Madelon “Glory” Battle Hancock

Madelon “Glory” Battle Hancock
Most Decorated Nurse in WWI

Born in Pennsacola, Fla in 1881, Madelon "Glory" Battle Hancock. grew up in Asheville. Her father, Dr. S. Westray Battle, was a well known and highly regarded physician known primarily for his work with tuberculosis. After graduating from the Presbyterian Hospital School fo Nursing in New York City in 1905, she married Mortimer Hancock, a British Army officer. When World War One broke out in 1914, Madelon joined the first British Hospital Unit going to the frontline of battle.

In the British Army she was known as "Glory Hancock," for her enthusiastic support of the Allied cause. She went to Antwerp, in Belgium, on Aug. 13, 1914, only a few days after the war began, with the first British Hospital Unit to serve in the war. She remained in that city until Oct. 12 of that year, when during a retreat by the Allies she brought in many wounded Belgians and British, the latter of the Royal Navy Division. She was then attached to the hospital established at Fermes, in Belgium, and nursed there through the first battle of the Yser, when the hospital was shelled by the Germans and had to be excavated. The patients were removed to Heogstadt, where she was during the first and second of Ypres and the second battle of the Marne.

She was at that and other dressing stations close behind the Allies battle lines until the last moment of the war. She was never beyond the sounds of the guns and frequently within the zone of fire. She was gassed, was repeatedly in the midst of shrapnel fire, but she always escaped without serious injury.

For her services to the wounded and sick and her conspicuous bravery under fire upon various occasions, she received 12 decorations: five from Great Britain, five from Belgium and two from France.

After the War, Hancock returned to North Carolina to visit family members across the state. She died shortly later taking care of war orphans in France.

Madelon "Glory" Battle Hancock World War One Nurse - 1914-1918

Excerpt from "Nursing in a Time and Place of Peril: Five North Carolina Nurses" by Phoebe Pollitt and Ashley Humphries (2013). Used with permission of the author; see full article for annotations and references.

“Mrs. Hancock was … close behind the Allied lines of battle until the last moment of the war; never being beyond the sound of the guns and frequently within the zone of fire. She was gassed, was repeatedly in the midst of shrapnel fire but always escaped without serious injury."9

Madelon “Glory” Battle Hancock of Asheville, North Carolina was the most decorated nurse who served with the Allied Forces in World War One (WWI). As a British Red Cross nurse she joined the first detachment of British soldiers deployed to the Belgium battlefront in August, 1914 (the United States did not enter the war until 1917) and remained with the troops until the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. For her services to the wounded and sick and her conspicuous bravery under fire on numerous occasions, she received 12 medals: five from Great Britain, five from Belgium, and two from France11.

Hancock was born in Pensacola, Florida to Alice Maude Belknap and Dr. Samuel Westray Battle on August 30, 1881. Soon thereafter, Dr. Battle, a prominent pulmonologist, moved the family to Asheville, NC where the altitude, climate, and clean air were thought to provide an optimal  environment for curing tuberculosis12. Madelon probably developed her desire to become a nurse by helping her father with his patients. After her high school graduation from St. Mary’s School in Raleigh, in 1889, Madelon enrolled in the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in New York City; earning her diploma in 190512. She married Major Mortimer Hancock a British Army officer, on July 2, 1904, and after graduating from nursing school in 1905, moved to England with her new husband. They had one son, Westray Battle Hancock and lived a quiet life until World War I began9.

On August 13, 1914, fifteen days after war was declared, Hancock went with the first British Hospital Unit into the midst of fighting near Antwerp, Belgium. British soldiers soon renamed her "Glory" for her enthusiastic support of the Allied cause. Glory’s time in Antwerp was brief due to the Allies retreat9. Hancock’s next assignment was to the hospital at Fermes, Belgium where she nursed until the hospital was shelled by the Germans and had to be evacuated. Hancock then worked in temporary, mobile evacuation hospitals; called Advanced Dressing Stations, close behind Allied battle lines. Advanced Dressing Stations moved with the troops from battlefield to battlefield providing emergency care until soldiers were stable enough to be transported to hospitals. According to a 1917 British Medical Journal report: “the advanced dressing station is always exposed to artillery fire, though sometimes the crypt or cellar of a still standing but more or less wrecked building, such as a church or large schools may be available13.”

In early 1918, Anna Maxwell, Superintendent of Nurses at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City toured the battlefields of WWI and wrote a report for the American Journal of Nursing. She found Hancock acting as Head Nurse at a base hospital in Flanders managing a “Large ward filled with the wounded suffering from gas gangrene, with few facilities for treatment – no hot water bags, no rubber sheets, etc. Ingenuity and resourcefulness have to supply substitutes in time of war …”14 Hancock sent frequent letters home describing her experiences. Her early enthusiasm for the war was gradually replaced with increasing despondency as seen in the excerpts below.

September 10, 1918
“I am on Night Duty again and alone…The Staff is so small and they keep filling up with wounded instead of keeping to a number we can cope with without killing ourselves. 4 years of this has about finished me in every way15."

October 7, 1918
“Ambulances for miles almost touching each other. A continual stream….I've never seen such wounds & so many deaths. Dying on the stretchers before they can be attended to16." 

October 26, 1918
“….It was pitiful coming all through the trenches—such wasted country. All the trees skeletons, corpses & overturned guns & motors every where & miles & miles of inundated country17." 

November, 1918
“We are very busy & I’m on night duty & I’m just hanging on from day to day trying to hold out as long as the war does. Guess by Xmas if the war isn’t finished Glory is …”.18 

The trauma and separation caused by the war took its toll on the Hancock marriage. Soon after the war Madelon and Mortimer Hancock divorced. Madelon Hancock returned to Asheville for a much needed period of rest and recuperation19. In 1920, she returned to Europe, this time to France, to care for children orphaned by the war. She began using the title Countess von Hellencourt, an honor bestowed on her by the King of Belgium, Albert I, for her heroism as a Red Cross nurse during the war. Hancock died in 1930 in Nice, France after a series of operations, with her step-mother by her side20. Her passing was noted in newspapers around the world. While she lived most of her life away from the Tar Heel state, her courage, benevolence and nursing skills make us proud to claim her as an outstanding and heroic North Carolina nurse.

Source: Pollitt, Pheobe & Humphries, A. (2013). Nursing in a Time and Place of Peril: Five North Carolina Nurses. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice. DOI: 10.5430/jnep.v3n9p176. [URL: jnep.v3n9p176]. [ISSN 1925-4059].



  • Ford, J.H. (1918). Details of Military Medical Administration. York, Pennyslyvania: The Maple Press by P. Blakiston's Son & Co., p.220.


Compiled by: 
Phoebe Pollitt