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Lady Muriel Evelyn Vernon Paget (born 19 August 1876, London – 16 June 1938, London) was a British philanthropist and a humanitarian relief worker, initially based in London, and later in Eastern and Central Europe. She was awarded an OBE in 1918 and an CBE in 1938.[1] She was also honoured with medals or other awards in recognition of her humanitarian work by the governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Imperial Russia.[2] In 1916 she was invested as a Dame of Grace of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England.[3]

Contents

Family

Lady Muriel Finch-Hatton was the elder of the two children of Murray Finch-Hatton, 12th Earl of Winchilsea, of Haverholme Priory, Lincolnshire, and was educated privately at home. Her brother George, Viscount Maidstone, to whom she was greatly attached, died at the age of nine in 1892. She married Richard Arthur Surtees Paget (who later became the second Baronet Paget) on 31 May 1897. They had five children, the first of whom died in infancy.

The Invalid Kitchens of London

Lady Muriel first became actively involved in charity work when, in 1905, she responded to a suggestion made by an aunt that she might take up the post of honorary secretary of a charity seeking to establish a kitchen in Southwark (the Southwark Invalid Kitchen). The aim of this charity was to provide, at the nominal cost of 1d, well-prepared and nourishing meals for expectant and nursing mothers, sick children, and convalescents whose poverty would otherwise have meant that they were unable to afford them. The kitchen was situated in Scovell Road, with meals being served between 12 noon and 1 p.m.[4] Later on, the charity’s rules were revised and the charges were assessed according to the earning capacity of each individual’s family. The intention was that these meals would be provided to cases recommended by a doctor, a hospital, or by other approved agencies.

By raising funds, particularly through a series of charity balls[5], similar kitchens were later founded in various other areas of London through the Invalid Kitchens of London movement (which evolved from the Southwark Invalid Kitchen), under the patronage of Queen Mary. After the outbreak of the First World War, it was found necessary to increase the number of kitchens dramatically, partly because so many hospital places had to be allocated for the treatment of wounded soldiers (which meant that other patients were obliged to convalesce at home), and partly because there were wounded soldiers who themselves were recovering at home rather than in the hospitals. In the summer of 1915, for example, the number of kitchens was increased from 17 to 29,[6] although the numbers tended to fluctuate in proportion to the amount of funding available.

The work of the Invalid Kitchens of London continued after the War. A new kitchen was opened by the Duchess of Somerset at Windsor Street, Essex Road on 17 November 1920.[7] Three thousand more dinners had been served in 1920 when compared with 1919, and a Christmas Appeal for £10,000 was launched that December.[8] Lady Muriel was still Honorary Secretary of the organisation at that time.

War work in connection with the Eastern Front

In 1915, concerned by what she had learned of the dire situation on the Russian front, Lady Muriel travelled to Petrograd, where she set up an Anglo-Russian hospital whose primary purpose was the treatment of wounded soldiers.[9] This was based in the Dmitri Palace. The Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was involved in the funding of this project, and other generous donations came from the UK. The following year Lady Muriel established a number of field hospitals and food kitchens in Ukraine.

In 1917, in order to raise funds for the Anglo-Russian hospitals, she organised a huge Russian exhibition, on the theme ‘Russia in Peace and War’, at the Grafton Galleries in London, which ran throughout May. This was indeed an exhibition on the grand scale, because besides presenting an enormous number of Russian exhibits of all kinds, it also included a series of Russian concerts (the inaugural concert being conducted by Thomas Beecham), Russian luncheons, teas and dinners (all with orchestra), a series of lectures on various Russian-related topics, dramatic performances of Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy, and so on. The opening ceremony, presided over by Lord French, was preceded by a Russian Orthodox religious service.

Shortly after the exhibition, Lady Muriel returned to Russia. However, in February 1918, in the wake of the Bolshevik coup d’état, the majority of the British staff at the Anglo-Russian Hospital in Petrograd returned to the UK, leaving a Russian Red Cross commission with supplies for a further six months.[10] Lady Muriel remained in Ukraine, but she, along with three of her nursing sisters and a doctor, a number of British civilians, and the British diplomat John Picton Bagge, had to be evacuated from Russia very soon afterwards, travelling back to the UK via Moscow, Vladivostok, Tokyo (17 April), Toronto (7 May), and the United States. An account of what she had seen and experienced in the weeks following the revolution was published in the New York Times.[11] She finally arrived in London on 9 July, and was received by the King and Queen a week later. She also took the opportunity to call British attention to the desperate appeals for aid and assistance being made in the USA by Lt.-Col. Maria Bochkareva, foundress of the Russian Women’s Battalion of Death.[12]

The years after World War I: an overview

Shortly after the end of the War, Lady Muriel returned to Russia to continue her work, and then in 1920 she directed a mission to Latvia, where she set up access to free kitchens, free medical aid and free clothing. She also inaugurated a system of travelling clinics for the benefit of those living in remote areas, and provided a new hospital at Daugavpils. During the following years she performed similar work in Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. She and her team of British nurses and volunteers laid particular emphasis on teaching the local populations the importance of taking precautions to prevent the outbreak and spread of diseases, and in some cases she arranged for nurses from these countries to receive medical training in Britain. It should be stressed that in virtually all instances the governments of the countries concerned eventually took over the work begun by Lady Paget and organised it on their own account; nevertheless, she would still visit from time to time the places in which she had worked, and took a great interest in how each project was developing.

Czechoslovakia

In February 1919, following an urgent appeal from Dr. Alice Masaryková (aka Alice G. Masaryk), Chair of the Czechoslovak Red Cross and daughter of the country’s first president, a Relief Missionof the British Red Cross was dispatched with the aim of supplying Czechoslovakia with hospital necessities, milk, clothing and blankets, all of which were desperately lacking. Lady Muriel left London on the night of 18/19 February for Prague, taking with her a consignment of medical supplies. By 12 March 1919 a new Anglo-Czech Relief Fund had been set up in London under the War Charities Act of 1916, and Lady Muriel remained in Prague to oversee the distribution of the goods which were sent. In order to ascertain the conditions pertaining in Czechoslovakia, Lady Muriel travelled over 3,000 miles by car over a six-week period to view and investigate things herself. She later reported that some of the problems were caused by rampant inflation (the price of clothing, she maintained, was 1,000% higher, when compared with the pre-war rates); others had arisen because during the Russian occupation there had been widespread commandeering. Cultivation was poor, the potato crop had been destroyed, and some peasants had gone to Hungary to work there for the harvest season (as was usual), only to find that they were taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks, with the result that their families at home were left without support.[13] The situation in Slovakia was particularly serious, and it was there that much of the attention of Lady Muriel and her team was directed.

DBSs: the “Displaced British Subjects” in the USSR

“Displaced British Subjects”(or DBSs) refers here to the relatively small number of British residents in the Soviet Union who were unable (for example, because of age or infirmity or poverty) – or in a few cases, had been unwilling – to leave Russia after the October Revolution of 1917. Since many of these were associated, in the minds of the Soviet authorities, with the employment in which they had been engaged under the Old Regime (e.g. private tutors, governesses, technical or clerical staff with British companies), their position became highly vulnerable, even though they might have married into Russian families or (in certain instances) they may have been born and brought up in Russia and spoke little or no English at all. At times of food shortages and rationing they were, unsurprisingly, among the first people to go hungry as a result of State control.

The British Government had contributed a small amount into a fund whose purpose was to provide assistance to these expatriates in cases of particularly urgent need, and a similarly small amount had, since 1924, been allocated from Lady Paget's fund with the same intention, but the plight of the D.B.S.s grew steadily worse. Soon after diplomatic relations between Britain and the U.S.S.R. resumed in October 1929 (they had been broken off in May 1927), Lady Muriel decided to go herself to Leningrad in order to bring succour and salvation to D.B.S.s.[14] She arrived there early in 1930.

As a result of her initiatives, which included the establishment in Britain of a British Subjects in Russia Relief Organisation, a dacha was eventually built at Detskoye Selo. This small country house was intended to serve as a retirement and convalescent home for Displaced British Subjects. After some delays, the dacha opened in 1933 and was placed under the supervision of a Mrs Morley (formerly a matron at Newnham College, Cambridge). Earlier a flat in Leningrad had been obtained for a similar purpose.

Rakovsky's Statement - Questions in the House of Commons

In March 1938 Christian Rakovsky, a former Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom who was on trial in Moscow for treason, made a statement to the court in which he declared that he had first begun spying for Britain in 1924, and, furthermore, that he had recommenced his espionage activities in 1934 at the express request of Lady Muriel Paget. Rakovsky’s statement immediately prompted questions in the House of Commons. On 9 March 1938, Miss Ellen Wilkinson (Lab., Jarrow) made the claim that Lady Muriel had “been lecturing on (her) experiences as (a member) of the British Intelligence Services”.[15] The Prime Minister (Neville Chamberlain) replied that Lady Muriel had “no experience in the British Intelligence Service.” He stressed that her work was “thoroughly unselfish and humanitarian”. Miss Wilkinson retorted that “those who know something about her work have reason to doubt the statement just made by the Prime Minister”, and Willie Gallacher (Comm., Fife West) also asserted that Rakovsky was telling the truth. Chamberlain reiterated that none of the British subjects' names mentioned at the trial had ever worked for British Intelligence services, and Mr William Leach (Labour, Bradford Central) urged the Prime Minister to take steps “to protect the innocent victims of these fantastic stories”.[16]

The accusations caused Lady Muriel great distress. She interpreted Rakovsky's calumnies as a sign that her dacha Mission in the U.S.S.R. was no longer welcome there. Indeed, shortly afterwards it was closed, and Mrs Morley was expelled.[17]

Death

Lady Muriel Paget died of cancer in 1938, aged 61. She was buried at Cranmore, Somerset.

Biography

  • Blunt, Wilfrid, Lady Muriel: Lady Muriel Paget, her Husband, and her Philanthropic Work in Central and Eastern Europe. London, Methuen & Co., 1962. ISBN 9781135895709.

References

  1. ^ Obituary, The Times, Friday 17 June 1938, p. 18.
  2. ^ Blunt, Wilfrid. Lady Muriel: Lady Muriel Paget, her Husband, and her Philanthropic Work in Central and Eastern Europe. London, Methuen & Co., 1962, pp. 287-288.
  3. ^ Order of St John of Jerusalem. in The Times, Wednesday 2 February 1916, p. 11.
  4. ^ The Times, Saturday 21 March 1908, p. 10.
  5. ^ See, for example, “A Special Dance”, in The Times, Saturday 1 April 1911, p. 10, and “Court Circular - The Picture Ball,” in The Times, Tuesday 2 December 1913, p. 11.
  6. ^ The Times, Thursday 1 July 1915, p. 11.
  7. ^ Court Circular in The Times, Monday 15 November 1920, p. 15.
  8. ^ Display advertisement “The Invalid Kitchens of London”, The Times, Tuesday 21 December 1920, p. 5.
  9. ^ "Soldiers" here refers to ranks only - not to officers. This point is particularly important, since it is one of the reasons why Lady Muriel's presence and humanitarian activities were tolerated in the USSR of the 1930s. See Blunt, p. 66 (footnote).
  10. ^ The Times, Wednesday, 20 February 1918, p. 5
  11. ^ ”Tells how Anarchy is Sweeping Russia” in New York Times, Tuesday 14 May 1918, p. 11.
  12. ^ ”Russia’s Cry for Help.” In The Times, Saturday 20 July 1918, p. 5.
  13. ^ The Times, Thursday, 18 September 1919, p. 9, column B
  14. ^ Blunt, p. 243.
  15. ^ HC Deb; 9 March 1938, vol. 332 cc1869
  16. ^ HC Deb; 9 March 1938, vol 332 cc1870
  17. ^ Blunt, pp. 265, 286-287
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