Sunday 14 November 2010

Military Medals

This picture of General Plumer decorating nurses with the ribbon of the Military Medal is often seen, and in the past I've only given it a fleeting examination. But today I stopped to wonder who the women were, and if I could put names to them. The original caption in the newspaper said:

General Sir H. C. O. Plumer presents the Military Medal to nurses for outstanding courage when their hospital was bombed by a raiding squadron of enemy aeroplanes. They had no thought of their own safety when the bombs were falling.

I have other images of the nurse on the left - a nursing sister of the regular Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, so could easily identify her as Charlotte Lilian Annie Robinson. Looking at the nurses who were involved in the same incident, the Territorial Force Nursing Service Staff Nurse, second from left is likely to be Katherine Robertson Lowe, and the other two (one of whom is hidden by General Plumer), Acting Sister Minnie Maude de Guerin and Acting Sister Nellie Galvin, both members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. The citation for Miss Robinson (the others are similar) reads:

For conspicuous devotion to duty when a stationary hospital was struck by four bombs from an enemy aeroplane and one wing was practically cut in two, many patients being buried in the debris. Sister Robinson, at very great personal risk, went in amongst the ruins to assist in recovering the patients, quite regardless of danger, her one thought being the rescue of the patients. She displayed magnificent coolness and resource.

Charlotte Robinson served in QAIMNS for more than twenty-eight years, finally retiring in 1941.

Thursday 11 November 2010

It just doesn't add up!

A couple of posts ago I wrote:

For services rendered during the Great War there were more than 14,000 RRCs both 1st and 2nd class issued ...

However, I was wrong. The RRC Register starts at number 1, and proceeds sedately through 2, 3, 4, 5 and onwards relentlessly. There were about 250 pre-WW1 awards, and if you browse through to the end of the Great War awards, you arrive at (roughly speaking) number 14,350. But silly of me to assume that signified the total number of wartime awards, as someone at the War Office was not too hot on what could loosely be termed 'numeracy.' All is well until award number 3,199 is reached. What follows 3,199? Can I hear you shouting '3,200'? Wrong. 3,199 is followed by 4,000, thus missing out 801 numbers. Anyone could be forgiven for a slip like this, but unfortunately it's not unique.
Award number 4,099 is followed by number 5,000; 5,099 is followed by 6,000; 6,099 is followed by 7,000 ... you get the idea. In the first two volumes this type of mistake happens seven times, resulting in the 'loss' of thousands of awards. Adding up the actual totals, it seems that there were just under 8,000 Great War awards of the Royal Red Cross - that is, of course, if I've counted correctly.

Monday 11 October 2010

VADs and the Great War

For a long time I've been meaning to write something for the website about VADs. I get quite a lot of emails asking for information on tracking them down -rather more than for trained nurses - probably because there were just so many of them, and I know the interest is out there. So eventually I've got round to writing a brief overview of their wartime work with some background information of the service, and a few pictures. And having started I'll try to add some more bits and pieces in the future. The article is here:

VADs and the Great War - an Overview

Thursday 30 September 2010

British Nurses in German East Africa

British Journal of Nursing, June 2nd 1917
A Roll of Honour

The story of the imprisonment of the European Missionaries working in German East Africa on the outbreak of war is one which remains to be fully told, but now that the prisoners of Tabora have been rescued, the long silence has been broken. In the Annual Report of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa just issued we learn something of their experiences. The Archdeacon of Rovurna writes:-

'Unfortunately it was our ladies who had a very much harder time than the men. In one prison to which they were sent, and on one of their journeys, they were subjected to treatment which it is almost incredible any civilized nation could inflict. But from first to last they bore it with magnificent patience, and their cheeriness never forsook them."
Not least may we be proud of the members of the nursing profession amongst them. We read:

"The nurses who were interned in German East Africa when war broke out had a laborious time. In November, 1914, Miss Wallace and Miss Burn went to Korogwe by request of the German Government, to nurse the wounded English and Indian soldiers who were taken prisoners at the battle of Tanga, and a very busy time they had. Miss Burn stayed at Korogwe looking after relays of English wounded until the British arrived last June. Miss Wallace left in June, 1915, and was sent with Miss Gunn to Tabora where they were officially recognized by the Germans as the nurses in charge of the camp hospital."

There was a great deal of fever among the prisoners, and also a large number of blackwater fever cases, many very dangerously ill; these all recovered, though without good nursing recovery in several cases would have been impossible. Miss Davey for ten months looked after the Italian women interned at Kilimatinde, three babies being born there. Afterwards she and Miss Horne had charge of the Hospital there during an outbreak of typhoid fever among the English prisoners, some of the cases being very severe, but happily all recovered. Miss Packham went to Mrogoro to nurse the German women and children, and when the town fell stayed on in charge of the British Military Hospital. One of the British doctors wrote to the Bishop of Zanzibar later:

"We found her installed in charge of the German Hospital at Mrogoro when our Hospital - the 52nd Casualty Clearing Hospital - entered the town with the first Division at the end of August 1916. One would have thought that two years in a German prison would have been enough to rob anyone of strength and will to work. But with her it was far different. She was alwaysup and in the wards in the early morning before we were about; always the last to go to bed. Up most of the nights; for the worst cases were nursed in the verandah outside her bedroom door."

Other names in this Roll of Honour are those of Miss Kemsley, who worked first among the German women at Liwali and later among the enteric patients at Dar-es-Salaam, and, when it was taken, helped to organise the English Military Hospital; Sister Mabel and Sister Elizabeth who looked after native prisoners, many extremely ill, at Kiboriani and Bugari, and Miss Dunn, who nursed in the former place, and Miss Plant, with Miss Gunn, nursed Belgian wounded soldiers when Tabora was taken. The British Military authorities have reason to be grateful to the trained nurses of the Universities' Mission whose services were of the utmost value, and the nursing profession to be proud of their record.

Saturday 11 September 2010

One Pair of Feet

During a visit to the local Oxfam bookshop last week, I picked up a very old, tatty copy of Monica Dickens' book 'One Pair of Feet,' which was published in 1942 and is an account of her time as a probationer nurse during the early part of WW2. I last read it in the 1960s, long before I started nursing (at a time when I thought there was still some element of mystery and glamour to the job) so decided it might be worth re-visiting. It's autobiographical fiction, and could be regarded as a bit lightweight, but I found much of it surprisingly perceptive, and still relevant to my own training nearly thirty years later.

The book's Matron and ward sisters were acid-tongued petty tyrants, humourless, lacking in any vestige of sympathy or understanding, and hell-bent on keeping both staff and patients in a strait-jacket of rules, regulations and discipline. But it did seem likely that these women had something in common with the military nurses I've come to hold in such high regard. It's rather easy to view them through rose-coloured spectacles, but several Great War VADs, such as Vera Brittain and Enid Bagnold thought quite differently. Brittain, in 'Testament of Youth,' and Bagnold, in 'A Diary Without Dates,' both comment on how insular the professional nurse was, lacking any experience of life outside the hospital and devoid of interest in literature, art or politics. Monica Dickens certainly agrees with this when she writes:

Women were not meant to live en masse - except in harems. They inflate the importance of their own little centre of activity until it eclipses the rest of the world. Men manage to pigeonhole their life; work, domesticity, romance, relaxation, but a woman's life is usually as untidy as her desk. She either fails ever to concentrate on one thing at a time, or else fills one pigeonhole so full that it overflows into the others.
I don't know whether the nurses at Redwood were typical of the whole profession, but most of them had no interest in anything that happened a yard outside the iron railings. They never read a paper, except the Nursing times, and only turned on the Common Room wireless when the nine o'clock news was safely over. They were only interested in the war as far as it affected them personally - shortage of Dettol and cotton-wool perhaps, or jam for tea only once a week.
The ward beds had earphones fitted to them, connected with a central receiving set, and while I was dusting lockers, I used to enquire about the seven o'clock news. 'Why d'you always ask if there's anything on the news?' a patient asked me one morning.
'Well, I don't know - because I'm interested, I suppose.'
'Funny,' she said, 'I shouldn't have thought a nurse would be interested.'
That summed up the attitude of the outside world towards nurses and of nurses to the outside world ...

I have a feeling that many of the nursing sisters whose names and lives have become so familiar to me were as disciplined and un-bending as any of those at 'Redwood.' I suspect that a good number might not have made very enjoyable companions. But as a 'type' they were a fundamental part of the hospitals of the time, and essential to the management and smooth-running of military hospitals during the Great War. Let the artists paint and the authors write - without the professional nurse's single-minded, rather blinkered approach, the British soldier might not have been as well served.

Sunday 23 May 2010


Returning to the theme of the alleged rules against British nurses fraternizing with members of the opposite sex (whoever they might be) it's been interesting and enlightening this week to view photographs taken by a British nurse during the war. The images have been posted to a couple of forums recently by the current owner of the album, Bob Cleary, who lives in the USA, and they give a rare insight into the lives of British trained nurses and VADs in France. What comes over is a sense of happiness and enjoyment - of course it couldn't always have been like that - but 'pleasure' shines through from distant times. And there certainly seems to be a great deal of off-duty socialising going on between the nurses and various officers and men - picnics, tennis and tea predominate.

A dictionary definition of 'fraternization' gives 'socialise, mingle, mix, consort, hobnob.'
Certainly, all of that.

The images can be viewed by following the link on this page of the Western Front Association forum:
Nurse's photo album

Saturday 15 May 2010

Leamington Spa

At present I'm trying to sort out some facts and figures for a new article, which means going through some data for the five hundred nurses who joined QAIMNS between April 1902 and the Armistice in November 1918.
496 women were trained in 64 different towns and cities, and in several hundred hospitals within these towns. Almost half (224) were trained in one of thirty different hospitals in London, and the next greatest number, twenty-eight, in one of five Liverpool Hospitals. The top ten most 'popular' towns are listed below, and it can be seen that London predominated by a huge margin:

London - 224 women trained in thirty hospitals
Liverpool - 28 women trained in five hospitals
Dublin - 23 women trained in seven hospitals
Edinburgh - 20 women trained in one hospital (Edinburgh Royal Infirmary)
Glasgow - 18 women trained in three hospitals
Cambridge - 14 women trained in one hospital (Addenbrookes)
Manchester - 11 women trained in four hospitals
Leeds - 10 women trained in one hospital (Leeds General Infirmary)
Birmingham - 8 women trained in three hospitals
Leamington Spa - 8 women trained in one hospital (Warneford Hospital)

Leamington Spa? Absolutely. In a list where many large cities barely figure, and struggled to supply even half a dozen nurses for the army, Warneford Hospital, Leamington Spa, seemed to be a relative hot-house for military nurses. Bristol and Belfast, Aberdeen and Oxford, Nottingham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne were all poor runners-up to Leamington Spa. All theories on this little anomaly gratefully received!

Sunday 14 February 2010

Mea Culpa - Godewaersvelde!

I was in Warwick last week at the Heart of England branch of the Western Front Association, and while there was asked about nurses killed during the shelling of casualty clearing stations. By that time my brain had turned to mush, and I expressed some doubt that the one nurse buried at Godewaersvelde had died as a result of enemy action. As it's unlikely in the extreme that a nurse would die at a CCS as a result of anything other than enemy action, I was on to a loser from the start! But to put the record straight, the nurse who died was Elise Kemp, the victim of a German bombing raid. So a mention for Miss Kemp now:

Elise Kemp was born in 1882 in Wellington, New Zealand, the daughter of William Kemp a surgeon, and his wife Charlotte. By 1901 the family were living in London at 38 Alleyn Road, West Dulwich, and Elise trained as a nurse at King's College Hospital, Denmark Hill.
At the time of her death she was on temporary duty at No.37 Casualty Clearing Station, and the unit war diary of the Matron-in-Chief describes the incident:

October 21st, 1917
Went on to Godwaersvelde to 37 C.C.S. where I saw the O.C. and learnt the particulars of the very trying incident of the night before. Fortunately they had only just evacuated and they had only 30 patients in hospital, or the casualties would have been very great. There had been no warning at all beforehand and the bombs landed close to a marquee where the sister, 3 orderlies and 3 patients were killled and others were wounded, two of whom lost their arms. In another marquee the Sister in charge, Miss Devenish Meares, received multiple wounds, fortunately of not a very serious nature. She had an anaesthetic during the night and peices of shell were removed from her thigh, ankle and fore-arm, and arrangements were being made to send her to the Sick Sisters' Hospital, St. Omer. I visited her and found her wonderfully plucky. Arranged for Miss Luard, Q.A.I.M.N.S.R., to join 37 C.C.S. as Sister in charge as soon as possible. Arranged for 4 of the nurses who were very upset to be sent down to the Base.

I'll try harder next time!

Friday 29 January 2010

An exceptional nurse

Prior to the outbreak of war, members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service were considered an elite among nurses, both by themselves and others. As the numbers of nurses grew during the war, there were many members of QAIMNS Reserve and the Territorial Force Nursing Service who might not have been considered for QAIMNS pre-war, on account of some perceived deficiency in their background, education or training. But as the war progressed it became evident that some of those elite 'regulars' were not able to cope with the stress and strains of war, while some of the 'others' became admirably efficient in difficult circumstances. An entry in the war diary of the Matron-in-Chief in France and Flanders mentioned the name of one TFNS Sister as being particularly capable, and in her file at The National Archives I found one of the most glowing testimonials I'd ever seen for any nurse with wartime service. These references are usually rather measured - no going overboard with the praise - but this one certainly belonged to an exceptional woman.

'This is to certify that MISS JESSIE MAUD CARDOZO, R.R.C., has served in the TERRITORIAL FORCE NURSING SERVICE from August 17th, 1914 to May 11th, 1919, when she was demobilised.
Miss Cardozo served in France from January 1916 to January 1919. She possesses a conspicuous professional ability and administrative capacity. She is a most excellent Sister, and an experienced assistant at operations. She is good-tempered, tactful, and most reliable and punctual. She has excellent judgement and her influence is generally of a high order. Miss Cardozo is a competent Theatre Sister and was in charge of a Casualty Clearing Station in France during a time of great stress. She proved of the greatest assistance, being cool and collected at all times. She has marked powers of initiative and is a lady with a keen sense of loyalty. Miss Cardozo was mentioned in Despatches by Sir Douglas Haig in November, 1917, and in July 1919, and was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 1st Class, in June, 1918, for valuable work. She has rendered excellent service for almost five years.'

Sidney Browne, Matron-in-Chief, T.F.N.S., March 12th, 1920

Jessie Maud Cardozo, was born 1882 in Stratford, Essex, and trained as a nurse at King's College Hospital, London between 1905 and 1908. She died in 1965 in Eastbourne, Sussex, aged 83 years.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Demobilization - the replies

The War Office were not slow in responding to the letter of 19th March 1919 from 'Members of Q.A.I.M.N.S.' and this reply appeared the following day:

War Office Explanation
In reference to the letter from members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) which appeared in The Times of yesterday, complaining of the summary dismissal of nurses, a representative of The Times made inquiries at the War Office. It was stated there that urgent demands for the demobilization of nurses and doctors have been made in the Press and in Parliament, in consequence of the prevalence of the influenza epidemic. In view of these demands the demobilization of nurses has been proceeding as rapidly as possible. They have been given, it is true, only 48 hours' notice; but it is pointed out that on demobilization they are entitled to a gratuity. Their contract binds them to serve for as long as they may be required, and on signing they drew an extra £20. During their service they are treated on the footing of officers. They serve for gratuity as do officers, their gratuity being a certain amount for each year of service, and varying according to rank. Roughly, the lump sum to which a nurse is entitled on demobilization is about £40. It is understood, however, that a revision of the gratuity with a view to increasing the scale is now before the Financial Secretary. This gratuity is substituted for one month's wages and allowances, and on assessment is forwarded to the demobilized nurse.

The letter also alleges that the extra £20 added to the wages in September 1916 had to be refunded; but it is stated in reply that no nurse demobilized by the War Office was called upon to refund any sum. A further complaint is raised as to holidays. The Q.A.I.M.N.S. nurses were given leave in accordance with the Pay Warrant, this being 14 days for each six months' service, but in view of the extraordinary urgency for nurses in other than military hospitals, especially having regard to the influenza epidemic, no nurse was allowed leave just before demobilization. In other words, if the circumstances had been normal the holidays would have been normal. Comparatively few complaints have been made to Headquarters about the procedure that has been adopted in connexion with the demobilization of the nurses.

And on April 2nd this letter appeared from a former member of the Reserve, Mary Hine, seemingly satisfied with her lot:

Sir, - May I be allowed to comment on the letter re the 'scandalous' treatment of Army nurses which appeared in The Times of yesterday? I have been a member of the Territorial Force Nursing Service since 1914, and although I am well aware that the Army is competent to speak for itself, I feel it is only fair to let the general public know how well I consider we have been treated, and how little cause there is for grievance. Sisters and nurses in the Army rank as officers. They are thus, according to King's Regulations, liable to be demobilized at 24 hours' notice, and are entitled to no unemployment pay. When the armistice was signed our matron warned us that we might be mobilized any day, and advised us to look for other posts at once. Some of our members procured posts and have already been released. One has only to glance down the columns of the nursing papers to see the great demand there is for nurses. Surely some post can be accepted until something really suitable is found, to keep a homeless nurse from want. But why, after being in Army employ for so long, should there be no savings to fall back on? Comparing it with civil pay the Army pay has been good. In 1916, in consideration that we agreed to remain in the Army for as long as our services were required, an additional annual £20 was added to our salary. We have also good allowances, half-fare vouchers, and upon occasion, warrants, which in these days of expensive travelling are a great help. It has also been regular employment - another help to saving. The yearly gratuity is assured, in the case of a sister £10, and in that of a nurse £7. 10s., both of which I hear may probably be increased.
Furthermore, we joined the Army not only for a livelihood, but also from a sense of loyalty to our country, as our menfolk have done. It is a privilege not granted to all to have been allowed to serve at the front. Extra field allowance has been paid. Why then grumble at the hardships endured? The Army seems to have been a home for many homeless nurses, but, devoted and self-sacrificing as they may have been, it cannot continue to be so indefinitely, and surely nurses themselves must realize this.

A rather better explanation of the situation from Miss Hine, I think, than from the War Office!

Friday 22 January 2010

The problems of demobilization

It's easy to imagine that at the end of the war, after more than four years of hard work and often less than satisfactory living conditions, nurses would have been happy to hang up their hats and go home. But apparently not all of them felt this way. Correspondence in The Times in the spring of 1919 shows considerable dissatisfaction among them with the process of demobilization. First, a semi-anonymous letter to The Times, dated 19th March 1919 under the heading 'Nurses dismissed summarily:

'Sir, The members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) would like to bring before the public the unfair way in which they are being demobilized. They are being given 48 hours' notice, and after that pay and allowances cease. Many of us have served now for four years, and, never having had proper holidays, are unfit to start work again immediately. We are a body of women working for our living, and are not in a position to be dismissed at so short notice. Many have no parents or homes, and will have to go into lodgings and pay for them. Are we not entitled to some consideration in the form of one month's wages and allowances in lieu of a month's notice? The War Office expects one month's notice from any one leaving the Service and the extra £20 added to our salaries in September, 1916, had to be refunded.'
Members of Q.A.I.M.N.S.

That was followed by a further letter to The Times dated March 27th 1919 from 'Isabel Kennedy' in Brighton - presumably one of those who was happy to be associated with the letter above.

'Sir, Mr. Winston Churchill recently stated that the demobilization of Army nurses was being pushed. It is; and the public should know of the scandalous treatment meted out to the Army nurses of the Territorial Service and the Queen Alexandra's Reserves under this same rapid demobilization. These women, to whom the country owes as much as to the soldiers, are simply given 24 hours' notice, and told to leave. A nurse never knows at what moment the blow may fall. That a woman may have neither money, nor home, nor fresh work to go to, matters nothing. At the end of the 24 hours she must go. The conduct of the Army nurses has been as heroic as that of the soldiers. To whatever hell the men went, the women followed. Yet there are scores and scores of cases of nurses who have served from the outbreak of war in 1914, who have gone through the horrors of Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, who have been torpedoed and shipwrecked, who have been bombed at casualty clearing stations, who are daily (as a nurse justly put it) being "kicked out." The Army nurses are drawn from the ranks of women who have to work for a living. But the pay of the nurse is a sweated one, so that savings, even if possible, can be but small. Yet for the Army nurse there is neither leaving gratuity nor unemployment pay. Some time in the vague future each nurse may receive a war bonus of £20. But it is surely on her discharge, when she has to face the world while waiting for a post, that the nurse needs money in her pocket, and it is then that, having done her duty, she should receive her reward. These devoted women have given the best years of their womanhood to their country. They flinched at nothing. With the soldiers they have faced all the horrors and terrors of war. They have faced death in terrible form. They have deserved as well of their country as the men. It is monstrous that they should be turned off with callous ingratitude.'

Somehow I feel that this second letter could well come under the category of 'over-egging the pudding.' Some truth in it, but what a lot of heroic exaggeration. And the replies to these accusations?
Soon, I promise.