Updated: Aug 25
Elizabeth Anne (Elise) Sandes died on 19 August 1934, a remarkable woman, and ‘for 66 years the friend of Soldiers and founder of all the Sandes Soldiers’ Homes.’
Elise was born in Tralee, County Kerry on 19 February 1851 to Stephen Sandes, a British army officer and Mary Anne Sandes (née Ponsonby). She was a relative of Flora Sandes who served as a member of the Royal Serbian Army in World War I. Elise’s childhood friends included Horatio Herbert Kitchener who was born a year earlier in nearby Ballylongford. He would later become Lord Kitchener, and in 1914 was appointed Secretary of State for War virtually running the war effort until his death on 5 June 1916 when his vessel HMS Hampshire struck a mine off Orkney.
Elise Sandes was only a teenager when her mother commenced a Bible class for soldiers in a small room in Tralee. Some years later, one of the regiments was transferred to Cork and Elise was invited to visit them. She ‘found that some from whom she might have expected better had been let astray; but she did not wonder when she saw the number of public-houses adjacent to the barracks.’ Shortly afterwards, a naval officer donated a house in Cork to the soldiers. Elise took control, repurposing the building to accommodate the soldiers’ needs. The premises on King Terrace, Lower Glanmire Road, opened on 10 June 1877 and included reading, recreation, coffee and meeting rooms, and private accommodation for Elise.
Evidently, the first Sandes Soldiers’ Home was a ’splendid success, and was crowded by soldiers every night’ and certainly was a ‘step in the right direction’. By 1893, Elise Sandes had opened other homes and was eager to establish similar ventures in Queenstown (Cobh) and Ballincollig. In a letter to the editor of the Cork Constitution, ‘one who knows’, explained that ‘many of these poor fellows might go astray, when far from home and friends, if no kind hand were stretched out to meet their hands, if no kindly hearts beat in sympathy with theirs’.  The writer continued expressing the privilege to be allowed to help such work and such a worker [Elise Sandes].
Elise Sandes continued her work establishing Soldiers’ Homes in Belfast and Ballincollig, where she is recorded on the 1901 Irish Census. Homes were also founded in Dundalk, the Curragh, Newbridge and overseas in India.
War at home and abroad
Despite the emergence of the Irish Free State, three homes remained open, in fact, the location in the Curragh only closed in the 1980s. This Soldiers’ Home in particular was vital ‘during the Great War as many thousands of men passed through the camp en route to the Western Front. Elise was ’an absolute magnet in those days remaining open till the early hours of the morning preparing meals for incoming and outcoming soldiers.’
After the war, King George V conferred on her the dignity of a Commander of the British Empire, the announcement appearing in the London Gazette, on 30 March 1920.
Later Elise moved to the Soldiers’ Home in Ballykinlar in County Down, where she died on 19 August 1934. Her funeral was attended by Viscount Craigavon, Northern Ireland Prime Minster, and ‘every man of the 2nd Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment who could be off duty paraded’. Several soldiers bore her coffin and a military guard of honour lined the road leading out of Ballykinlar camp to the nearby parish church of Tyrella. She had requested no flowers on her grave, but rather donations be given to the homes she established and her simple headstone perhaps echoes the unassuming but vital life she lived.
 Belfast Newsletter, 20 August 1934.  History of Ballykinlar Camp, image available www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=489996451828825&set=pcb.489998835161920.  Belfast Newsletter, 20 August 1934.  National Army Museum, www.nam.ac.uk/explore/herbert-kitchener-taskmaster.  Belfast Newsletter, 30 September 1887.  Ibid.  Cork Constitution, 30 October 1893.  Elise Sandes (1901). NAI census return, www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Cork/Ballincollig/Ballincollig/1098153/  Guy’s Cork Almanac and County and City Directory, 1891 (Cork, 1891) p. 100.  Guy’s, 1907, p. 116.  Joe Murray, Sandes Soldiers Home (unpublished article).  National Library of Ireland, image available at www.flickr.com/47290943@N03/6683286357.  The London Gazette, supplement no. 31840, 30 March 1920, p. 3771.  The London Gazette, no. 31840, 30 March 1920, p. 3771.  Londonderry Sentinel, 23 August 1934.  Image courtesy of History of Newcastle, County Down, www.facebook.com/HistoryofNewcastleCo.Down/.  Image courtesy of History of Ballykinlar Camp, www.facebook.com/BallykinlarHistoryHut/.