Monday, 10 October 2011

My Wish

Is it time for New Year Resolutions yet? Never mind. May I offer up a prayer that at some future time there will be more awareness about military nurses. There seems to be a common misconception that their story starts and ends with Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and Vera Brittain, none of whom were military nurses of course. Those three have a lot to answer for!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Military Hospitals 1899-1903

As two of my favourite things are lists and typing, typing lists can be counted on to soothe my troubles away (yes, I know it's sad, sad, sad). So to suddenly find another long-forgotten list hidden away on my hard drive was a real bonus. The result is a page listing all British military hospitals in 1899 here:

British Military Hospitals, Worldwide, 1899

And an accompanying page with transcribed reports of some of the UKs military hospitals in 1902-3, on the eve of the reorganisation of the army medical services:

Military Hospital Reports 1902-1903

These few reports highlight how truly awful conditions were in some of the institutions, and show how far we've moved on in the last hundred years. Third Station Hospital, Aldershot, is damned by its report:

To adequately describe the glaring defects of this institution would be mere waste of time. Its immediate evacuation and demolition is the only possible way of dealing with an institution to which the name hospital should not be applied ...
... The sooner the place is struck off the List of Military Hospitals the better for the Service and for the Army, for nothing could be better calculated to crush the energy out of any Officer, to make the non-commissioned officers and men of the corps content with a low level of attainment, and to put dread of the word ‘hospital’ into the heart of any patient.

And Burnley soldiers had only this to look forward to if sick:

This hospital had been closed about a week before our visit. It was in a most deplorable condition of filth and neglect, and was quite unfit for habitation. The non-commissioned officer in charge was, at the time of our visit, under arrest, and the equipment was removed. If this hospital is ever to be reopened, much will require to be done to make it suitable for sick soldiers. In fact the whole barracks presented a picture of the most abject squalor, and the sight of them must have a strongly deterrent effect upon any man in Burnley who might think of enlisting. They were really disgraceful.

At this distance in time it seems almost amusing, but it's worth reflecting on how life has changed and what improvements we enjoy today.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Downton Abbey - More Tales of the Unexpected

Julian Fellowes was rather upset last year about criticisms pointing out inaccuracies in the first series of Downton Abbey:

"There was also an assumption in the media that the complainant was automatically correct and we were wrong, which was frustrating... When there was a television aerial in shot, as there was once, I was happy to hold my hands up. But I expended a lot of energy getting agitated about accusations that such-and-such piece of music wasn't released until 1922, when in fact it was being played in 1910. Or the butler should have been in uniform when they came out of uniform in the Regency period - I mean, just shut up!"
Fellowes added: "This year I think it might be nice to have a column called 'This Week's Downton Blunders', where I have the right of reply and can say either, 'It's a fair cop' or, 'No, we got it right, they did wear bathing costumes in 1761' or whatever. That might be a much better way of handling all the excitement."

In the absence of such a column, I once again feel the need to comment on one or two of the latest blunders. Now the Abbey itself has opened as a convalescent home for officers there’s no improvement in the sardine-tin formation of the beds, and still no room for lockers or anywhere to keep personal items. Mrs. Crawley seems to be conducting affairs at Downton, and with Major Clarkson and Lady Sybil spending every waking minute there as well, it makes me wonder what’s happening down at Downton village cottage hospital. It was chaos there last week, and with 50% of the staff gone, things must be reaching a critical point. I say 50%, but with Thomas moving down the road as well, more like 75%.

Thomas Barrow. In the first series he was exposed at Downton as a thief. With war on the horizon he decided to jump before he was dismissed and joined the Territorial branch of the Royal Army Medical Corps. This ensured (so he thought) that he would get a cushy number when the wartime chips were down. Somehow he ended up in the thick of the fighting, having a few fags in a trench under constant bombardment. I can’t quite work out what he was actually doing in that trench. Was he attached to a Regimental Aid Post, or attached to a Field Ambulance perhaps? If it was ever explained, I missed it. Apologies. He intentionally exposed himself to sniper fire and after recovering from his self-inflicted injury, and by the miracles of modern television script-writing, he ends up in charge of the convalescent home at Downton Abbey.

Thomas Barrow. Thief, liar, manipulator, coward. Just the man for the job. Well, not exactly, as no UK convalescent home had RAMC staff. There was absolutely no way a RAMC corporal (sorry, Acting-Sergeant) would work in that type of unit or give orders to sick officers. Complete drivel and tosh. There should at least have been a trained nurse, but unfortunately no provision has been made for even one in this series.

The surprise of the week (errors no longer being surprises) came when Lady Mary announced that a friend of the family wanted to come to Downton from Middlesbrough to convalesce, and both Mrs. Crawley and Major Clarkson were up in arms.
‘Middlesbrough General will have their own arrangements about where their officers convalesce’ declared Mrs. C. And Major C. agreed:
‘Downton must function as part of the official system or it can’t function at all.’

So Lord Fellowes KNOWS there was an official system – that rather took my breath away. Is it better to know about something and choose to ignore it, or make errors because you failed to do the research and never knew about it at all? (Vote NOW). And I must just add here (pedant that I am) that there was only one military hospital in Middlesbrough, not the General Hospital, and no officer beds in the town at all.

However I did notice one bit of light flickering in the drawing-room when the near-exploding Carson exclaimed:
‘So we just make it up as we go along?’
Spot on, Carson.