Miss Rattray (Frances or Katherine?)

A ‘Miss Rattray’ (right) was among those awarded the Médaille de la Reine Elisabeth (Queen Elisabeth Medal) by the Belgian government in recognition of her support for Belgium during the First World War. But which Miss Rattray was the recipient?

Among the 12 children born to James Rattray and Catherine Rattray were seven daughters. Two were married in the early 1900s. The remaining Misses Rattray, sisters Ada, Katherine, Frances, Isabella (or Isabel), and Lorna, lived together prior to the outbreak of the First World War in the family home, Craighall, in Mornington, Dunedin. Lorna became a nurse and served overseas in the war before she died in the sinking of the Marquette in 1915. Neither Isabella nor Ada were especially active in public life, so they are unlikely to be the recipient of the medal. Of the remaining two sisters, Frances was the president of the Dunedin Red Cross throughout the war, while Katherine was one of the leaders of patriotic activity in Mornington, acting as treasurer for the local branch of the Women’s Patriotic Association. Though both deserved recognition for their work during the war, only one received the Queen Elisabeth Medal.

One argument in favour of Katherine Rattray is that throughout the war she was always listed alongside another Queen Elisabeth Medal recipient, Kathleen Geerin, in reports of patriotic activity and fundraising efforts in Mornington. Miss Geerin was the secretary of the Mornington Women’s Patriotic Association and she and Katherine worked together on many fundraising schemes. After the war, both women were presented with gifts at an event hosted by the Mornington association in recognition of their hard work. When a newspaper announced that Miss Geerin would receive a Queen Elisabeth Medal, ‘Miss Rattray’ was listed alongside her as a fellow recipient. It seems most likely that this was Katherine, rather than Frances.

A commemorative centennial plaque given by the Belgian government to honour the recipients of the Queen Elisabeth Medal now marks the Rattray family grave in Dunedin’s Southern Cemetery. Fortunately, both Frances and Katherine’s remains are buried together. The plaque reads simply ‘Miss Rattray’, in acknowledgement of whichever sister received the medal.

Further information

Parents: James Rattray and Catherine Charlotte Rattray (née Aylmer)

Born: 1866 (Katherine Agnes); 1867 (Frances Cochrane)

Died: 20 August 1927, aged 62 years (Katherine Agnes); 25 September 1943, aged 76 years (Frances Cochrane)

Buried: Southern Cemetery, Dunedin, Block 1P, Plots 43 (Katherine Agnes, burial) and 44 (Frances Cochrane, cremated)

Location: Dunedin

Obituary/death notices:

RATTRAY – At her residence, Craighall, Eglinton, on August 20, Katherine Agnes Rattray.
'Deaths', Otago Daily Times, 22 August 1927, p. 8

RATTRAY – On September 25, at Craighall, 516 George street, Frances Cochrane Rattray. Private interment. No flowers.
'Deaths', Evening Star, 25 September 1943, p. 4

Selected sources

'Death of Mr James Rattray', Evening Star, 15 July 1905, p. 5

'Mornington Ladies', Otago Daily Times, 13 August 1914, p. 7

'Help for the sufferers', Otago Daily Times, 24 November 1914, p. 6

'Work at Mornington', Otago Daily Times, 9 February 1915, p. 6

'The cry from Belgium', Evening Star, 1 May 1915, p. 6  

'The Otago Patriotic Fund’, Otago Daily Times, 23 September 1915, p. 6

'The Otago Patriotic Fund', Otago Daily Times, 24 January 1916, p. 6

'Work at Mornington', Otago Daily Times, 22 April 1916, p. 8

'The Otago Patriotic Fund', Otago Daily Times, 2 March 1917, p. 3

'Concert at Middlemarch', Otago Daily Times, 13 October 1917, p. 5

'Personal', Evening Star, 3 January 1920, p. 6

'Honor to whom honor is due', Evening Star, 14 August 1920, p. 10

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