Dame Georgiana Buller

The plaque, at Bellair, County Hall, Topsham Road, Exeter, EX2 4QD reads:
DAME GEORGIANA BULLER, RRC ,1883 – 1953, Organiser and advocate of care and opportunities for war wounded and disabled people, lived here 1926 – 1953

Audrey Charlotte Georgiana Buller was born in 1883, the daughter of General Sir Redvers Buller, at the family home, Downes, near Crediton. She acted as her father’s assistant in running his estate, but after his death made a distinguished career of her own. During the First World War, as Deputy County Director of the Devon Red Cross, she raised money for and ran a group of eight temporary military hospitals in Exeter, comprising over 1400 beds, which cared for more than 35,000 wounded soldiers before their closure in 1920. She was the only woman in the country to have held such a post at that time, and was awarded the Royal Red Cross (RRC) First Class and made a Dame in 1920 for her work.

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

In 1925 Dame Georgiana was persuaded by local doctors to take on the role of chair for what was founded as the Devonian Association for Cripples’ Aid, later the Devonian Orthopaedic Association. She managed a major programme of fund-raising to enable the building of an orthopaedic hospital for children, which opened as the Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital in 1927 at Gras Lawn, not far from Bellair. The service that she organised included not only the hospital, but a system of decentralised assessment and treatment clinics in different centres around the county, designed to prevent patients from having to make long and difficult journeys to Exeter.

Later she successfully lobbied the County Council to provide the money to extend the service to adult patients.

She moved on to develop a training centre for people with disabilities from the counties in the South West. This opened in 1937, and was called St Loye’s College. Used initially for men only, it expanded to create places for women, and then, during the Second World War, provided a resource for retraining disabled servicemen. The centre later became the base for an occupational therapy training school. The institution was renamed St Loye’s Foundation, and it is now part of the Exeter-based charity Step One.

Elsewhere Dame Georgiana helped to found a similar training college in Leatherhead, which is now the Queen Elizabeth Foundation for Disabled People.