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© Rob McGibbon, 2013

22nd February

Olive is well and appears to have fully recovered. It is an incredible turnaround and Sir Maurice is convinced enough that her health is stable that he will leave for London. He must attend the King’s Levee at St James’s Palace on Tuesday. He boards the train at Gare du Nord and takes a ferry from Calais to Dover.

Thomas and Peggs remain in Paris. Olive has a matter of great significance to discuss with her father.

The nuns of Our Lady of Sion attend the first of two mass services in the school’s chapel.

…I only go to mass, Sundays + fête -days.

…rolled out of bed at 7 o’clock, very sleepy + cold! premier dejeuner, after, sit in infirmary till girls come up from mass. 9 o’clock study french, later go to drawing. dejeuner, more french, till tea, french again, dinner, recreation, more serviettes to hem. talk of Bon Marche in not over polite english!!

…The chapel is very pretty, but frightfully overheated + the benches none to comfortable, a small organ, worked in the old-fashioned-style by the feet, sends out weird sounds assisted by the old fat french Mdlle who puffs and blows in time to the music + makes one feel quite hot!!!

23rd February

Olive has been profoundly affected by her ordeal. She tells her father that she wants to be baptised into the Catholic faith and asks for his permission. She has been surrounded by so much prayer during her illness, from the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion and Father MacCarthy, to her dear friend Lily and her beloved step-mother Peggs.

Thomas gives his blessing and it is agreed that the ceremony will be held at a future date when Olive is fully well.

People across Paris are preparing for elaborate celebrations to mark the beginning of Lent.

7th February… had awful nightmare, but do not mind because it is Saturday which means the end of another week! 8 weeks today we go home + 14 days today is the short one. Oh! I am longing for it, there is to be a wonderful carnival in Paris, everyone turns out for it! have had a letter from Mr Abrahams today, was very pleased to receive it. Hurrah!  Father MacCarthy came to see me, talked to him for an hour + three quarters, have had a really nice day today! + Sunday tomorrow, like the prospect immensely, Lily + I must enjoy ourselves extra specially, do fancy work in evening retire 8.15pm.


24th February

Paris is over-run with a huge carnival to celebrate Mardis Gras. Thousands of people in masks and colourful costumes parade through the streets with the crowds enjoy street entertainers and festival stalls. Music and dancing fill every quarter of the city throughout the day and long into the night.

Thomas Higgins prepares to leave for Margate, but Peggs will stay with Olive. She has remained at her bedside throughout and has been lightly ticking off in pencil the days on a calendar inside the preliminary pages of Olive’s abandoned diary.

11th February… had a fairly good night, feel a bit better this morning, don’t get up till 8 o’clock, talk to Mlle whilst I am dressing she is nice, she always cheers me up, last night she gave me a tangerine to eat in bed. practise + study till déjeuner, go upstairs to watch gyms in the chicken-run! never seen such funny gyms in my life! no wonder the girls are short + stumpy! had a ripping letter from Norah with heaps of home news!  Ah! it makes me long to be there!! Never mind, tomorrows Thursday. go to painting in afternoon but head aches so, so stop at 3 o’clock and sit in Salle d’etude reading + talking to american girl, same sort of evening do fancy work, am not to get up till 8 again in the morning, have a good night, bar waking up once or twice, always feel more cheery when am going out the next day!! + its the carnival in a weeks time nearly, so must buck up a bit!!!!!

A Prayer for Olive Higgins

At 4.45pm on 25th February, with Peggs at her bedside, Olive dies.



25th February. Evening

An entry in the journal at the Mother House of Our Lady of Sion.

The young sick girl at the Institute has died; but, with her father’s permission, she was able to fulfill her wish, and she was baptised under condition.

In the morning, the ceremony of the Ashes.

The parents of Mademoiselle Marthe Ricour, who was a student at our Saint Ouen Institute, are bringing their daughter to us. She is entering Postulat and taking the name of Sister Marianne II.


In certain religious circles, to die so soon after baptism is considered a blessing. To die  in such purity of spirit is a gift from God, something to celebrate and to give thanks for. In fact, the last rites would not be required…

1am, 26th February

Olive’s Death Certificate

The 25th of February 1914, at 4.45 pm: Olive Hilda Higgins, born at New Cross, London, England, on 10th November 1897; the student daughter of Thomas Richard Higgins and Martha Emma Jones, a married couple xxxxxxxxxx,  single, living with her parents at Margate, England.

The English girl died whilst living at 61b Rue Notre Dame des Champs xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx  as declared by Edouard Jeanmonoed, 29 years, xxxxx, resident at 13 rue Done, on 26th February 1914 at 1 a.m, and witnessed by Charles Reibel, 50 years, a merchant. They sign this document along with us Xxxxx and Xxxx deputy mayor of the 6th Arrondissement of Paris.


28th February. Olive’s Funeral

Saturday morning.

The cortege starts out from The Hydro, taking Olive’s coffin along Eastern Esplanade, then away from Cliftonville and down to the railway station at Margate. Additional privately allocated First Class carriages have been attached to a train of the South Eastern & Chatham railway company to take mourners to London.

The train makes a special stop at Hither Green, where the mourners disembark and the coffin is carried to a hearse. Relatives and friends from the Higgins family’s London roots in New Cross and Deptford join the funeral procession and follow its slow journey to Ladywell and Brockley cemetery. An extra carriage is laden with a vast array of colourful floral tributes. Amongst the flowers by the coffin itself are ones shaped as crosses and wreaths with handwritten messages…

“A token of devotion from heartbroken Dad”

“To my darling Olive, in ever-loving and happy memories, from Peggs (Mums)”

“To my darling sister, from Frank”

“To darling Olive, from Eileen”

[‘Much rushing + hurrying by Dad + Peggs, leave at last amidst luggage + Eileen’s tears…I just noticed a little girl exactly like Eileen, wonder if she ever feels like me. I pity her if she does…’]


The cortege makes its way through the ornate iron gates at the Ivy Road entrance of the cemetery where even more people are waiting at the Ladywell chapel. The service begins at 12.30pm.

Later, the mourners follow Olive’s coffin down a path to the Brockley part of the cemetery and to the Higgins family grave in the shadows of low trees. A large, greying marble gravestone – half its length engraved with lead-filled lettering, the lower half clean and empty – rests to one side of the opened earth.

Thomas Higgins has already attended three funerals here since he purchased Plot 1330 20 years earlier. In late March 1894, when he was only 30, he buried his six-week-old son, Victor Thomas, who had died suddenly. In 1899, Thomas’s elderly mother-in-law was laid to rest and, only three years earlier, he had stood by this grave once again after his wife and Olive’s mother Martha had died from breast cancer at just 47. Now, Thomas must watch as his beloved daughter Olive is lowered into the same ground.

“…Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”



4th April

The date circled and starred by Olive not long after she started at L’Institut de Notre Dame des Champs. It was the day she longed for throughout her stay in Paris, when Peggs would arrive to take her home for Easter.


16th January…letter from Peggs, hurrah!!!! feel quite gay for a minute, dinner, read for an hour then bed, hurrah! another day gone, only 79 more!!!!

24th January…wake up quite early, rotten sore throat + had nightmare, funny, always dream of black cats when I have nightmare, sign of enemies, too, keep your eyes open, Ol, you might be murdered in your sleep!!! 10 weeks to-day my Peggs arrives (D.V)* Oh! the joy, I think I shall go mad…Had a lovely letter from Peggs yesterday, have been reading it all day, its such a cheering one. One from Molly also made me laugh to myself! usual day. bed.

31st January…another week gone! hurrah! only 9 more, thats not so bad, 2 letters from Peggs Oh! the joy, but so sorry she’s not very well, how I wish I were at home + not stuck miles away from helping anyone!! good news of the holiday, can go with Lily! Oh! I ought to be happy with everything so nice! + so I am really! except that I would give anything to have Dad + Peggs…anyhow, Easter wont be long now, its the last day of January, I could shout, I’m so pleased!!…62 more days!!!!!

6th February…Am doing some sort of leather work in the drawing class, it is quite pretty! shall do some more when I get home (Oh!  joyful word!)

7th February…had awful nightmare, but do not mind because it is Saturday which means the end of another week! 8 weeks to-day we go home


*The abbreviation for the Latin phrase Deo volente: God willing.