Sunday 31 May 2009

13 Stationary Hospital Boulogne

The two previous entries mention a lot about No.13 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, and how it was opened in the autumn of 1914 in some very unpromising sugar sheds on the quay. By the greatest good fortune I've recently been sent copies of some photographs of the hospital taken soon after it opened, and one of which I attach here. The images were sent by Sheila Brownlee, whose grandmother Ruby Cockburn worked as a trained nurse with the British Red Cross Society throughout the war, and was employed at the sugar sheds from October to December 1914 while the staff was still a mixed one of QAIMNS and BRCS staff. The photo gives a wonderful view of the size and nature of the sheds, and highlights some of the difficulties that must have been encountered there - I can imagine the cold being all-consuming during the winter of 1914-15. Many thanks to Sheila for this, and the many other images she has shared with me, and also to Ruby for the prolific and varied photographs that she brought back from France.

Sunday 24 May 2009

A Hospital in France - the early days

Part Two

On November 11, 1914, Lord Roberts paid the hospital a visit: he spoke to every stretcher case in hospital. The beds were very low and the men’s voices weak, but he leant over and spoke to them all; it upset him terribly to see so much suffering. Lady Aline Roberts, Lady Gordon-Lennox, and the Matron-in-Chief were with him. On November 13, we heard that Lord Roberts had been taken ill; his aide-de-camp, thinking it was only a chill, motored to the hospital for warm things. Warm clothing was sent to him with one of Queen Mary’s red flannel jackets containing a handkerchief in the pocket and with a card pinned on, “Good luck from Queen Mary.” The next day we received the sad news that he was dead. He passed away so peacefully. On the 17th a stand on the platform was draped to receive the coffin, and at the request of the patients, I placed a large cross of scarlet geraniums as their offering on top of the coffin. Men straight from the trenches were his escort – they looked so white and worn – Indian soldiers lined the platform and received the coffin on the boat which conveyed it to England.

On November 18, 1914, a number of German prisoners were brought in, some of the Prussian Guard. Great excitement prevailed the French people as the prisoners were brought from the Gare Centrale to the Gare Maritime. Some of the prisoners were slightly wounded and all were for evacuation to England by the first boat. Such great tall men they were, it quite cheered us to think they had been captured. Soon after their arrival a great scuffle was heard; a Tommy had an Iron Cross which he was showing round when one of the Prussian Guard made a grab for it and there was a rough and tumble for a moment. Fortunately, there were plenty of officers near, so that order was soon restored. Most of the prisoners who came through were quite inclined to be friendly, and there was so much exchange of buttons and badges that the authorities had to take action to stop it.

On Christmas Day, 1914, a service was held at 6 a.m. in one of the wards. A beautiful crucifix which had been presented by Queen Alexandra was used at this service. Later in the morning a present was given to each man by Lady Gordon-Lennox, she and her daughter – now Lady Titchfield – taking them round. It had been intended to give them out from a Christmas tree in the evening, but word came that there was to be an evacuation. During the afternoon a convoy of patients was received who came in time for evening and Christmas dinner. It was wonderful how happy they were – wounds and hardships all forgotten in the joy and thought of getting to “Blighty.”

The battle of Neuve Chappelle was one of our most terrible times, gas gangrene and tetanus were rampant, and the wounded streaming in all day and night. One advantage of the sheds was that the wounded were received by one door and were passed to the boats by the door opposite. How wonderful was the service of boats and trains, and with what rapidity they were despatched! I have known three different lots of men occupying the beds during the twenty-four hours. In the casualty ward, where the patients walked in, so many as three thousand were dressed and fed in a day and passed on to the boats. The hospital was well fitted-up by this time; non-commissioned officers met the patients as they arrived and drafted the walking cases to different benches, according to their degree of wound. The patients were seen immediately by the doctors, who prescribed for them, the treatment being written down by a sister; a band of nurses followed, carrying out the treatment. Then the patients were sent to long comfortable tables, where a hot meal was served, with a mug of tea. They were then passed out at the far side of the ward, decorated with “Blighty tickets,” and so on to the waiting boats.

One of the men told a thrilling story. He had been lying out for three days within range of the German guns. Our men could not get to the wounded, whose groans could be distinctly heard in the front-line trenches. At last, one Sergeant, who could not stand it any longer, got out of his trench, and boldly going to the German trench, thereby risking instant death, called out “We let you take your wounded away yesterday, will you let us take ours today” The German officer answered, “Yes.” The Sergeant then went back and called for volunteers, who carried the wounded men over to the British lines. No shots were fired, but as they were on their way a German officer halted them; they called out, “British wounded.” The officer replied, “Pass on, good night.” It was quite a cheery little story in the midst of the horrors.

In September, 1915, the sheds were taken over by the Army Post Office and the hospital moved to huts on the road leading to Wimereux. For a great many reasons we were sorry to move; it had been a wonderful year on the docks, where we were in the very heart of things. In spite of all the sad memory of great battles – Ypres, Messines, Vimy Ridge – with the thousands of casualties and the endless stream of wounded, there had been much that was beautiful in the heroism displayed in suffering; in the devotion of nurses and willing volunteer helpers. Very wonderful and soul-stirring had been the sight of thousands of troops coming from England daily to be drafted to the front; not to speak of the thousands daily going on leave. It made on proud to be British.

Thursday 21 May 2009

A Hospital in France - the early days

This extract is another from 'Reminiscent Sketches' (John Bale, Sons and Danielsson, 1922), and is an account of a British military hospital in the early days of the war, when the future was uncertain, and medical staff were facing challenges they had never met before. Adelaide Walker was one of the most experienced members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service serving in France at the time. She was born in 1872, the daughter of a doctor, and trained as a nurse at Meath Hospital, Dublin. She served in South Africa during the Boer War, first as a member of the Army Nursing Service Reserve, and from April 1901 as a member of the Army Nursing Service proper, later transferring to QAIMNS after its formation in 1902.


Part One

My first experience at a Base hospital was at Versailles in August, 1914. The hotel “Trianon Palace” had been converted into a hospital. The rooms (which in 1919 were used for the compiling of the peace terms) were full of terribly wounded men, dying of gas gangrene and tetanus.
I was one of a party of nurses returning from St. Nazaire, where we had been sent during the retreat from Mons. We were awaiting orders at the “Reservoir Hotel,” and preparing to go to bed, when a message came from the matron of a hospital, asking us to go and help. A large convoy of wounded were coming in, and every bed was full. The ambulances were streaming along as we made our way to the “Trianon Palace” hotel. It was a curious sight – almost unbelievable – the brightly lighted hall, scarlet carpeted stairs (there had been no time to remove the carpets), stretcher after stretcher being carried in with wounded men caked in mud and blood, some of whom had lain out for days before they could be got at. Beautiful bedrooms were filled with hospital beds, all occupied, and in the spaces between the beds were men lying on stretchers, even in the corridors, and everywhere where there was room. What a night it was! Had we only stopped to think, the work would have seemed hopeless. It was no easy matter to get their dried, caked clothes cut off, and the men washed and fed – a drink being all that the majority were able to take. Poor things! How splendid and amazing they were! Not a grumble from one of them: but when a nurse would be going for a drink for some of them, all the hands would be stretched out, “Bring me one, too, nurse.” Not a word as long as they saw that you were busy. Their wonderful patience and unselfishness never ceased to amaze one. At 4 a.m. matron sent us to bed; orders for us to proceed to Boulogne the next day had been received.

We arrived at Boulogne on October 30, 1914. The place gave us the impression of being a seething mass of ambulances, wounded men, doctors and nurses: there seemed to be an unending stream of each of them. All the hotels were hospitals, which gave one a horrid feeling of disaster. No one of whom we inquired could direct us to where No.14 Stationary hospital (to which we had to report) was situated; eventually we met a matron who was able to direct us. It was a pouring wet night, and we drove up the hill from Boulogne to Wimereux in funny little “Victorias” with a kind of leather apron over our heads. An endless stream of ambulances was slowly making its way in the same direction.
Number 14 Stationary hospital was found to be in a large hotel on the sea-front at Wimereux. The Officer Commanding was in the hall receiving patients: he directed us to the top floor, where the nurses had their quarters. Every place was packed with sick and wounded lying on the floor; you stepped between them, and over them, to get along. As soon as we could get into our indoor uniform we went straight into the wards. I relieved the matron in the theatre, where she was busily working. Operations went on unceasingly. As fast as one patient could be taken off the operating table, another was placed on – and so on all through the night: the surgeons had been at it the whole day. As I went to bed in the morning I met the orderlies carrying patients down the stairs for evacuation by boat to England, while the doctors were helping to carry in another convoy which had just arrived. We rested until midday, then went to relieve other nurses who had not yet had a rest. Reveille was being sounded the following morning as I got into bed. At 7 a.m. I was awakened by the secretary of the matron-in-chief, who had to shake me pretty hard. She calmly informed me that the matron-in-chief’s car was at the door, and that I was to proceed at once to a hospital in the town. She made a cup of tea while I dressed, then I drove down to the docks.

The sugar sheds on the Gare Maritime were to be converted into a hospital, No.13 Stationary hospital. What an indescribably scene! In the first huge shed there were hundreds of wounded walking cases (as long as a man could crawl he had to be a walking case). All were caked with mud, in torn clothes, hardly any caps, and with blood-stained bandages arms, hands, and legs; many were lying asleep on the straw that had been left in the hastily cleaned sheds, looking weary to death; others sitting on empty boxes or barrels, eating the contents of a tin of “Maconochie” with the help of a clasp knife. Dressings were being carried out on improvised tables; blood-stained clothes, caked in mud, which had been cut off, were stacked in heaps with rifles and ammunition. Further on, the sheds were being converted into wards; wooden partitions were being run up, bedsteads carried in, the wounded meanwhile lying about on straw or stretchers. The beds were for stretcher cases, and were soon filled with terribly wounded men, who had just to be put into the beds as they were, clothes and all. As fast as one could get to them the clothes were cut off, the patient washed and his wounds dressed. Some had both legs off, some their side blown away – all were wounded in several places. Doctors and nurses were hopelessly outnumbered, distractedly endeavouring to meet the demands made upon them. Here too we found the Matron-in-Chief with the Expeditionary Force in France (Dame Maud McCarthy) helping and directing. Under her supervision a miraculous change soon took place; reinforcements of nurses began to arrive, and the sheds took on the appearance of a well ordered hospital.

We were greatly assisted by Lady Algernon Gordon-Lennox, who placed unlimited funds at our disposal, thereby making it possible for everything to be done. Soon red quilts on the beds, and red screens and large bowls of flowers, took away all the gruesomeness. The flowers were the gift of Lord Lonsdale, who sent them to this hospital throughout the war. He was in the wards one day and saw what pleasure it gave a patient – who was a gardener in peace time – to receive a bunch of flowers; and how tears came into the patient’s eyes when he saw the flowers; and although he was dying how eagerly he grasped them. Lord Lonsdale was greatly touched, and promised that if he could manage it, the hospital should always have flowers. Two days later a large box of exquisite flowers arrived from Bond Street, and flowers never failed to come twice a week afterwards.

Monday 4 May 2009

Camiers revisited (but not by me)

Some time ago now I wrote about a visit I made to Camiers, south of Boulogne, to the site of some Great War Hospitals, now long gone. I added photos of the area today; bare and unexciting, and surely waiting for some future development - the old post from September 2007 is here:

Etaples and Camiers

Recently I came across some contemporary images of 20 General Hospital, Camiers on Flickr, and I thought it might be useful to see what the hospital was like during the Great War. Hospital photos of the time are rare, and these give a great idea of what the buildings, and site in general were like. Follow the link below - the Camiers photos are with other modern images, but easy to browse and tell what's what.

Maud Kealey's photos of 20 General Hospital, Camiers

It's so hard to look at the site today and believe what was going on there ninety years ago.

Sunday 3 May 2009

One of the Intrepid Band

I'm not sure what people imagine a 'military nurse' was like. At present I'm starting a database of nurses, and trying to find out more about the lives and families of some of those who served at any time after 1870. Already I've come across some very ordinary women, and also a number of rather remarkable ones, often with family histories that I would love to be part of myself, rather than my own long line of agricultrual labourers and gypsies. On my list of members of the Army Nursing Service [pre-1903] was the name 'Fellowes, M. A.', and a note next to her entry in the Royal Red Cross Register led me on to her obituary in The Times, and to some further family information. She was born Margaret Augusta Kirkland, in Rothesay, Bute, in 1845, the daughter of General John Vesey Kirkland and Susan (née Paterson). She died on the 29th September 1931, and the following obituary appeared in The Times on Monday 5th October 1931. Just to add that her second husband Sir George Makins was consulting surgeon to the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders between 1914-17, and held the honorary title of Surgeon-General - he survived his wife by two years, dying on 2nd November 1933.


Lady Makins, whose death was announced in The Times last week, was a link with Florence Nightingale, under whose supervision she received her training as a nurse. Endowed with much natural ability and great energy combined with exceeding grace of manner and sweetness of temperament, she had every opportunity, by wide travel, of enlarging her sympathies, increasing her knowledge of life and social conditions, and acquiring that poise and self-confidence that make for leadership. From early years she accompanied her father, General Vesey Kirkland, wherever he was engaged in military service, and was with him in Canada and South Africa. Later on, as the wife of General Fellowes, she resided in South Africa, the West Indies, and Ireland, and was a prominent figure in the social life which surrounds the holders of high military appointments. She was a bold cross-country rider to hounds, a fearless climber of great peaks, and enjoyed all the activities of country life.

After the death of General Fellowes in 1879, her desire turned to sick nursing, and in January 1880, she entered the Nightingale Training School, founded in 1860 by Miss Florence Nightingale at St. Thomas's Hospital, where Mrs. Wardroper, in her position of matron, had already instituted many nursing reforms. Miss Nightingale speedily recognized Mrs. Fellowes's outstanding nursing qualities and powers of leadership, and followed her training with close interest. Thus it was that after the intensive course of one year's training, Miss Nightingale deemed her fit to nurse at the seat of war, and selected her to accompany Sir Frederick Roberts's force to the Transvaal in February 1881, herself arranging all the details of travel and equipment with the utmost solicitude, even commending her to the personal care of General Roberts. In her parting letter, Miss Nightingale called her “My dear Cape of Good Hope,” a term she constantly repeated in subsequent letters.

On Mrs. Fellowes's return to England in June, 1881, she was appointed Sister-in-Charge of Leopold ward at St. Thomas's Hospital, but again her services were required for the troops, and in August, 1882, she was seconded to serve in the Egyptian War. Her offer of service was accepted by Sir Garnet Wolseley himself in a personal letter. Daily correspondence passed between Miss Nightingale and Mrs. Fellowes during the brief period of preparation, and frequent letters of counsel and encouragement reached her at the seat of war. In more than one letter Miss Nightingale wrote of her cherished hope that Mrs. Fellowes would devote her life to Army Nursing and to its reform, deeming her particularly suited for such a task. In March, 1883, Mrs. Fellowes was again back at her post in St. Thomas's Hospital. In 1884 she was among the first to receive from Queen Victoria the decoration of the Royal Red Cross, which had been instituted the year before.

In December, 1884, Mrs. Fellowes left St. Thomas's Hospital on her marriage to Sir George (then Mr.) Makins, the eminent surgeon, and her nursing career seemed ended. But she went again on active service in the South African War which broke out in 1899, and in which her ripe experience proved of much value. Though somewhat advanced in years at the outbreak of the Great War, Lady Makins devoted herself once more to hospital work, and was in charge of the Hospital for Facial Injuries in Park-lane, while she also did valuable service for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Family Fund and for the Red Cross. During peace time Lady Makins was constantly occupied in social work. She was actively interested in the Banstead Children's Home; she was almoner for the Charity Organization Society at Hoxton even as late as two years ago; and in her own parish she was district visitor and school manager. She retained to the last a lively interest in her training school, and no celebration there was complete without her presence. Her widespread sympathies and varied fields of activity made her known and loved by people of all classes, and those who had the privilege of her friendship will preserve an abiding memory of a gracious lady, who shared in her husband's interests and career to the very last.


And here is Margaret Fellowes' service record sheet from The National Archives:

Friday 1 May 2009


It seems to be impossible to blink at present without someone, somewhere, mentioning 'Swine 'Flu', and that often leads on to talk of the pandemic of 1918, and the millions of deaths which followed. One recent report put forward the idea that it attacked fit young people because having a strong immune system actually puts you at more risk of complications and death - presumably on the 'stronger they come, the harder they fall' principle. I don't subscribe to this view myself, but it did get me looking at casualty figures for nurses during 1917 and 1918.

In relation to the nurses working with the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders, I have daily figures for the total number of nurses officially off work due to illness or injury for the entire period from March 1917 onwards. A War Office paper of the time suggests that a 'normal' sick rate for nursing staff on active service should fall somewhere between a low of 2% of establishment during quiet summer months, and a high of 5% during times of outbreaks of severe illness or epidemic. Although I have chosen not to spend too much time with my calculator for fear of insanity, the sick rate during the two years from March 1917 to March 1919 for all nurses working with the BEF in France and Flanders fits into the pattern exactly, from a low of 2.01% in July 1917 to a high of 4.18% in November 1918. Although the daily sickness rate for the winter of 1918 and spring of 1919 [when the influenza epidemic was at its height] are slightly increased from the same period the previous year, there seems to be no sign that the nursing staff were unduly affected by the epidemic in the same way as were the soldiers and the general population. Certainly there were some deaths, but again, in France and Flanders these formed a very small number relative to the size of the nursing establishment. Considering that the women were caring for thousands of men suffering from 'Spanish 'flu', giving the most personal care day and night and having the closest possible contact with them, it almost seems that most of them were invincible! During November 1918, out of a total nursing staff of 8,072, five women died from pneumonia or 'flu related illness, giving a death rate for the month of 0.06%, and in February 1919, the second worse month for deaths, the rate was 0.03%.

So why were the nurses so unaffected? All I can suggest is that the trained nurses among them [the majority] had spent many years nursing infectious cases in an age where there were no antibiotics, and had developed massive immunity from meeting other similar viruses in the past. If they had succumbed previously, most would either be dead, disabled or immune, and their presence in France suggests the latter - they had received immunity from meeting a variety of viruses previously which either prevented or ameliorated this latest illness. In view of today's problems it makes me grateful to have spent a lifetime as a nurse!

[The figures above are taken entirely from statistics for France and Flanders, and do not necessarily reflect a simliar situation in the UK at the same time]