By Alison Bailey 

When an elderly spinster died in 1940 after falling down the stairs at her home in Bois Lane, she was not just mourned by her family, but by her whole community.

“A woman of strong individuality, decided opinions and some determination”, she was best remembered for her support of the 1st Chesham Bois Scouts during WW1.

To mark Remembrance Day, this is her story. 

Elizabeth Sudworth Stansfeld Porter 1866 -1940

Elizabeth was born in Warrington, the eldest child of Reverand James Nixon Porter and his wife Ellen, the daughter of Judge James Stansfeld.

Elizabeth’s uncle was the social reformer Sir James Stansfeld, Liberal MP for Halifax, who served as a government minister under Lord Russell and William Gladstone.

Her family was comfortably off, Unitarian and liberal which meant that, like her younger brothers, she received a good education.

A talented musician, she later shared her gifts as a kind and patient teacher, performer and accompanist.

Tragedy struck the family when her father died at the age of 59 after a railway accident. Elizabeth was nine and her youngest brother just four.

She was 24 when her mother died, and in 1909, aged 43, she moved to Meadowlead, a cottage opposite Chesham Bois Common.

Her reasons for moving to the area are unknown.

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Her brother William did not marry and was working as a teacher in Bermuda.

Her youngest brother, Ralph, was a lecturer in engineering at Birmingham University, where he lived with his wife and three sons.

Miss Porter, as she was known, soon threw herself into village life.

She taught music and joined various committees, raising funds for the Chesham Cottage Hospital and other worthy causes.

From 1910 she volunteered as secretary and treasurer of the 1st Chesham Bois Scouts, which had been founded just two years earlier, making it one of Robert Baden-Powell’s first troops.

Bucks Free Press: Parade of 1st Chesham Bois Scouts c 1912 on the corner of Bois Lane and North Road, led by Scout Master F Buckley.Parade of 1st Chesham Bois Scouts c 1912 on the corner of Bois Lane and North Road, led by Scout Master F Buckley. (Image: Amersham Museum)

During WW1, with the Scout master (her good friend, Frederick Beckley) away on active service, she ensured the troop kept going and actively contributed to the war effort.

Using half the weekly subscription money, and funds raised through musical entertainments, she sent letters and parcels to every Scout on active service.

A typical parcel included an air pillow, hand-knitted socks, handkerchiefs, a writing pad, Vaseline, chocolate, sardines, candles and soap squares.

Bucks Free Press: The Illuminated Address given to Miss Porter by the 1st Chesham Bois Scout Troop in 1920 when she retired as treasurer and secretary.The Illuminated Address given to Miss Porter by the 1st Chesham Bois Scout Troop in 1920 when she retired as treasurer and secretary. (Image: Amersham Museum)

The Trail

In 1917 Miss Porter started a newsletter, The Trail, which she included in every parcel.

The newsletter contained excerpts from letters she received from all over the world – from France, Belgium, Germany, Egypt, Salonica, Gallipoli, Palestine, India, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Some were about life in the trenches: “This is my first time in, so it is rather exciting at times.

"We have had one wet day, and I don’t want another, as we get smothered in mud from head to foot, and we have to let our clothes dry on us, and scrape the mud off with a knife; but as it happened those cocoa tablets which you sent came in very handy, as we made some nice hot cocoa, and that kept the cold out of us while the rain was on; but I am glad to say none of us caught cold.”

Bucks Free Press: Cover of Miss Porter’s April 1917 The Trail.Cover of Miss Porter’s April 1917 The Trail. (Image: Amersham Museum)

Other letters convey the real excitement of new experiences, such as a first flight in an aeroplane; “We’d only got a few feet up when the pilot started his capers.

Instead of going up gradually, he pulled his ‘joy stick’ back and shot upwards at an angle of about sixty degrees; and when we seemed to be dropping backwards, he pushed his joy stick forward again and went into a nose dive, the two manoeuvres resembling a huge switchback.

During ‘stunts’ of this kind, it makes you feel as though you’re in a small boat on a choppy sea (only worse).

After this we climbed to about four thousand feet, and for the first time I had the chance to look round me.

Our sheds looked like matchboxes, the mechanics like little specks, and the surrounding country like a coloured map.

We rose still higher until we were about seven thousand feet, and now and again we floated into thin mists, which of course were clouds.

While we were going through the clouds I was glad I’d got some thick clothing; as it was much colder and also very damp.”

Miss Porter later wrote: “I got a lot of cheering up from the trenches.

And when there was absolutely no time for a letter, I got a field postcard with everything crossed out but “I am quite well”- which, being interpreted, meant “Been in a bit of a scrap; came out all right.”

Once I had a field postcard with nothing crossed out at all, and not even signed; but I knew the handwriting of the address, and gave thanks accordingly”.


After the war, Miss Porter recorded the contribution of the serving Scouts: “We can boast of seven commissions and four sergeants; one was mentioned in despatches and another was awarded the Air Force Medal.

Out of our 39 serving, we have lost 8; we don’t forget them; we remember their ways, their talk, their doings, and we often speak of them.

Our Scoutmaster, F. P. Beckley is one of them; in the words of his platoon commander “he endeared himself to us all”; and the number also includes two of our Assistant Scoutmasters, P. Robins and C. Woodcock - both splendid fellows.

Bucks Free Press: The Pioneer Hall’s bronze Memorial to 1st Chesham Bois Scouts killed in WWI, damaged in the fire of 1932.The Pioneer Hall’s bronze Memorial to 1st Chesham Bois Scouts killed in WWI, damaged in the fire of 1932. (Image: Amersham Museum)

The case of Scout W. Palmer is especially sad; he was taken prisoner early in the war, and died in Germany a few days before the Armistice.

Almost the last communication received from him was a card of thanks for a Scout parcel.”

When Miss Porter eventually retired in 1920 the Troop presented her with a rosewood music cabinet and an illuminated address, honouring her outstanding duty to the 1st Chesham Bois Scouts.

See for a longer version of this article. Photos courtesy of Amersham Museum.