The wartime medals of the redoubtable Countess Rosslyn – £2400 at C&T.

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However, ‘Tommy’ was no ordinary Tommy – that was the nickname used by friends of the remarkable Vera, Countess of Rosslyn (1887-1975), who served in the Duchess of Sutherland’s ambulance unit in 1914 and during the 1920s started a long-lasting affair with Bruce Lockhart, the famous diplomat and spy.

The honours comprised a 1914 Star, British War and Victory Medals all marked Countess of Rosslyn and the Belgian Medaille De La Reine Elisabeth, unnamed as issued.

Services volunteered

Vera Mary Bayley became the third wife of James Francis Harry St Clair Erskine, the 5th Earl of Rosslyn, in October 1908. When war broke out she immediately volunteered her services and was enlisted by her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Sutherland, to help with her private ambulance over in Belgium.

In October 1914 she joined the unit at Dunkirk just in time to help deal with the casualties flooding into the town from the fighting at Yser. At this time, all the hospitals in the area were filled to overflowing and the Duchess of Sutherland was asked to form an auxiliary hospital which she did at Malo les Bains. The hospital with its 100 beds (official name No 9 Red Cross Hospital) continued to be known as the Millicent Sutherland Ambulance.

In February 1915 the Countess of Rosslyn returned home and in March 1916 she enrolled in a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) under the Joint Committee of the British Red Cross and Order of St John as a member of Berkshire 52 Detachment.

Returning to France in the same month she served in the Millicent Sutherland Ambulance, which by now had relocated to Calais, until April 1917 when she returned to the UK. On her return home she continued with part-time nursing duties serving at the Struan House Auxiliary Hospital at Reading. She terminated her VAD service in May 1918.

The Medaille De La Reine Elisabeth was given in recognition of the kind help and valuable assistance personally given to Belgian refugees and soldiers.

Post war, her marriage was coming to an end due to the 5th Earl’s continued addiction to gambling and women, and she started her own affair with Lockhart.

Conflict returns

With the renewal of hostilities in September 1939 the countess once again enrolled into the VAD enlisting as a transport driver in No 146 (Paddington District) Detachment. She was also active in raising the Friends Ambulance Unit that was embarked with the backing of the Red Cross for service in Finland during the conflict with the Soviet Union in the winter of 1939-40.

By 1942 she was in charge of the Red Cross unit packing food parcels for prisoners of war, one of whom was her eldest son, James St Clair Erskine. For her war work she was awarded a British Empire Medal (Civil Division) in the New Year’s honours 1946.

The Countess of Rosslyn died on her 88th birthday and is buried in the famous Rosslyn chapel.