Vera (who liked to be known as ‘Jack’ or ‘Jacko’) campaigned for women’s rights, served with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and was one of the most prominent gay women in the war effort.
She was born in Lancashire in 1881, the daughter of a timber merchant. Educated at a convent school in Belgium, as a young woman she worked as an actress and singer, often performing cross-dressing acts in music halls. Her stage name was ‘Jack’.
She campaigned for women’s right to vote, joining the Actresses’ Franchise League and the Women’s Social and Political Union. As part of a group of singing suffragettes, she performed at the gates of Holloway prison to boost the morale of suffragette prisoners being held inside. She worked as chauffeur to the Pankhursts, who led the WSPU. Jack herself spent five days in Holloway after being arrested for obstructing policy at a suffrage rally.
Soon after the First World War broke out, the Scottish Women’s Hospitals began providing medical services and establishing hospitals near the front lines. It sent female nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, cooks and orderlies to Corsica, France, Russia and Serbia.
In 1915 Jack and her lover, Evelina Haverfield, volunteered to join the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and were sent to Serbia, where Jack served as an ambulance driver. She returned to the UK in 1917 and reported on the situation of the Serbian Army to the Foreign Office. She helped to raise funds for the SWH and publicise its work throughout the rest of the war.
After the war, Jack traveled back to Serbia with Evelina to help her found a health centre for orphaned Serbian children in Bajina Basta. When Evelina died from pneumonia in 1920, she left Jack an annual income for life.