Fife telephonist to be honoured 100 years after mysterious death
HISTORY: Church to mark centenary of death of woman whose fall from tower in Rouen is discussed to this day
A series of events are to be held to commemorate 100 years since the mysterious death of a Fife woman in France.
Elizabeth Johnston, a former pupil of Waid Academy and the daughter of an Anstruther sailmaker, was a telegraphist in Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps until her tragic death on Christmas Day 1918, when she fell from a church tower in Rouen.
She had been seen at the tower with a young Canadian soldier, Donald Cameron, with whom she became romantically involved after meeting on Armistice Day. He played a prominent part at her funeral.
Historians have long questioned the circumstances behind Elizabeth’s demise and it even made the front page of the Journal de Rouen, querying how she could have fallen to her death.
To mark the centenary, the Kilrenny and Anstruther Burgh Collection’s local archive has planned activities, most notably the mounting of a blue plaque on the house in which Elizabeth grew up in East Green.
It will be unveiled by Donald’s daughter Mary Martel-Cantelon and Elizabeth’s great niece Ann McKelvie on December 13.
A performance event entitled ‘After the Armistice: Love and Loss’, which
“She has left a legacy of diary entries, letters and articles which describe frontline life. KEVIN DUNION
tells Elizabeth and Donald’s story through their letters accompanied by live music composed for the occasion, will take place in Cellardyke on December 12 and Edinburgh on December 14.
A booklet looking at her life will detail research which led to the young Canadian soldier being identified.
Professor Kevin Dunion, who is chairman of the Kilrenny and Anstruther Burgh Collection, said Elizabeth’s story was one that resonates to this day.
He said: “Elizabeth is representative of the working class women who joined up in their thousands as clerks, cooks and cleaners once the army paid them to do so.
“Almost uniquely, however, she has left a legacy of diary entries, letters and articles which describe frontline life in khaki and almost every history of women in the First World War now quotes from them.
“In last year’s national commemoration of 100 years of Women in Uniform from 1917 to 2017, it was Elizabeth’s words which were selected to be read out to honour the women of World War I. So I do think that marking her centenary is important.”
Elizabeth Johnston and an image of her gravestone. Below, she is pictured outside a Nissen hut in Rouen with other women.