A CELTIC Cross headstone in Colchester Cemetery recalls one of the many who put themselves forward to help those killed and injured during war time.

It is perhaps fitting to remember Margaret Mayne as the world continues to focus on those affected by conflict across the centuries and continents.

Historian Heather Johnson, who lives in Colchester , says the Celtic Cross is a reference to First World War nursing sister Margaret Mayne’s Irish heritage.

Known as Madge to her family, she had six sisters and one brother but mystery does still surround some of her life - and the circumstances in which it ended.

Heather says Margaret originally trained as a nurse at the North Staffordshire Infirmary in Stoke-on-Trent and this is where she qualified.

After seven years working there she volunteers as a nurse during the First World War and this is how she arrived in Essex - at Harwich Garrison Military Hospital which took up residence in the Great Eastern Hotel in Harwich.

These vintage images capture it during the time Margaret was there but it has since been redeveloped as flats.

Heather explains it is not clear how or why she was in Essex.

“She came to Harwich along with Miss MacMaster, who came to be the Matron, and Sister Arkcoll – all coming from the Stoke-on-Trent infirmary. Apparently, Margaret took charge of the Surgical Ward,” says Heather.

Margaret was one of many trained nurses who put their names forward to the British Government during the Great War working in a number of hospitals which prior to the outbreak of the conflict would have had very different uses.

In Essex for example, schools and large manor houses were among those use for this purpose.

On February 23 1917 the London Gazette Supplement announced Margaret had been awarded the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class decoration which was given for exceptional services in military nursing.

Florence Nightingale was the first to receive it.

But just two months later Margaret was struck down by serious illness and as a result put in isolation at the Infectious Hospital, or the Isolation Hospital which was on Mill Road in Colchester.

This would later become knwn as Myland hospital which stayed open well into the 1990s.

She died on April 29 of cerebral-spinal meningitis.

Heather says : “It is highly likely that she picked up the infection from one of the patients she was nursing.

“Hospital Matron, Kate Carron Braidwood, was the “Informant” on Margaret’s death certificate.”

The Colchester Cemetery record has Margaret’s address as Severalls Asylum, Mile End, Colchester.

“That leads to the suspicion that perhaps she had been working in Colchester temporarily – perhaps having accompanied a patient from Harwich Military Hospital – but no official record clarifies that.”

She was buried on May 3 at Colchester Cemetery and the Celtic Cross put up in memory of her which remains to this day.

But Heather adds mystery still surroundings the grave because no records exist to prove the plot was owned by anyone which would mean a permanent memorial may not have been permitted.

“Although this situation is not unique in Colchester Cemetery, it is felt that an exception to the rule may have been allowed because of the poignant circumstances surrounding Margaret’s death.

“The location of Margaret’s plot, within the military section of the Cemetery, also suggests a resolve to show empathy towards her.”

Her funeral was mentioned in the Essex County Standard and her medal sent to her family while a memorial plaque was later put up in Stoke, commissioned from Ellen Rope, a sculptress from Suffolk renowned for her work at that time.

Since 2015, it has been hanging in the Atrium of the new Royal Stoke University Hospital.

Heather adds : “Today, the story of Margaret Mayne is known as one that is inspiring and her plaque is valued.

“The quote ‘Faithful Unto Death’ links the Rope Stoke-on-Trent plaque to the Celtic Cross headstone and appears on both.

But Colchester borough Council also valued and remembered Margaret, putting together a commemorative puece preserved by her family.

It appears to have been just one section of a commemorative publication issued by the Colchester Health Department which, at the time, was based in Trinity Street, Colchester, Essex.

“The date is unknown. Alongside the image, there is a facsimile sketch of Margaret Mayne’s Stoke-on-Trent memorial plaque,” adds Heather.