A Humble Heroine


This is a summary of the life of Susannah Knight (1868-1950).

Susannah was born in Greenock in 1868. Her parents took the family to Bootle at some point in the next decade. Family tradition has it that her father died in 1879, though there is some mystery here with regard to not only the date, but also the career he was pursuing by this time. Susannah was encouraged to be an excellent linguist. She probably began her education under the guidance of nuns of the Religious of the Sacred Heart Mary. There are later connections which reinforce this probability.

She probably took her first formal post as an uncertified teacher at Euxton St Mary's RC School from 1888. She remained there until the summer of 1895 when she took up a position as governess with the family of a French nobleman in Paris.

By 1900 Susannah was back in Chorley and she was certainly at Norris Street on the 1911 census. She gave the remainder of her teaching career to the children at St Gregory's School, Weldbank. From a deprived upbringing of her own, she sought to give of her best to the town's children.

When war broke out in August 1914, Susannah was caught in France. When she managed to get back to Britain she taught French to the men of the 'Terriers' of The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and the 'Chorley Pals' of the East Lancashire Regiment. As the casualties mounted from all services in combat, she gave unflinching support to the families. In 1916 she tried to raise a subscription to build a cottage hospital to look after those who returned maimed and damaged but was thwarted by prejudice against her faith, gender and birth. She organised a Requiem Mass for the fallen of the Somme. She organised scrap reclamation and fund-raising for the families of the fallen throughout the war. As a Catholic woman who was born in Scotland and raised in Bootle, she was an outsider. This did not stop her efforts to serve.

The career of her brother is an important element for understanding Susannah's motivation and persistence. This is a story in itself, gained from his correspondence to Susannah. He was a mariner working between Liverpool and South America from the 1880s until 1921. In 1916, at the point where Susannah proposed the cottage hospital and held the Requiem Mass, he had been close to death in hospital. On recovering, in 1917 mastered a ship on the Russian Convoys and his obituary brands him a hero. His life story intersects frequently with that of Susannah.

In 1919, whilst civic worthies pondered, she raised her own campaign to create a memorial to the fallen which was not just a remembrance but and active means to bring the community together. She aimed to heal the wounds that ripped through not only the community of Chorley, but across the allied nations as a whole.

Photographs by permission of the Walmsley Family and by Adam Cree