Wednesday 30 September 2009

Funeral of a VAD

This poignant account of the funeral of a VAD in Rouen comes from 'A VAD in France' by Olive Dent. Its descriptive qualities add a sense of being there, and bring understanding of a ceremony not often available to an 'outsider.' The book does not necessarily run in chronological order, and it's therefore difficult to be sure of the identity of the woman; I first thought that it was likely to be Jeannie (Jessie) Smith Lee, who was working at No.9 General Hospital, Rouen, and died on the 30th March, 1917, but it could also refer to Mary Dickson of No.9 General Hospital who died on the 16th February 1917:

A V.A.D. Funeral

As many as possible of the nursing staff were asked to attend the funeral this afternoon of a V.A.D. When we arrived at the cemetery it was just in time to join the cortege.
A cordon of R.A.M.C. lined the road, and down it passed the padre followed by the pipers wailing a dirge. Next came the coffin, a plain, unstained wooden one covered with the Union Jack. Then came the A.D.M.S., and some other staff officers, and then we nurses - Q.A.I.M.N.S., Territorial, Reserve, St.J.A.A. and B.R.C.
We grouped ourselves round the grave, and the padre read the address exquisitely and most impressively. It was a beautiful spring afternoon with a fleckless blue sky and floods of soft sunshine. A bird on a bough swayed up and down, up and down, with a continual cheep-cheep, cheep-cheep. We all stood taut and still, at attention, and the words rolled magnificently to us:
"Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from Thee."

The Union Jack is folded and laid aside, the pageantry and the impressive dignity of the scene loses its grip on one. Instead there comes to mind a picture of the dead girl, white and still, with closed eyes and crossed hands. We hear the rattle of ropes, the coffin is lowered, the swaying bird becomes a blurred vision. A French peasant woman with a tiny bunch of half-faded violets is sobbing loudly. The grave faces of the English nurses become a little more set.
Then come the prayers, the Last Post - poingnant and haunting - and the volley. Two French nurses drop into the grace a bunch of carnations, we take our flowers and lay them by the grave and turn to go back through the cemetery. No matter what consolation is proffered, death is always an irreparable loss. But surely better to have it come when doing work that counts, work of national and racial weight, than to live on until old and unwanted.
And what a magnificent end to one's life, to lie there among those splendidly brave boys in the little strip of land which the French Government has given over in perpetuity to our dead. Thousands of children that are to be, will come to such cemeteries, and will be hushed to reverence by the spirits of those who are not, by the spirits of the fallen that will forever inhabit the scene.
May eternal rest be given to the poor shattered body and glory eternal to the ever lasting spirit!

A V.A.D. In France, Olive Dent: published by Grant Richards Ltd., London 1917

Sunday 6 September 2009

Territorial Force Nursing Service - a summing-up

I've recently added to my Scarletfinders website an account of the wartime work of the Territorial Force Nursing Service, taken from a report given by Dame Maud McCarthy in December 1920, and published in the British Journal of Nursing. In addition to that account, a less formal version was published in 'The Hospital' the following week, which is given below. In 1920 Maud McCarthy moved from her position as Matron-in-Chief of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service after a five year tenure of office, to the same position within the Territorial Force Nursing Service.


From 'The Hospital' 18 December 1920, page 269

The veil of secrecy which hid the operations of the nursing sisters during the war has not yet been lifted. Lightning glimpses have come through from time to time, chiefly in the telling little narratives recounting deeds which have earned distinctions. But nothing approaching a detailed history of "Nursing in the Great War" has yet been attempted. Hence we hail with particular pleasure the all too brief report furnished by Dame Maud McCarthy, G.B.E., of her own nursing service handed in last week at a meeting of the Territorial Force Nursing Service Committee, City and County of London.
Dame Maud writes with restraint, but her pride in the service of which she is Matron-in-Chief is not entirely banished by official reserve. It was a noble band of women, ably officered, admirably chosen, rising to heights of skill and endurance unguessed at by any at the outset of war. We can remember a time when much criticism was levelled against the preliminary organisation of the Territorial Force Nursing Service. The principle of selection in advance from the major training-schools of the kingdom, on the matron's recommendation, was strongly objected to in certain quarters. How splendidly it was vindicated by the event has become manifest.

The main body of Territorial Nurses ready for service in 1914 amounted to a total of 2,738, of which the number 2,116 nurses were required for 23 general hospitals and 667 to replace casualties. This was the backbone of the Service. As years went on, the principal matrons charged with this duty enrolled 5,357 more members. The total figures are 8,140, but the actual number who served was 7,117, for always they had a large body ready to join up as required. Out of the 24 regularly organised hospitals of the Territorial Force, 10 were sent to France, 1 to Malta, 1 to Egypt, 1 to Mesopotamia, and one to East Africa. All these as well as the Home Territorial Hospitals were served by the Territorial nurses, and in addition the Service sent large reinforcements to the regular Army Nursing Service, and these were posted to casualty clearing stations, ambulance trains, and barges and hospital ships.

The total of deaths was 48, of whom 6 were killed by enemy action; the rest, including 9 who died abroad, succumbed to illness. This low death-rate for a period extending over some five years reflects the highest credit to the organising ability of the heads of the Service. It is no higher in reality than what might be expected in a normal period out of an equal number of women engaged in ordinary occupations. When the prodigious toils of the war period be considered, the difficulties of transport, the improvised nurses' quarters, the many privations and dangers of war, nothing surprises us more than to learn how few nursing sisters died in the course of their duties. Yet perhaps it is after all more surprising still to learn that only 7 out of 7,000 were dismissed as "unsuitable." The art of selection has indeed been brought to a high pitch, and the art of training also, when but one in a thousand enrolled when increasing security of nurses at home restricted choice, should have proved a failure.

Dame Maud herself is filled with an admiration at the fine qualities which manifested themselves in those under her command. They preserved under all circumstances and difficulties a very high standard of nursing. This was expected of them, and the honour of the schools was safe in their hands. But they proved equal to many quite unaccustomed tasks. They were employed in surgical teams, had charge of wards where new forms of treatment were being carried out, took over small units and field ambulances in the very forward areas, managed a hospital for the Portuguese, where they gave a fine object lesson to some astonished gentlemen in the things British women could carry through; and, in fact, distinguished themselves under the most varied and bewildering experiences.

It is not merely their ability which stirs the imagination, it is their qualities of heart, their unstinted devotion to their patients and to the sorrowing relatives which move the emotions. When we thank God for victory, and not a day should pass without thanksgiving, let us thank Him for the quality of British nurses.

Saturday 5 September 2009

Camp Kit

The following list of equipment for nurses proceeding overseas is taken from the Standing Orders for the Territorial Force Nursing Service, but also applied to members of QAIMNS and the QAIMNS Reserve:

The following articles are to be provided by all members when proceeding on active service abroad. Uniform only is to be taken; no plain clothes are required. An Allowance of £8. 5s. for active service equipment, and £7. 10s. for camp kit will be given to each member.

1 Trunk not to exceed 30x24x12 inches
1 Hold-all
1 Cushion with washing covers
1 Rug
1 Pair of gum boots
1 Small candle lantern
1 Small oil stove and kettle
1 Flat iron
1 Looking glass
1 Roll-up, containing knife, fork, dessert-spoon and teaspoon
1 Cup and saucer
1 Tea pot or infuser
1 Securem tent strap
2 pairs scissors
2 pairs forceps
2 clinical thermometers

1 Portable camp bedstead
1 Bag for ditto
1 Pillow
1 Waterproof sheet, 7ft x 4ft. 6ins.
1 Tripod washstand with proofed basin, bag and bath
1 Folding chair
1 Waterproof bucket [canvas]
1 Valise or kit bag with owner's name painted upon it