I always enjoy coming across tales of sins committed by nurses in military hospitals and although I don't go hunting for them, when they jump off the page I find them hard to ignore. I've always stepped back from constantly portraying nurses during the First World War as angels of mercy and have tried to show them for what they really were - a wide range of normal women with a variety of different backgrounds and personalities. Finding tales of misdeeds gives a wonderful window onto the social mores of that time and serves as a stark reminder of how things have changed over the last hundred years. I came across this nurse while searching at The National Archives for someone with the surname Kerr. This wasn't the right file but the contents proved interesting.*
Margaret Taylor was born in 1893, the daughter of a coal miner, and her home was in Ellington, Northumberland. She trained as a nurse at St. Mary's Infirmary, Islington, and following her training she enrolled as a Staff Nurse in the Territorial Force Nursing Service. Her first posting was to the Killingbeck Section of the East Leeds War Hospital where she was employed from the 20th August 1917. Trouble - or maybe it was love - came swiftly. The following correspondence is taken from her service record and the letters are between Miss Sidney Browne, Matron-in-Chief of the TFNS and Euphemia (Effie) Innes, Principal Matron, No.2 Northern General Hospital, Leeds.
21st October 1917
Letter from Miss Innes to Sidney Browne:
Dear Madam - I am sorry to have to report the following occurrence at the Killingbeck War Hospital. One of the nurses, namely Nurse Margaret Taylor, was married without our knowledge on September 22nd 1917 to a patient who was in the hospital suffering from dysentery. It was found out by the Chaplain, owing to a clergyman he knew mentioning to him quite casually in conversation that he had married two people from Killingbeck. The Chaplain then made inquiries and got a copy of the marriage certificate. The marriage was witnessed by a V.A.D. and a patient from the Hospital. We have suspended Nurse Taylor until we hear from you. The V.A.D. has not been very satisfactory and we had already told her we would not keep her after November 11th 1917. The patient who has married Nurse Taylor has been suffering from dysentery and had no right to be outside the Hospital grounds.
I am very sorry that this happened as we are very particular about the behaviour of the nurses with the patients, and this kind of thing has such a very bad effect on the patients. I told Miss Tomlin to tell Nurse Taylor that she would probably not be allowed to go on duty again.
Margaret Taylor, Staff Nurse, joined the East Leeds Hospital from the Headquarters Staff on August 20th 1917. She was sent to the Killingbeck Section of the Hospital for duty on arrival.
24th October 1917
Reply from Sidney Browne to Miss Innes:
Dear Madam - With reference to your letter of the 21st October with regard to Miss Margaret Taylor, I am so sorry to hear about her behaviour, particularly as she had such good references when she joined. Do not let her go on duty again, and unless you and the Colonel think it advisable to allow her to resign, the report of her conduct must be sent in officially with the recommendation as to the course you wish to be taken, and she will be dismissed the Service, but if you and the Commanding Officer would rather she resigned you can tell her this may be allowed, although she does not deserve it, and she must not apply to another Military Hospital for Service again. I shall be glad if you will kindly let me have her married name, when I will let the British Red Cross Society and the other branch of the War Office know she is not suitable for enrolment. Miss Taylor in the circumstances forfeits her claim to a gratuity.
31st October 1917
Miss Innes to Sidney Browne:
Dear Madam - In reply to your letter and in consultation with the C.O. we have decided that it will be better for Staff Nurse Miss Margaret Taylor, now Mrs Kerr, to resign and therefore today I have forwarded her resignation papers to the D.D.M.S. I enclose the Insurance Form but unfortunately Mrs Kerr does not know her number. I have given her a very severe reprimand and I fear very much she will live to regret her actions.
It's impossible to know of course if Margaret Taylor did live to regret her actions, but after just four weeks devoted to meeting and marrying John Kerr I too have my doubts about the possible recklessness of her decision. True to her word, Miss Browne confirmed that Margaret Taylor's career as a nurse military hospitals was over by writing the following day to all other interested parties, Ethel Becher, Matron-in-Chief, QAIMNS, Miss Swift, Matron, British Red Cross Society, and Katharine Furse, VAD Commandant at Headquarters:
Dear Madam - I am directed to inform you that the following Staff Nurse T.F.N.S.:
Mrs Kerr, nee Margaret Taylor has resigned from the Territorial Force Nursing Service. If this lady applies to you for enrolment if would be well to apply to this office for further particulars.
If you have John and Margaret Kerr in you family tree, I'd love to know what the future held for them!
*Service file of Margaret Kerr, née Taylor, The National Archives WO399/12562