Needless to say, Old Mother Hubbard never made a discovery quite like this.
Staff at the University of Abertay Dundee in the U.K. have stumbled upon a suitcase belonging to Margaret Maule, who worked as a nurse during World War I. It was found in a cupboard in the psychology department and contains Maule's diary, photographs, a newspaper article she wrote, and other WWI memorabilia.
Now, the search is on to piece together the life of this mysterious nurse. According to Abertay's website, Maule had no known connection to the university, which brings up the question of how the suitcase ended up there in the first place. Robin Ion, head of the university's Nursing and Counselling Division, has called for anyone with information to come forward and help shed light on this intriguing discovery.
"The contents of this suitcase are absolutely fascinating, but we know very little about the person who owned it," Ion said on the university's website. "There’s no record of her ever having been to Abertay, so how it came to be in our possession is a complete mystery."
Here's what we do know: According to documents obtained from the U.K.'s National Archive, Maule was born on June 4, 1887 in Paisley, Scotland. Her father was a carpenter named David, and she was unmarried at the time of the war.
The suitcase contained documents dating back to 1914 -- the year she began her nursing training at Merryflatts Hospital (now the Southern General Hospital) in Glasgow. Upon completing her training in 1917, she joined the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), the U.K.'s first official nursing service.
According to the website for the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) -- the modern iteration of QAIMNS -- there were only 267 nurses who were regular members of the service by the time WWI broke out in 1914. The relatively young organization started in 1902 and held strict rules for membership: nurses had to be single or widowed, more than 25 years old, educated, and of high social status. Given the high number of casualties in the war, however, these restrictions had to be eased, resulting in 10,000 nurses joining the war effort in the coming years.
The BBC notes that while serving as a staff nurse, Maule cared for severely injured German prisoners of war at the Dartford War Hospital in Kent. According to the university, her brother had died in action prior to her joining the service. Maule's diary thus reveals the moral dilemma she faced when she was assigned to treat the enemy.
"[I]t came as a shock when she learnt she was to be sent to Dartford to care for prisoners of war," Ion said. "However, the fact that she managed to carry out her duties in spite of her misgivings ... indicates that she was one of the best. Nursing has always been about showing compassion -- without prejudice -- and Nurse Maule showed an enormous depth of feeling to her patients under very difficult circumstances."
In fact, as the Press Association points out, Maule's professionalism in such difficult circumstances is reflected in the contents of the suitcase, which included an autograph book containing drawings by patients thanking her for her excellent care. Though similar autograph books can be found in the collections of the Imperial War Museum, the university notes that those containing entries by German soldiers are exceedingly rare.
The university notes that the suitcase also contained a signed photograph of Queen Mary, who visited Dartford Hospital in October 1918.
According to her National Archive file, Maule was released from the army at her request in 1919 so that she could accept a position treating British soldiers at Shakespeare Hospital in Glasgow. The Press Association reports that she retired from nursing in 1969, upon which she received a letter from the Ministry of Defence thanking her for her service.
The university is eager to find more details about this mystery nurse. As the National Archive points out, many original documents of nurses serving in the army were destroyed by German bombing during World War II, making the discovery of Maule's suitcase that much more important to the historical record.
Anyone with information regarding Margaret Maule is encouraged to contact the university at firstname.lastname@example.org.