinn was born around the same time a few miles away, so it’s a challenge to identify the correct details.

What is known, is that, with the war raging, Lilian felt that she needed to do what she could – and enlisted in the Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1916. Serving as a nurse, she was based at the military hospital in Devonport, Plymouth.

Sadly, it is evident that nursing staff were not immune to the ailments and illnesses of the soldiers they were treating. Lilian contracted meningitis and peritonitis, passing away on 24th June 1917, aged just 23 years old.

Lilian Ella Chinn lies at rest in the peaceful graveyard of Holy Cross Church in Middlezoy, Somerset.


It is worth noting that Lilian’s brother Hedley also served – and perished – as a result of the Great War. Click here to learn more.


When I was researching Lilian’s life, I ran through the contemporary newspapers to trace her name. Nothing evident came up, although her father Walter’s name did appear.

In 1910, he declared himself bankrupt after being unable to pay for meat for his shop, that he had bought at auction. It appears that he had run up debts of over £300 (approximately £23,500 in today’s money) over a number of years; he put these debts down to a number of factors – “illness of my children, bad debts, having to maintain my mother for 14 years; and loss on sale of Middlezoy House, Middlezoy, three years ago, which realised £200 less than the amount I gave for it, and the amount expended on improvements”.

Walter’s debts were finally cleared in 1928 and the bankruptcy annulled.


The gravestone in Holy Cross Churchyard is a haunting memorial to the tragic lives of the Chinn family.

Walter and Kate had six children, and would outlive every one of them. The stone confirms that each of their children lies in the grave:

  • Clarence Joseph (born 1891, died 1907)
  • Myrtle Amy (born 1892, died 1893)
  • Lilian Ella (born 1893, died 1917)
  • Hilda Kate (born 1895, died 1896)
  • Hedley Walter (born 1900, died 1921)
  • Hilda Godfrey (born 1903, died 1904)

The grave’s epitaph – God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform – sounds cruelly hollow to 21st century ears. The only comfort to take, I guess, is that the whole family was destined to be together again: both Kate (who died in 1927) and Walter (who died in 1933) are also buried in the family grave.


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