“A Heroine on the Home Front”-Blanche Hume OBE

Welcome to the fourth and final part of our November Remembrance series 2023. For this story, we return to Belfast to highlight the efforts of civilians on the Home Front and in particular a pioneering woman in Belfast’s rich history. In this piece we look at Blanche Hume; someone who overcame personal tragedy to become a leading figure in Belfast’s war effort and the city’s wider charitable circles.

Born 11th September 1864 to James Carr and Frances Mullock, Blanche was the 2nd of 8 children. Blanche came from an affluent background. James was a director in Ulster Bank living on Windsor Avenue, with brothers Samuel and Thomas going on to become a Mechanical Engineer and Stockbroker respectively. Blanche would go on to marry George Hume in 1889; a barrister born on the Crumlin Road. The Hume family were a well-respected family in Belfast and Ireland, with George Sr being a doctor in the area, and George Jr practicing law in Belfast and Dublin. George would die suddenly in 1905 after a short bout of pneumonia, leaving Blanche and their one son, Walter, to move back into the family home on Windsor Avenue.

After her husband’s death, Blanche became increasingly active in Unionist and charitable circles. In 1912 she was elected chair of the Windsor Woman’s Unionist association. She would be elected to this position 34 consecutive times, before stepping down. Whilst her talents were clearly recognised by local communities, it was her role in the war effort on the home front that brought her wider recognition. During the war, Blanche would be actively involved in the Ulster Volunteer Force hospitals and was instrumental in organising the War Hospital Supply Depot which operated out of Donegall Square South, in the Scottish Temperance Building.

These Hospital Supply Depots were instrumental to the war effort, as the ongoing conflict had depleted the supply of medical equipment, such as bandages and wound dressings. Due to the shortage of cotton as a result of the war, often these dressings were made out of Sphagnum Moss: a material that had previously been used as a medical dressing in the Middle Ages and was reused as a medical material to bolster the existing supplies. Whilst smaller depots across Ireland were responsible for the production of the dressings and materials, it was the major hubs of Belfast and Dublin which shipped these supplies to the Western Front. The supplies sent out from these depots saved thousands of wounded soldiers, with appreciation noted in an annual report of the Supply Depots:

“The Medical Units of the 33rd Division wish to return your Organization most sincere thanks for box of Sphagnum Dressings received. These dressings are most useful, and in addition are the means of valuable saving in cotton wool, which is now very difficult to procure. We return hearty thanks for your kindness in sending them to the Division.”

Barget, M. MacCarron, P and Schreibman, S. “Sphagnum Moss and Female Agency”. History Ireland.

The Hospital Supply Depots disbanded as troops began to return home in 1919, however, for her efforts in organising the Belfast Supply Depot, Blanche Hume would be awarded an OBE in 1920, before being appointed to the board of the Belfast Charitable Society in August of the same year. As part of the Charitable Society, Blanche would once again prove herself, becoming the first woman to hold a decision-making role since 1851 and be the first woman ever to chair an annual meeting of the board.

There was some adjustments required!: Committee book from 22nd November 1920 which shows the correction of “Lady and Gentlemen” to “members” after Blanche Hume’s co-opting.

Remaining active in charitable circles throughout the 1920’s and 30’s Blanche would once again use her experience and expertise to help the war effort on the Home Front, acting as President for the South Belfast War Depot, aged 76. During the Second World War, the South Belfast War Depot produced 19,842 hospital supplies and a further 16,907 woollen comforters supplied to soldiers fighting abroad and was described as one of the most productive in Belfast.

A picture of the annual meeting 1936. Blanche Hume is standing front row, second left.

Blanche Hume would die on the 19th February 1950, 45 years after her husband. She was 85. In the committee minutes of the Belfast Charitable Society, it states:

“A vote of sympathy was passed in silence, all standing on the recent death of Mrs Blanche Hume OBE, a former member of the committee.”

Belfast Charitable Society Minute Book: 20th February 1950.

Her efforts during the war aided thousands of soldiers fighting abroad, whilst her work with the Belfast Charitable Society and various other Women’s groups helped improve the lives of people at home. Whilst her involvement in these endeavours, with accolades earned, and glass ceilings broken, have cemented her legacy within the organisations she was involved in, it is important to remember the person who presided over the organisations, and not just the many achievements which she accomplished during her life:

“A woman of great charm, with a shrewd sense of humour, an excellent judge of character and one possessed of the kindest heart, Mrs Hume made her personality felt where she went.”

Belfast Telegraph- Monday 20th February 1950
Signature of Blanche Hume after a committee meeting of the Belfast Charitable Society: 22nd September 1924

About the archivist:

James Cromey is the Archive Coordinator for the North Belfast Heritage Cluster. He has a background in Victorian, Industrial and Medical History and has received degrees from the University of Glasgow and Queens University Belfast. All research has been conducted to a high academic standard and has been fully referenced. If you would like to know more about a story or piece of research, or if you wish to tell us about your own story, email us at: archiveproject@nbheritagecluster.org

Members Involved

YEAR: 1774

Location: Clifton Street