May Wedderburn Cannan is perhaps most famous for her role as a nurse during the First World War, joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1911 when she was just eighteen, and reaching the role of Quartermaster.
May Wedderburn Cannan was the middle of three daughters born to Charles Cannan, the Dean of Oxford University, in 1893. In 1915, she was stationed in Rouen, and in 1918, she joined the espionage department at the War Office in Paris. She was engaged to Bevil Quiller-Couch, dedicating one of her wartime poetry collections (The Splendid Days, 1919) to him, and another to her father (The House of Hope, 1923). Quiller-Couch died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919, and she then married Percival James Slater, a World War One balloonist.
“We planned to shake the world together, you and I.
Being young, and very wise;
Now in the light of the green shaded lamp
Almost I see your eyes
Light with the old gay laughter; you and I
Dreamed greatly of an Empire in those days,
Setting our feet upon laborious ways,
And all you asked of fame
Was crossed swords in the Army List;
My Dear, against your name. ”
- In War Time (1917; poetry)
- The Splendid Days (1919; poetry)
- The House of Hope (1923; poetry)
- The Lonely Generation (1934; novel)
- Grey Ghosts and Voices (1976; autobiography)
– The Scottish Poetry Library’s exploration into May Wedderburn Cannan’s Scottish heritage and family life can be found here.
– An informative blog dedicated to May Wedderburn Cannan can be found here.