Monday, 18 February 2013

A Tale of Nurse Tickle and Nurse Romp

The following report was found in a nurse's service file and is a great example of how easy it was for military nurses of that time to blot their copy-books.  While there seemed no problem with the professional ability of either of the women involved, their behaviour was considered so improper that dismissal was the only possible outcome. A hundred years on, I wonder how pulling at pillows and tickling patients' feet would be viewed by hospital staff today? Although I don't know what became of Nurse Thayer after she left the Territorial Force Nursing Service, Amelia Shee joined the Scottish Women's Hospital, and served from October 1915 until December 1918, first in Serbia and later at Royaumont, France, making her one of the longest serving trained nurses with the SWH during wartime. I guess she might then have had a more exciting and fulfilling war and perhaps her transgressions had a satisfactory outcome for her.

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THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES, WO399/14434

At a meeting of the Advisory Council of the Territorial Force Nursing Service held at the War Office, 80, Pall Mall, on 27th July 1915, an enquiry was made into the case of Nurse Amelia G. Shee and Nurse Gladys A. Thayer who had, at the request of the Matron of the 2nd Eastern General Hospital, Brighton, sent in their resignations on 27th June, 1915, but who desired that enquiry be made into the circumstances of their doing so with a view to possible continuance in the Service.  At the request of the Administrator of the 2nd Eastern General Hospital the matter of their right to appeal was submitted to the Matron-in-Chief, and she brought the question before the Advisory Council.

On 24th June it appeared that the Matron, Miss Williams, reported to Colonel Rooth, Officer-in-Charge, 2nd Eastern General Hospital, that she wished with his approval to send a letter to Miss Bird, the Principal Matron, requesting that she would have Nurse Thayer and Nurse Shee removed from the hospital on the ground that the Night Sister (Elliott) reported that she had seen the nurses in the act of tickling the patients, also romping with them and rolling over the bed, and that when spoken to the nurses were insolent.  This letter was forwarded as requested on 25th June; Miss Bird, Principal Matron, wrote to the nurses in question asking them to resign stating that the alternative would be dismissal from the Service.

In a letter dated 25th June,  the two nurses wrote acknowledging that they had acted very foolishly, but protested against being suspended from duty.  On 27th June they sent in their resignations, but after having asked and received an interview with Miss Bird, Principal Matron, Miss Thayer requested her, in a covering letter, to appeal to the Matron-in-Chief for a transfer to another hospital.  Miss Bird forwarded the application, but the Matron-in-Chief replied to her that this would not be possible as Miss Thayer appeared not to be suitable for military service.  On 2nd July both nurses sent in a formal request to the Matron-in-Chief to have the case referred to the Advisory Council.  On 10th July the Matron-in-Chief wrote to Miss Bird that she thought the enquiry undesirable in the interests of the nurses, but that of course it should be held if they desired it.  On 13th July the nurses again requested that it might be held.  Lieut. Colonel Rooth, Officer-in-Charge, 2nd Eastern General Hospital, brought the matter to the notice of Colonel Butt, A.D.M.S. Sussex, who in forwarding the appeal of the nurses to the D.D.M.S. for General Officer Commanding, Eastern Command, stated that he considered that the nurses should have been given an opportunity to explain their conduct, and that though their action was thoughtless and unseemly their resignation from the Service was more than was called for.
The matrons and nurses were interviewed by the Advisory Council, and the whole of the correspondence was read as well as a written statement handed in by the two nurses.  The facts appeared to be as follows:

On the 22nd June, Nurse Thayer had, as she acknowledges, awakened a patient by tickling his feet.  As there was much noise in the ward the night sister had come in and she then saw this done. On 23rd June Nurse Thayer was in another of her wards and Nurse Shee came in, she stated, to ask for some gauze, though it was not her ward.  Whilst there she caught hold of a patient’s foot telling him it was time he got up. The night sister came in at the time and censured her, afterwards reporting the matter to the Matron. These facts are established by the statements of the nurses themselves. The Matron, Miss Williams, states that the Night Sister (Elliott) had informed her that both nurses had been behaving in a very unprofessional and unbecoming manner in the wards in the early mornings, and that she had twice remonstrated with them, but that they had refused to recognise her authority, and, before the patients, had told her she had no business to interfere.  Sister Gould (Day Sister) had told her that the patients of the wards of which she had charge spoke in her hearing of the familiarity of the two nurses, and stated that they had no difficulty in waking in the morning as the nurses tickled them and threw pillows at them.  This, however, she had not herself seen.  On the request of the Advisory Council, the evidence of the two sisters was given in writing.  Miss Williams also stated that the Night Sister had seen pillow fighting and romping, but this is not mentioned in her letter.  Miss Williams stated that a visitor had also made a formal complaint to her to the same effect.  In an interview the nurses were likewise said, by the Matron, to have admitted having pulled the pillows from the patients.  Miss Bird, the Principal Matron, stated that she considered the nurses unsuitable for military duty.

The Advisory Council, after full consideration of the case, came to the conclusion that they could not advise that the nurses should be allowed to re-join the Service.  Their conduct on their own showing was unseemly and was a clear indication that although they might possibly be technically good nurses they were absolutely unsuited for the nursing of soldiers.  They had no reason to disagree with the strongly expressed views of the two Matrons on the subject, and they did not feel that the nurses had been harshly used, especially as they were able to procure civil work at once. They therefore unanimously adopted the following resolution:

“The Advisory Council having heard both sides of the case and given it every consideration, are unanimously of opinion that there is no reason for asking either of the nurses concerned to withdraw her resignation.  From what they have heard from the Matrons, and from the manner in which the nurses put forward their case, the Advisory Council consider that they are both unsuited for work in a military hospital.  They wish also to add that this objection may not may not apply to the civilian nursing duties to which they have returned since they left the Territorial Force Nursing Service."

Names of Members present:
Miss Haldane, Chairman
The Countess of Minto
The Countess of Denbigh and Desmond
Lady Knox
Miss Finch, Matron, University College Hospital
Miss Cooper, Matron, St. George’s Hospital
Miss Lloyd-Still, Matron, St.  Thomas’ Hospital
Miss Cox-Davies, Principal Matron, T.F.N.S., Matron, Royal Free Hospital
Miss Sidney Browne, R.R.C., Matron-in-Chief, Territorial Force Nursing Service (Secretary)

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