Nurse Katharine

Several people have asked me why ‘Kittie’ is not spelt with a ‘-y’. The answer is that the spelling ‘Kitty’ is reserved for private, more intimate use, for example between Kittie and George, Kittie and Nina (‘Dinah’) Corbet, Kittie and Constance (‘Connie’) Sutton. ‘Kitty’ long predates Louis Wain’s anthropomorphised cat drawings and cat stories, but I don’t think there is much doubt that it was closely associated in Edwardians’ ears with the diminutive/affectionate form of ‘kitten’. This would explain why George signed himself ‘Peter’, drawing on one occasion a tom-cat underneath: ‘Peter’ was the cat-hero of many of Louis Wain’s early published works. But for polite, upper-class use as a name it had to be changed to ‘Kittie’. Although George used ‘Kitty’ in his love letters, therefore, his 1904 novel  Dwala was dedicated to ‘Kittie’.

But even ‘Kittie’ would have been far too familiar for soldier patients addressing a VAD nurse of her social position. She would have been at most ‘Katharine’, and more likely ‘Mrs Calderon’ (this was how some wrote to her after they were discharged), or ‘sister’.

It was an absolute boon for George Calderon that for a ‘few days’ after he was admitted to hospital in London he was allowed to see only his wife as a visitor — and he probabaly knew it. Kittie’s powers as a listener and a therapist were famous. Moreover, by now she was presumably used to caring for wounded soldiers. On her first visit, she had seen George become ‘over-excited’ talking to his brother Fred. We know from later statements that the medical staff at Sussex Lodge Hospital counselled George against talking about ‘the battle’ (i.e. the first day of the Battle of Gheluvelt that he had experienced). But George had already said in his letters that he couldn’t wait to tell her about everything and everyone he had seen in Belgium, so he undoubtedly did, volubly and humorously. Whereas his Edwardian doctors thought it best to suppress the memories, acute stress disorder therapists today might think the opposite.

In any case, Kittie was George Calderon’s ultimate ‘other’. He had to communicate to her everything that was in his heart and on his mind. As she wrote later, of their pre-War life:

He seemed acutely conscious all the time that one was there — and to need one to be there — with the result that I hardly ever went away even for a day when he was at home. He at once seemed to feel left and lost. Of course I did not want to go away. I only say this to show how closely natural life held him though seemingly up to the eyes in ideas, work, and play.

So we will leave them to themselves for a ‘few days’…

Next entry: ‘Mrs Alice’s eye-refreshing flowers’

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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