Saturday, 31 October 2009

The missing eighty thousand

After more than a century, the phrase 'Lies, damned lies and statistics' still rings true on many occasions today. I frequently browse search engines to see if I can find anything about military nurses that's new to the web and of interest to me, and have known for some time that there's a fundamental error on a prominent nursing website, quoting 100,000 thousand for the number of nurses who served with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Reserve during the Great War. However, a recent search shows that this error has now been replicated on numerous other sites - those which blindly copy what they find elsewhere without any effort to verify that the information is accurate, although they probably wouldn't have the first idea where to start in getting it right.
So I would like to shout out that there were never 100,000 members of QAIMNS and Reserve during the Great War, or in WW2, or for both of them added together for that matter. The National Archives holds service records for 9,349 members of QAIMNS/Reserve who served during the Great War, and another 6,640 for members of the Territorial Force Nursing Service. This run of files is not complete, as they were weeded during the 1930s and a percentage removed if the women were not able to serve again due to a variety of reasons, or if they went on to serve during the Second World War, in which case their files will still be held by the Ministry of Defence. The full number is unknown, but it's estimated that probably 20-30% more women actually served with the British military nursing services during the First World War than the run of files suggests.
Even a generous estimate pushes that number up to perhaps 13,000 members of QAIMNS/Reserve and 9,000 members of the TFNS, giving a total of about 22,000 women who served. So if you ever read that 100,000 nurses were members of QAIMNS during the war, please ignore it, and if you're really bold, drop a line to the webmaster pointing out the error.

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