Friday, 11 June 2010

Nurses' files at The National Archives

The National Archives holds nearly 16,000 files for members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service who served at some time during the Great War. These files cover about three-quarters of all those who served, and are held in class WO399. Recent changes at TNA have included Monday closure, and longer delivery times for original documents. Once upon a time it was unusual to wait for longer than 30 minutes for files to appear, but a couple of years ago some of the more 'lightly used' classes of documents were moved to another side of the site, to a building known to the staff as 'Q2' and this move included WO399. Since then delivery times overall have become longer and longer, and us 'Q2' people seem to be particularly hard done by.

Yesterday I waited 90 minutes for three files to arrive (three being the maximum that can be ordered at one time), and then another 90 minutes for the next three and so on. As I was checking through a dozen 'possible' files to women named 'Poole,' the potential for dying of old age before the right one arrived in the locker was pretty high. Luckily 'my' Poole came in at number five, so I'm still here to tell the tale, but after a browse around the bookshop, a cup of tea, and a wander round the grounds, I was fast running out of things to while away the time.

When I wrote to TNA a couple of months ago to ask about delivery times from Q2, I gathered from their reply that WO399 files are infrequently used throughout the year (not by me!) and with many more documents coming to TNA in the next year or two (could these be WW2 service records?) it could well be that they are one of the many classes of record that will soon be relegated to the off-site salt mines in Cheshire. That will mean that in future it might only be possible to view nurses' files by a pre-order at least three working days in advance of a visit. Pre-orders are usually limited to six individual documents, but perhaps every cloud has a silver lining - with no chance to order any more during the day I will be free of the ninety-minute waits and have more time to nip into Richmond and do some shopping!