Sunday 26 October 2008

Military Medals

In June 1916 the Royal Warrant for the Military Medal was amended so that women could also be eligible for the award. Since 1883 the Royal Red Cross had been awarded to nurses for outstanding acts of bravery and devotion to duty during the course of their work, and was much revered by the profession as a reward for services above the normal call of duty. However, during the Great War the RRC was separated into two classes, 1st class (RRC) and 2nd class (Associate or ARRC) and was issued by the thousand to women who although engaged in some way in the nursing of sick and wounded soldiers, were not necessarily trained nurses. It became an anomaly that due to a 'quota' system, the untrained Commandant of a forty-bedded Red Cross Hospital could receive the RRC for running her small unit efficiently, while the Matron of a 2000-bedded British General Hospital who was working sixteen-hour days on the Western Front went without. When nursing sisters and other women workers in France and Flanders became increasingly subject to the dangers of German air-raids and shelling, many of them showed the most outstanding bravery and disregard for their own safety in order to protect and care for the patients in their charge. The amendment of the Royal Warrant extending the award of the Military Medal to women provided a prestigious alternative to the Royal Red Cross, and one which would recognise a small group of women who had acted with great courage under fire.

During the Great War 135 Military Medals were awarded to women, both civilians and those working in military hospitals. Fifty-five of those awards were to members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service, and I've recently put details of these women, with citations for their awards, on the Scarletfinders website. The citations are those written by the officer responsible for submitting the names for consideration, and vary in their content and descriptive quality, but give an excellent picture of the magnificent work and outstanding actions of nurses during the normal course of their work during the Great War.

The pages can be found by following this link:

Scarletfinders - Military Medals awarded to members of QAIMNS and TFNS

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Training Hospitals 1902

As I've got an enforced period of sitting at home at present, I've had some time to go through documents I've found, and re-read some of those I'd forgotten about. When QAIMNS was formed in 1902, it was planned to improve its exclusivity by only accepting applications from women who had been trained at the best hospitals in the country. In the event it soon became obvious that this method would never provide enough applicants, and the rules were rapidly relaxed, but this extract from the minutes of the QAIMNS Nursing Board that year gives the list of preferred institutions - I wonder what a similar list would look like today?

The National Archives WO243/20
Minutes of Nursing Board, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service 1902

List of approved hospitals and training schools
The Board has at its disposal information concerning hospitals with accommodation for about 100 patients and upwards in the UK and British Dominions, in which training for nurses is provided. It has come to the conclusion that the training in these institutions varies greatly, and also varies from time to time in individual institutions. In many of these institutions it is clear that the training provided for nurses is not of the standard which should be recognised for the purposes of the QAIMNS.
The Board concludes that it will not be advisable at present to draw up a definite list of hospitals and nurse training schools, but for convenience of the Board it recommends that the Nurse Training Schools attached to Schools of Medicine in the UK should for the present be recognised for the purposes of QAIMNS. In the case of nurses applying for admission from other training schools, the application of each nurse should be specially considered by the Nursing Board and recorded in its minutes.
List of approved institutions:

Charing Cross Hospital
Guy's Hospital
King's College Hospital
The London Hospital
Middlesex Hospital
Royal Free Hospital
St. Bartholomew's Hospital
St. George's Hospital
St. Mary's Hospital
St. Thomas' Hospital
University College Hospital
Westminster Hospital

Birmingham General Hospital
Birmingham, The Queen's Hospital
Bristol General Hospital
Bristol Royal Infirmary
Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge
Cardiff Infirmary
Leeds General Infirmary
Liverpool General Infirmary
Manchester Royal Infirmary
Newcastle-on-Tyne Royal Infirmary
Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
Dundee Royal Infirmary
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
Glasgow Royal Infirmary
Glasgow Western Infirmary

Belfast, Royal Victoria Infirmary
Dublin, Adelaide Hospital
Dublin, Mater Misericordiae
Dublin, St. Vincent's Hospital
Dublin, Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital
Dublin, The Richmond Hospital

Dear Father revisited

I've written previously about the social status of members of the 'Regular' QAIMNS service, and in June I commented this extract from a book by Penny Starns:

'Military nurses were recruited primarily from the ranks of officers' wives, widows and daughters, and this elitist recruitment practice, combined with royal patronage, ensured that the military nursing services occupied a prestigious position within the profession overall'

Doubting that most of these women were the daughters of army officers (there were definitely no wives or widows after 1902) I've now done a little more work on the profession of the fathers of those women who joined the service between its inauguration in March 1902 and the outbreak of the Great War (August 4th 1914).
There were 495 women who were appointed to Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service during this period, and I've fitted them in to one of fifty-eight occupational categories. As I have worked from the applicant's own description of her father's profession, there are varied descriptions of what is likely to be a similar job. For instance, I've used 'Minister of the Church' to include 'clergyman', 'clerk in holy orders', 'Weslyan minister' etc., and similarly 'Merchant' encompasses a multitude of trading - yarn, silk, gold and silver, corn, iron, wine, granite etc; the list is very long, but does not include shopkeepers, who were not very numerous in the list.
I found that of those fifty-eight categories, the top five accounted for half of the 495 women, and the top ten covered 350 in total - here are the top five:

Minister of the Church - 60
Farmer - 57
Merchant - 49
Army Officer - 46
Doctor/Surgeon - 35

There is no bottom five as such; twenty-three fathers have a profession unique to the list, and they include a museum curator, lithographer, a public analyst, the manager of a salmon fishery and a Writer to the Signet (I'll leave that to Google!).
This is a rough and ready appraisal, but certainly shows that there was considerable diversity in the background of QAIMNS nurses which probably veered rather more to peace and love than to war.