Helen Dey,CBE, RRC, SRN
Matron of St. Bartholomew's Hospital & President of the League 1927 - 1949

Donor of the Christ Ascendant Statue
St. Wilfrid's Church

The bronze statue of Christ Ascendant by scuptor Uli Nimptsch, dedicated in 1964 by The Bishop of Chichester, The Right Reverend Robert Wilson, was originally donated anonymously.

The fascinating story about the seven and a half year battle by the donor to get a design accepted and installed above the altar on the East wall and the details about the two relocations may be found by clicking here.

At the time of the dedication, the only reference to the unnamed donor was a  report in the Bognor Post that revealed the epic struggle to get the sculpture accepted -" it has taken seven and a half years to get this done”, said the donor. “Believe me, during those years, that blank wall nearly got between me and my God”.

Now, in the Centenary year of the church, over fifty years since the donor started the epic battle to have the statue installed, forty two years after her death and after an exhaustive check to make sure there are no living descendents, it seems very fitting to reveal the donor of this most generous gift.

The donor was Miss Helen Dey, at one time Matron of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, whose achievements in in the field of nursing more than equipped her to take on in her retirement all the pressures of getting her statue plans accepted. Her life proves to be at least as fascinating a read as the rest of the statue story! 

It is to be hoped that, in our Centenary year, we may have installed an informative plaque that records the name of the donor and the sculptor  of this most important work of art that at last has found a worthy prominent and effective permanent location high on the west wall. PG

Summary - Helen Dey
1909 Probationer
1912 Certificate
1914 QAIMNS/R France
1919 QAIMNS Tralee Ireland
1921 Resigned
Receiving Hospital Detroit
Assistant Matron
General Infirmary at Leeds
1927 Matron St Bartholomew's Hospital
1946 Awarded CBE
1949 Retired
1968 Died 5th June

Helen Dey was born in 1888, in the London parish of St. George, Hanover Square. Her parents were Robert Alexander Dey and Amelia, née Calder, who were married in Kensington, in 1878. They were both Londoners, Robert having been born in Bloomsbury in 1839, and Amelia in Kensington in 1856.

Prior to this, Robert had married Frances Annie Cole in 1875, but she had died in 1876, soon after giving birth to their son, also called Robert who died six years before Helen was born at the age of just 6 years.

Robert Alexander Dey was a baker (1881 Census shown as living in Regent Street, with his wife and three children). He employed eight men, a boy, two shopwomen, and two domestic servants.

Helen and her a twin brother Arthur were the youngest of eight children of which 2 brothers died the year they were born (her twin Arthur and also William five years her junior), Ronald who died in his second year and the year Helen was born  and three surviving brothers - Charles, Alexander and Henry and a sister Margaret eight years her senior.

According to her entry in Who’s Who, Helen was educated at Aberdeen and from the age of twelve in Berlin.

Helen entered St. Bartholomew's on 1st November 1909 to train as a nurse and completed her training shortly before the outbreak of World War I.

Nursing Career
She enrolled with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Medical Nursing Service (QAIMNS/R) on 5th August 1914 and mobilised on the 16th August and served in France in the Reserve for the next two years  after which she joined the Regular Army service. Her hard work in the ambulance trains and in the operating theatre, her integrity and strength of character were shown to the full and she was twice mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Royal Red Cross (RRC) .

In 1919 she left France and was posted to Ireland where the Civil War was in progress. Here she took charge of the Hospital in Tralee, working under the most difficult conditions. She was not allowed out without an escort of two and items such as cotton wool were unobtainable until Jack Shanahan, one of the rebel leaders, was injured and came under her care, which immediately rectified matters.

Helen resigned from the Army in 1921 and spent the next three years at the Receiving Hospital, Detroit, USA as supervisor of the Outpatient Department and later as Assistant Superintendent of Nurses, meeting there the horrors of drug addiction, rife in the city at that time.

On her return to England she was appointed Assistant Matron at the General Infirmary at Leeds until 1927 when she became the Matron and Superintendent of Nurses at Barts until her retirement in 1949.

In 1937 she was awarded the OBE.

Helen Dey with Lord Stanmore, Treasurer on Annual View Day c1937

During World War II Helen Dey was the Sector Matron responsible for staffing hospitals within her sector, and with the recruitment and allocation of members of the Civil Nursing Reserve. At St. Bartholomew's the greater part of the training school was evacuated to Hill End Hospital, St. Albans and the sector administration moved out to Piggot's Manor, Letchmore Heath. 

Evacuation to Hill End Hospital Pigotts Manor, Letchmore Heath

As a leader, Miss Dey was a sound judge of character and possessed confidence to delegate Barts in London and Barts in the Country into the care of two assistant matrons, Miss Baines in London and Mrs Thacker at Hill End. Nevertheless she kept her finger on the pulse and could often be seen striding around either hospital in the smart green uniform of the sector matrons.

She was a member of the General Nursing Council for England and Wales from 1933 to 1950 and Chairman of the Education and Examination Committee from 1938 to 1950.

For her work she was awarded the CBE in 1946.

During the early years there was no Education Officer and only two Inspectors of Training Schools, the work involved for the chairman of the committee was prodigious. Studying with careful detail reports of inspections of hospitals and of training schemes demanded many hours of homework, all undertaken in addition to her own work as Matron.

As an active member of the RCN she was at one time Honorary Treasurer, President and finally Honorary Vice-President for Life. She was a member of the Rushcliffe Committee and served on the staff side of the Whitley Council, striving always for better salaries and conditions of service for nurses.

Other activities included service on the Advisory Committee on Sister Tutor Courses and Diplomas of the University of London, National Advisory Council of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, Advisor to the Nursing Board of HM Prisons, the Army Nursing Board and the National Council of Nurses.

She retired in 1949.

Helen Dey was a woman of strong principles, great drive, one who knew her own mind, a firm disciplinarian and a good teacher. She was elegant, charming and radiated vitality, possessed of a wonderful memory for names and personal details.

A devout Christian; with a generous nature and deep compassion; any nurse who went to her and said 'I am in trouble1 she did not ask 'what have you done?' but 'how may I help you?'.

One of the great Matrons of the mid 20th Century, it is difficult to realise how great has been her contribution to the profession in achieving so much for the welfare of both nurses and patients. The standard of nursing and the traditions of the hospital were never higher in spite of all the difficulties and vicissitudes of war. Her deep understanding of human nature and particularly her thoughtful consideration for those in trouble, made her much beloved.

Retirement in Bognor
The County Records Office Chichester holds original correspondence files traced back to as early as April 1958 involving Miss Dey’s proposal for a statue to be erected on the East wall of St. Wilfrid’s Church.

However in May 1964 the Bognor Post reported “It has taken seven and a half years to get this done” said the donor. “Believe me, during those years, that blank wall nearly got between me and my God”. This would suggest that Miss Dey started her proposal for a statue as far back as the beginning of 1957 or slightly earlier.

So far we have not been able to ascertain why and when she became involved with the life of the town or when she started worshipping at St. Wilfrid’s Church.

We know from a letter Miss Dey sent to W.G. Sinclair Snow (Vicar of the Parish of Bognor at that time when St. Wilfrid’s was the daughter church of St. John’s in London Road) on 19th July 1958 that her London address was given as 267 Grove End Gardens, St. John’s Wood and the letter was sent from Old Coastguard’s Hotel, Bognor Regis.

We also know from a letter from the PCC to the Diocesan Registry dated 12th January 1959 that the application for a faculty was withdrawn as “the donor had withdrawn her offer”. However investigations and discussions continued.

In the PCC minutes for 28th January 1963 it recorded that Mr Uli Nimptsch had visited the church and completed a model of the proposed sculpture and the Archdeacon had gained the approval of the Arts Council. The PCC unanimously approved to apply for a faculty for the 7.5 ft bronze statue to be completed by Christmas

The Faculty Petition note dated 7th July 1963 recorded that Professor Monnington of the Royal Academy consulted colleagues in the RA and recommended giving the commission to Mr. Uli Nimptsch, ARA.

From this latter correspondence it can be seen that Uli Nimptsch did not arrive on the scene for around six years and was not a party to Miss Dey’s original proposals.

We know Helen Dey died on 5th June 1964 and a Requiem was held for her at St. Wilfrid’s Church followed by cremation at Worthing on Wednesday 12th June 1968. A service of thanksgiving was held at the Church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great on 23rd July 1968.

Further details

Statue of Christ Ascendant

Miss Helen Dey

Uli Nimptsch     

Dedication Service 7th May 1964

Centenary Presentation on the Statue 25th May 2010

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