Monday, 13 September 2010

The Royal Red Cross - pipped at the post

A little while ago I wrote about Florence Nightingale NOT being the first recipient of the Royal Red Cross award. At present I'm carrying out a bit of research on the award, and there are some unusual facts to be found between the covers of the RRC Register. Between the first award in May 1883, and the start of the Great War, there were just 246 awards. Considering that the period covered several military campaigns where British nurses were deployed, including the Boer War, it seems a remarkably small number, but it does highlight what a rare and special honour it was to receive the award.
For services rendered during the Great War there were more than 8,000 RRCs both 1st and 2nd class issued, and to many people the bestowal of so many honours devalued the medal and sight was lost of its original intention - to reward women who has shown only the most supreme service and devotion to the nursing of military personnel. It became a token of 'job well done' rather than 'job done better than anyone else could have done it,' and also caused some divisions between the 'haves' and 'have nots' of the nursing world.

But to return to 'first' awards, it's surprising that the very first Royal Red Cross of the Great War was the prize of Mademoiselle Eugènie Antoine, of 2 Rue de Bersue, Vailly-sur-Aisne

'in recognition of her courageous and devoted services to the British wounded in hospital at Vailly-sur-Aisne whilst the British were under shell fire.'

So the great and the good among British military nurses were beaten to the post by a French civilian. But their time soon came of course, together with the other 8,000 ...


  1. Do you know anything about several Stafford House South African Aid Committee nurses who were awarded the RRC in 1883 for their work in the Zulu War? I'm particularly interested in one named Mary Jane West Armfield, who grew up in Australia and willed her RRC to the Australian War Memorial.

  2. I have very little information other than the pages in the RRC Register, so not sure I can be much help, but feel free to email me.