Thursday, 4 September 2014

From Small Acorns Mighty Oaks Grow

Gertrude Madley in France, 1919

     Gertrude Madley was born in Wales in December 1892, living most of her early life in Llanelli.  Her story shows the changes that were taking place in recruitment to the military nursing services by the middle of the war.  When Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service was formed in 1902 applicants had to be well-educated, of high social status, and trained in one of a small, select group of prestigious hospitals. As the war progressed and increasing numbers of nurses were needed for military hospitals, the net had to be cast wider to find large numbers of staff nurses and nursing sisters for QAIMNS Reserve.

     The 1911 census shows Gertrude Madley as an eighteen year old, living with her family in Llanelli.  Her father’s occupation was given as ‘tinplate rollerman’ and she herself was working as a factory hand in a tin plate factory.  She was not destined to remain as a factory worker and in 1913 she started a three year nurse training course at Swansea General and Eye Hospital before joining Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve as a Staff Nurse in September 1916.  At just twenty-three years of age she was one of the youngest nurses to serve with the Reserve during the Great War, the age limit of twenty-five having been lowered as the shortage of trained nurses was so great.  She initially served in Malta before going to France in 1918, and was finally demobilised in May 1920.  Her report from No.35 General hospital, dated 30 April 1920 reads:

Staff Nurse Madley served with this unit from 15.6.19 to the present date leaving on demobilisation.  Her general professional ability, power of administration and initiative is quite up to the standard of her rank.  Good tempered, tactful, always obliging and helpful. Devoted to her patients.  Her influence generally is all for good.  Nurse Madley has had charge of a surgical ward and has fulfilled her duties of Sister in a most satisfactory manner.

     Gertrude Madley never married and during the Second World War worked as a Chief Nurse with the American Red Cross at the Harvard Field Hospital Unit, Salisbury. An article written by her can be found here:

My Assignment as a Red Cross Nurse

     It seems almost impossible that this could be the same person as the shy young woman in the photo above, and after her demobilisation she must have spent many years in the USA between the wars. However, the General Nursing Council Register for 1942 confirms both her training in Swansea and her appointment with the American Red Cross, so certainly one and the same.  There are many other references to Gertrude Madley on the web and she appears to have become a prominent 'American' nurse of the time. She died in April 1990 at the age of ninety-seven.  What a great example of a young woman from a humble, working-class background who forged an independent and inspiring life as a professional nurse.

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