Friday, 22 January 2010

The problems of demobilization

It's easy to imagine that at the end of the war, after more than four years of hard work and often less than satisfactory living conditions, nurses would have been happy to hang up their hats and go home. But apparently not all of them felt this way. Correspondence in The Times in the spring of 1919 shows considerable dissatisfaction among them with the process of demobilization. First, a semi-anonymous letter to The Times, dated 19th March 1919 under the heading 'Nurses dismissed summarily:

'Sir, The members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) would like to bring before the public the unfair way in which they are being demobilized. They are being given 48 hours' notice, and after that pay and allowances cease. Many of us have served now for four years, and, never having had proper holidays, are unfit to start work again immediately. We are a body of women working for our living, and are not in a position to be dismissed at so short notice. Many have no parents or homes, and will have to go into lodgings and pay for them. Are we not entitled to some consideration in the form of one month's wages and allowances in lieu of a month's notice? The War Office expects one month's notice from any one leaving the Service and the extra £20 added to our salaries in September, 1916, had to be refunded.'
Members of Q.A.I.M.N.S.

That was followed by a further letter to The Times dated March 27th 1919 from 'Isabel Kennedy' in Brighton - presumably one of those who was happy to be associated with the letter above.

'Sir, Mr. Winston Churchill recently stated that the demobilization of Army nurses was being pushed. It is; and the public should know of the scandalous treatment meted out to the Army nurses of the Territorial Service and the Queen Alexandra's Reserves under this same rapid demobilization. These women, to whom the country owes as much as to the soldiers, are simply given 24 hours' notice, and told to leave. A nurse never knows at what moment the blow may fall. That a woman may have neither money, nor home, nor fresh work to go to, matters nothing. At the end of the 24 hours she must go. The conduct of the Army nurses has been as heroic as that of the soldiers. To whatever hell the men went, the women followed. Yet there are scores and scores of cases of nurses who have served from the outbreak of war in 1914, who have gone through the horrors of Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, who have been torpedoed and shipwrecked, who have been bombed at casualty clearing stations, who are daily (as a nurse justly put it) being "kicked out." The Army nurses are drawn from the ranks of women who have to work for a living. But the pay of the nurse is a sweated one, so that savings, even if possible, can be but small. Yet for the Army nurse there is neither leaving gratuity nor unemployment pay. Some time in the vague future each nurse may receive a war bonus of £20. But it is surely on her discharge, when she has to face the world while waiting for a post, that the nurse needs money in her pocket, and it is then that, having done her duty, she should receive her reward. These devoted women have given the best years of their womanhood to their country. They flinched at nothing. With the soldiers they have faced all the horrors and terrors of war. They have faced death in terrible form. They have deserved as well of their country as the men. It is monstrous that they should be turned off with callous ingratitude.'

Somehow I feel that this second letter could well come under the category of 'over-egging the pudding.' Some truth in it, but what a lot of heroic exaggeration. And the replies to these accusations?
Soon, I promise.

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