Saturday 31 December 2011

Something to be learnt ...

My fingers need to be typing ... preferably lists. Lists of anything really. I thought lists might become boring after a while, but with the radio on and my brain detached, typing lists is really very relaxing. After toying with a few medal roll bits and pieces, I've decided to transcribe some medal rolls in full. I discovered that quite a few of the medal rolls at The National Archives cover 'miscellaneous' medical units, which seem to be useful as they not only give full names, but also state which unit a person was attached - information not easily found elsewhere. So I've started with the British Red Cross Society 1914 Star roll (WO329/2505), and it's proving rather interesting. I've already typed my way through W. Somerset Maugham working as a volunteer driver, artist C. R. Nevinson slogging away (I hope) with the Friends' Ambulance Unit, and a few of the great and the good such as Fabian Ware and Lord Robert Cecil.

I've now reached a part of the roll devoted to the rank and file British Red Cross orderlies who went to France between August and November 1914. As a few of them have rather unusual names, it's been possible to check their occupations with the help of the 1911 census. Rather surprisingly (to me, anyway) most of those I've been able to find so far were pre-war coal miners from County Durham, or from Wales, and it seems likely that they were recruited as a group early on in the war. I wonder who initiated 'coal miners as hospital orderlies' and why the men found it so appealing at the time? But it proves that however boring lists might seem, there's always something to be learnt ...

Tuesday 27 December 2011

United States Army Nurse Corps

It's hard to find sources which outline the involvement of American nurses in the Great War. A few served with the British Expeditionary Force in France from as early as 1915, but the majority arrived with the entrance of the US into the war in 1917, and worked with the American forces in areas outside of those controlled by the British. Recently a friend came across a brief history of the US Army Nurse Corps and bought it for me (thanks Harry!). Below is an extract which describes the activities of American nurses during WW1. It surprises me that considering the short period that the US were involved overseas, and the small numbers of both troops and casualties, relative to the other Allied nations, that there was such a high number of American trained nurses taking part in some capacity or another. I can only wonder at how so many women were kept fully employed.


30 June 1918
Of the 12,186 nurses on active duty, 5,350 were serving overseas

9 July 1918
The Nurse Corps (female) was redesignated the Army Nurse Corps by the Army Reorganization Act of 1918. The 1918 Act restricted appointments to women nurses. Base pay was increased to $60 per month.

11 November 1918
Armistice Day. During World War 1, the peak strength of the Army Nurse Corps reached 21,480 on 11 November 1918. More than ten thousand nurses had served in overseas areas in France, Belgium, England, Italy, and Serbia, as well as in Siberia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Included were ten Sisters of Charity who served with Base Hospital No.102 in Vicenza, Italy. Army nurses were assigned to casualty clearing stations and surgical teams in field hospitals as well as to mobile, evacuation, base, camp and convalescent hospitals. They also served on hospital trains and transport ships. Following the Armistice, nurses served with the occupation forces in German until the American forces were returned in 1923.

Several nurses were wounded, but none died as a result of enemy action. There were, however, more than two hundred deaths largely caused by influenza and pneumonia. The Distinguished Service Cross (second in rank only to the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration in combat) was awarded to 3 Army nurses. The Distinguished Service Medal (highest decoration in noncombat) was awarded to 23 Army nurses. In addition to other United States Army decorations, 28 Army nurses were awarded the French Croix de Guerre, 69 the British Royal Red Cross, and 2 the British Military Medal. Many Army nurses were named in British Army dispatches for their meritorious service.

Nurses who remained in the United States served with distinction in busy cantonment and general hospitals, at ports of embarkation, and at other military outposts. Many were cited for meritorious service.

Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps
Edited by Carolyn M. Feller and Constance J. Moore
U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1995

Sunday 18 December 2011

VAD post-war scholarships

In order to show appreciation of the work done by members of Voluntary Aid Detachments during the War, soon after the Armistice the Central Joint V.A.D. Committee founded a number of scholarships designed to 'meet the needs of Red Cross peace work'. They offered funding to enable VADs to undertake training in the following areas:

Medicine; Nursing; District Nursing; Village Nursing; Midwifery; School Nursing; Nursery Nursing; School Matron; Physical Culture; Instructors of the Mentally Defective; Pharmacy; X-Ray Assistant; Dentistry; Domestic Science; Institutional Cookery; Sanitary Inspector; Health Visiting; Welfare Supervision; Hospital Almoner; Infant Welfare.

The number of scholarships finally awarded was 557, as follows:

Medicine - 13
Welfare Supervisor - 15
Physical Culture - 6
Domestic Science - 14
X-Ray Assistant - 9
Massage - 32
Hospital Almoner - 9
Health Visitor - 35
Pharmacy - 29
School Matron - 51
Infant Welfare - 7
Nursery Nurse - 26
Village Nurse - 9
Institutional Cookery - 36
Midwifery - 134
Nursing - 129
Dental Mechanics - 3

Source: Reports by the Joint War Committee and the Joint War Finance Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England on Voluntary Aid Rendered to the Sick and Wounded at Home and Abroad and to British Prisoners of War, 1914-1919 (HMSO, 1921)

Sunday 11 December 2011

Always the bridesmaid ... ?

Following my frequent bouts of insanity after watching the last series of 'Downton Abbey,' someone suggested that I should watch the fourth series of 'Upstairs, Downstairs' which was set in the Great War, and, apparently, much more detailed and accurate. The thirteen-part series, screened in 1974, followed the trials and tribulations of the Bellamy family and their servants through the entire war. I was a great fan of the series, but as I was in Germany during that period (hatted, caped and 'doing the practical') it passed me by un-noticed.

A thirteen part series is much longer than we're used to today, so it was certainly possible to portray many aspects of the war which need to be omitted in a shorter series. In fact, every possible scenario of the Great War was there - tearful farewells, blood-stained returns, conscription, shell-shock, desertion and courts-martial, rationing, Zeppelin raids, the Silvertown munitions explosion, continuing London gaiety - in fact the episode titles alone spell out the war with 'The Beastly Hun,' 'The Glorious Dead,' 'Missing Believed Killed' and 'Facing Fearful Odds' among them.

And of course, then there were the 'gels.' Those well-heeled and aristocratic young women who 'did their bit' as VADs. I really wish I could watch scenes of hospital life during the war without hiding behind the sofa or taking a couple of aspirin. I really do. But I can't. Some of the portrayals in 'Upstairs, Downstairs' were good - the sensible, the scatterbrained, the soft-hearted - and I particularly liked the VAD who must have been a first cousin of Enid Blyton's 'George' of the Famous Five, frightfully practical at work and most adept at climbing over the hospital gates after hours. However, the usual problems and inaccuracies with dramatising Great War hospital life were already well ingrained in TV history.

Having been instructed by a lady on the tea-stall at a London station (quite correctly) to 'go to VAD Headquarters, Devonshire House, Piccadilly,' to join up, Miss Georgina (no relation to the aforementioned 'George') was, within a day or so, in charge of a ward at Guy's Hospital, and within a week (or so) supervising two more VADs who together seemed to make up the entire staff there except for a rather bad-tempered Irish nurse. Then, in the blink of an eye, Matron (who must now be turning in her grave*) interviewed Miss Georgina, suggesting that she would do very well in a 'field hospital' in France. Whether this was to advance her experience, or get rid of her was not made clear, but another blink and 'George' (I think she now deserves that accolade) was busy at a Casualty Clearing Station housed in a chateau somewhere in Northern France. Of course, as anyone who has spent time reading this blog will know (and I don't really expect anyone to put their hand up at this point) VADs never, ever worked in Casualty Clearing Stations in France - their service was confined exclusively to the base hospitals.

But my real problem is why it's always necessary to have them there? Why can't one of the characters be a 'proper' nurse in her rightful place? Why do the media have so much respect for the untrained VAD that they have to elevate her to the sainthood? VADs did a wonderful job and the medical services couldn't have survived without them, but why not give them their rightful place in history - show them for what they actually did and not just for what fits in to a modern storyline. The nurses who staffed Casualty Clearing Stations were trained nurses. They had all slogged their way through three years of training of the most onerous kind, and many had followed that with years of experience. They were the heart of the military nursing services - its backbone - and they are now relegated to bit parts in film and TV. They float by in the background, noticeable only for their severity, and occasionally barking out a word to one of our heroine VADs but otherwise invisible. Why does the trained nurse in wartime always have to be the bridesmaid and never the bride?

*The real-life Matron at that time was Miss Louisa Victoria Haughton, who retired in 1917 on the grounds of ill-health, but lived a long and productive life until her death in 1954, aged 86 years

Sunday 4 December 2011

Princess Marie de Croy

While I was at The National Archives yesterday, I looked at the file of Princess Marie de Croy (1875-1968), which concerned the award of honours/decorations to her and her brother Prince Reginald de Croy for their work caring for British soldiers at their home, Chateau Bellignies, near Mons, in the autumn of 1914. I've put copies of a letter in her file below which outlines their activities. There must have been many more French and Belgian nationals who put their own lives at risk on behalf of the British. Luckily, Princess Marie wrote her memoirs, 'War Memories', and the book can be found on the web as a free download:

War Memories

Monday 7 November 2011

Political Incorrectness

Our perception of 'correctness' and 'incorrectness' today is certainly at odds with society a hundred years ago (which we all know very well!). Another entry in the Royal Red Cross Register to a Sister Cecilia, a religious nursing sister attached to the Italian Mission in East Africa states:

For continuous good work. The entire effacement of self on the part of this lady, which enables her to nurse in all stages of tropical sickness the almost primitive savages of the Carrier Corps is beyond all praise

And what a pity that these religious sisters who did so much good work during the Great War, and whose birth names remain unknown, will probably never be recognised by current day members of their families.

Friday 4 November 2011

WO399 nurses' service records

The National Archives have today added the WO399 class of records to DocumentsOnline. The series comprises almost 16,000 service records of members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, the Reserve and the Territorial Force Nursing Service who served during the Great War. And it looks as though a pretty thorough job has been made of producing them for the online service. Over the years I've looked at many hundreds of these files in an effort to pick up all the tiny pieces of the organisation and administration of the military nursing services, and will be sad that it's no longer possible to actually handle the original paperwork. But that's progress I guess, and it will be a big boon for researchers and family members worldwide to have such easy access to these records.

About 22,000 nurses served as trained military nurses, so many of these women are missing from the series of files. Quite a few went on to serve during the Second World War, and their files are still held by the Ministry of Defence, and records of women who had died, or were over age for further service at the time of the 1930s weeding process were destroyed. But still a very good chance that records exist either in these WO399 files, or at MOD, for any individual woman. I'll find it strange not to order original files next time I'm at TNA, but certainly won't miss the long wait for delivery as they were trundled from their far-flung corner. Now, a couple of clicks and I'll be away.

Monday 10 October 2011

My Wish

Is it time for New Year Resolutions yet? Never mind. May I offer up a prayer that at some future time there will be more awareness about military nurses. There seems to be a common misconception that their story starts and ends with Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and Vera Brittain, none of whom were military nurses of course. Those three have a lot to answer for!

Monday 3 October 2011

Downton Abbey - More Tales of the Unexpected

Julian Fellowes was rather upset last year about criticisms pointing out inaccuracies in the first series of Downton Abbey:

"There was also an assumption in the media that the complainant was automatically correct and we were wrong, which was frustrating... When there was a television aerial in shot, as there was once, I was happy to hold my hands up. But I expended a lot of energy getting agitated about accusations that such-and-such piece of music wasn't released until 1922, when in fact it was being played in 1910. Or the butler should have been in uniform when they came out of uniform in the Regency period - I mean, just shut up!"
Fellowes added: "This year I think it might be nice to have a column called 'This Week's Downton Blunders', where I have the right of reply and can say either, 'It's a fair cop' or, 'No, we got it right, they did wear bathing costumes in 1761' or whatever. That might be a much better way of handling all the excitement."

In the absence of such a column, I once again feel the need to comment on one or two of the latest blunders. Now the Abbey itself has opened as a convalescent home for officers there’s no improvement in the sardine-tin formation of the beds, and still no room for lockers or anywhere to keep personal items. Mrs. Crawley seems to be conducting affairs at Downton, and with Major Clarkson and Lady Sybil spending every waking minute there as well, it makes me wonder what’s happening down at Downton village cottage hospital. It was chaos there last week, and with 50% of the staff gone, things must be reaching a critical point. I say 50%, but with Thomas moving down the road as well, more like 75%.

Thomas Barrow. In the first series he was exposed at Downton as a thief. With war on the horizon he decided to jump before he was dismissed and joined the Territorial branch of the Royal Army Medical Corps. This ensured (so he thought) that he would get a cushy number when the wartime chips were down. Somehow he ended up in the thick of the fighting, having a few fags in a trench under constant bombardment. I can’t quite work out what he was actually doing in that trench. Was he attached to a Regimental Aid Post, or attached to a Field Ambulance perhaps? If it was ever explained, I missed it. Apologies. He intentionally exposed himself to sniper fire and after recovering from his self-inflicted injury, and by the miracles of modern television script-writing, he ends up in charge of the convalescent home at Downton Abbey.

Thomas Barrow. Thief, liar, manipulator, coward. Just the man for the job. Well, not exactly, as no UK convalescent home had RAMC staff. There was absolutely no way a RAMC corporal (sorry, Acting-Sergeant) would work in that type of unit or give orders to sick officers. Complete drivel and tosh. There should at least have been a trained nurse, but unfortunately no provision has been made for even one in this series.

The surprise of the week (errors no longer being surprises) came when Lady Mary announced that a friend of the family wanted to come to Downton from Middlesbrough to convalesce, and both Mrs. Crawley and Major Clarkson were up in arms.
‘Middlesbrough General will have their own arrangements about where their officers convalesce’ declared Mrs. C. And Major C. agreed:
‘Downton must function as part of the official system or it can’t function at all.’

So Lord Fellowes KNOWS there was an official system – that rather took my breath away. Is it better to know about something and choose to ignore it, or make errors because you failed to do the research and never knew about it at all? (Vote NOW). And I must just add here (pedant that I am) that there was only one military hospital in Middlesbrough, not the General Hospital, and no officer beds in the town at all.

However I did notice one bit of light flickering in the drawing-room when the near-exploding Carson exclaimed:
‘So we just make it up as we go along?’
Spot on, Carson.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Downton Abbey - Hospital or Bedlam?

I was a keen follower of the first series of Downton Abbey. As someone from a working-class background I’ve never been too keen on toffs, but I’ve been persuaded over the past few years that as a researcher of Great War nurses, a basic knowledge of upper-class whims, desires and inter-marrying might be useful background. And so it has been. When I heard that the second series was going to see the Abbey as a hospital I was very aware that it would be too easy for the writer(s) to get it wrong. But I was unprepared for just how wrong it could be. I’ve read that the first series cost approximately £1 million an episode, so presumably this second series is no cheaper, and with that budget it might be hoped that a few pounds would be spent on decent research into the formation, organisation and administration of military hospitals during the Great War.

Not a bit of it. The portrayal falters at every step. I can see only too clearly that there are not a lot of sources out there to punch a writer in the face, and it might need a bit more digging to uncover the real story, but come Lord Fellowes, with a million an episode this is poor stuff.

During the Great War military ‘hospitals’ were divided into two types, central hospitals and auxiliary hospitals. The former were the larger units run under the auspices of the War Office. They were staffed in the main by officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps and nurses of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service. Men were admitted to a central hospital, assessed and treated, and when appropriate (days, weeks or months) transferred out to one of the many satellite auxiliary units for which each central hospital had responsibility. The auxiliaries came under the control of the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John, and were staffed by nurses under contract to them. Downton village cottage hospital could be nothing but an auxiliary hospital. And as a small, local, auxiliary hospital, it would still have conformed to the very high standards set by the Joint War Committee. So where does it fail?

Auxiliary hospitals did not employ Royal Army Medical Corps orderlies. Thomas could never have worked there. But then, the whole tale of Thomas’ return is pure fantasy.

Auxiliary hospitals did not, except in the rarest of circumstances, admit men direct from disembarkation. Their patients would already have been treated and cared for at a local central hospital. The raggle-taggle stream of wounded officers, shirts hanging out, blood oozing from their dressings, arms in slings bandaged over their uniforms was less likely than Haig riding in on his horse. Are these supposed to be men ‘straight from Arras.’ Quite ridiculous.

So many beds would never been crammed into such a small space. How does the writer imagine that nurses would have walked between the beds? Washed the patients and dressed their wounds? Fed them? Cleaned the floors? The ward looked worse than the worst of the casualty clearing stations on the Western Front in 1914. Far worse than Bedlam. Is Lord Fellowes aware that officers were treated rather differently from other ranks? His ‘ward’ is barely fit for pigs, let alone soldiers, and never officers.

Why is there no uniformed trained nurse? I’m afraid Mrs. Crawley, for all her wise words and ‘experience’ simply won’t do. She might act in an administrative role as Commandant, but wouldn’t be allowed to take part in giving out drugs or patient care. Mrs Crawley and the Major moving patients on stretchers was laughable (if it wasn’t so tear-inducing). And rookie VAD Miss Sybil doing a medicine round – complete poppycock. She’d have been lucky if she’d been allowed to wash the lockers or set trays.

The VADs were in the wrong uniform. They wore the grey dresses of St. John’s Ambulance Brigade VADs, but with the armlets of the British Red Cross. If they were supposed to be BRCS VADs, then they should have been in blue dresses, if St. John VADs, they should have been wearing the appropriate armlets. But of course, nobody ever gets the uniform right – only nurses so it’s hardly important.

It was fun to see Thomas being asked by Mrs. Crawley to stand in for Lady Sybil and do her VAD duties so she could go home for dinner. Fun? Nonsense.

And finally (for now), a blind officer would never, not in a million years, wash up in a tin-pot cottage hospital in Yorkshire. From fairly early in the war all blind officers were treated at No.2 London General Hospital (Territorial Force), Chelsea, where they received the most up to date and experienced care available, later almost certainly being transferred to one of the London hostels of St. Dunstans.

I suppose there’s always next week. I wonder what a ward in Downton Abbey itself will add to the hospital picture? I feel sure that it has to be better – I pray it couldn’t be any worse. And to exit where I entered, there are so few sources on Great War hospitals, and so much inaccuracy and misinformation spread around, both in books and on the web, that there is a great need for intelligent research. This Downton portrayal will now whip around the world and be used as a model of the truth by one and all, especially those who misguidedly believe it’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It will leave a legacy of falsehoods. Julian Fellowes has the background, he has the money, but unfortunately he lacks the knowledge.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Not a good day ...

While doing some work on my transcription of the official war diary of Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief with the British Expeditionary Force, I stopped at this entry. It must have been a very trying day, among a whole war-ful of trying days, but somehow it always makes me smile and give thanks for today's quiet life:

17 December 1914
After many delays left for Abbeville at 10.30am. Endless punctures and delays and after dark ran into 2 French carts at separate intervals, on the wrong side of the road on each occasion – not supplied with lights of any kind. Both sides of the car were knocked about, and in the end when starting for the 3rd time, the steering gear was out of action and on the brow of the hill just escaped a serious accident, the car being brought to a stand still by coming into contact with a tree. Got out. Walked back to office and reported the matter.
Found many official letters awaiting me; received news that one of the Nursing Sisters at No.8 had gone mad.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Some new names from Edith Appleton's Diary

A bit of nosing around in service files at The National Archives yesterday has resulted in some more surnames in the diary being confirmed. There is varying information associated with each one, but hopefully enough to give a good idea of their identity:

CHARLESWORTH, Annie; strong family connections with Wombwell, Yorkshire, and her address given towards the end of the war was The Hall, Wombwell, Yorkshire. Nursing sister, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve

CONSTABLE, Nora; born in Ireland circa 1875, and her family were living in Charlbury, Oxfordshire during the Great War. Nursing sister, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve

COULTER Susanna; born in Ireland; trained as a nurse at Manchester Royal Infirmary 1908-1911; home address throughout the war was Westland House, Londonderry, Ireland. Nursing sister, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve

DENTON, Annie Blackley; born 26 November 1868 in Birkenhead, Liverpool, and died in 1957 in Worthing, West Sussex; Matron, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve, and had previous service during the Boer War

GREGSON, Mabel Mary; born 24 April 1874 in Bradford, and during the Great War home address and that of her mother was in the Finchley area of North London. Nursing sister, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve

HUTCHINSON Ethel; born circa 1875 in Nottingham, daughter of John and Mary Hutchinson. Sisters Gertrude and Annie and brothers John, Ben and Thomas. Permanent address for most of war 300 Bluebell Hill Road, Nottingham. Nursing sister, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. Awarded the Military Medal in 1916 while working at No.33 Casualty Clearing Station, Bethune.

LATHAM Kathleen Mary; born in Richmond-upon-Thames in early 1880, the daughter of Thomas Latham, a barrister, and his wife Mary Harriet, née Doveton. Mary Latham died within three months of her daughter's birth, her death was registered in the June quarter of the same year. Kathleen had one elder brother, Fenton Henry Latham, born in 1877. She trained as a nurse at St. Bartholomew's Hospital between 1906 and 1909. Nursing Sister, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. Her home address during the Great War was 'Stillingflete, Folkestone, Kent.'

MAIR Jean Dixon; born 25 February 1887, daughter of W. Mair, joiner and cartwright. Family home at Rose Cottage, Whauphill, Wigtownshire, Scotland. Trained as a nurse in Manchester 1909-1912. Staff Nurse, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service. Known to have married after her demobilisation in 1919, though married name unknown

RAPER, Olive Louise; born circa 1887 in Great Wakering, Essex; Nursing Sister, Territorial Force Nursing Service

RITCHIE-THOMSON, Mary Lamont; born 21 August 1870 in Tobermory, Isle of Mull. Nursing sister, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve

TILNEY, Constance; born circa 1887. During the Great War her mother was living in Ashburnham Road, Bedford, and post-war Miss Tilney had connections in South Africa

TULLY, Elizabeth; Born in Scotland, and family connections during the Great War with Morebattle, Kelso

Sunday 21 August 2011

Edith Appleton's Diary - help required

I've been asked to post this information to try and find present day relatives of some of those named in Edith Appleton's diary. The most likely way that people will come across these names is while pursuing family history research on the web, so the more places it appears, the more chance there will be of family members being found (I hope).


A television company is trying to trace the descendents of anyone nursed by, or who knew or worked alongside, Sister Edith Appleton, a nurse working in various locations in France throughout the First World War. An index detailing names is below. If you recognise anybody, please get in touch and your details will be forwarded for a potential television project. Although referred to only by surname in the diary, it has been possible to fully identify most of those named below, and more names will be added soon


ATKINSON, Miss, also known as ‘Atky,’ a VAD from New Zealand, b. 1860

BALDR(E)Y, Ellen, born in Norfolk, and at the outbreak of war living at 49 Blackwater Road, Eastbourne, Sussex. Served during the Boer War with the Army Nursing Service Reserve. During the Great War an Acting Matron, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve

BLAKELY, Maud(e) Mary; a doctor’s daughter, born on 6 March 1874 in Fivemiletown, Co. Tyrone, Ireland. Trained as a nurse at Chelsea Infirmary, London, between 1895 and 1898. Served with Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service Reserve during the Boer War before joining Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service as a Staff Nurse in February 1903. Promoted Sister in February 1904 and during the Great War was Acting Principal Matron in France and Flanders. Maud Blakely was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class, in January 1916, a Bar to the award in January 1919 and the OBE in May 1927. Her sister, Jane Lavens Blakely also served in QAIMNS during the Great War

CLEMENTS, Mary; born 27 January 1875 in Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone, the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister (believed to be William Clements). She trained as a nurse at The London Hospital, Whitechapel, between 1898 and 1901, and was appointed to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in January 1905 as a Staff Nurse, being promoted to Sister in December 1906. During the Great War Mary Clements served as an Acting Matron, and was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class, in January 1917. She reached the rank of Matron in 1927, and retired from the service in January 1930

CONGLETON, Jessie Hume; born 12 November 1872 in Newport, Fife; educated at Dundee High School, and trained as a nurse at Dundee Royal Infirmary between 1896 and 1899. Jessie Congleton was appointed as a Staff Nurse in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in September 1906, and promoted to the rank of Nursing Sister in April 1914. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class, in June 1915, and was also mentioned in Army Orders in early 1916 ‘for conspicuous bravery during a fire at No.14 Stationary Hospital.’ She retired from QAIMNS in March 1924, and died on 20 April 1932.

DENNE, Ethel Mary; born 3 December 1872 in Hounslow, Middlesex, the daughter of William Robert and Emily Denne. At the time of her birth her father was a bank clerk in Hounslow, but was later employed as a poultry farmer. She was educated at Notting Hill High School, and trained as a nurse at St. Marylebone Infirmary, London, between 1897 and 1900. Ethel Denne was appointed to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in February 1903, and promoted Sister in August 1904. During the Great War she served as an Acting Matron, and was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class, in January 1917, and a Bar to the award in April 1919. She retired from the service in December 1927 and died in Hastings in 1956 at the age of 83 years

GASCOIGNE, Elsie Vera Orby, born circa 1880 in Wiltshire, died 1956

HAMILTON-WATTS, Madeline Hamilton, Sister, Territorial Force Nursing Service, born circa 1882 in Plaistow, Essex, and died in Aldershot in 1974

HANSARD, Ethel Maud, nursing sister, trained St. Bartholomew’s Hospital between 1906 and 1909

HARTIGAN, Helena; born 8 April 1878 in Crean, Co. Limerick, the daughter of James Hartigan, gentleman farmer, and Maria Ryan Hartigan. Trained as a nurse at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, between 1901 and 1904 before joining Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in May 1905. Held the position of Acting Principal Matron in France and Flanders during the Great War, and was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class in June 1915, and a Bar to the award in January 1919. Retired from the service in June 1928, and died in 1931, aged 53 years. Her brother was Lt. General James Andrew Hartigan, Royal Army Medical Corps


KABERRY, Mabel Lydia; born 15 May 1877 in Pontefract, Yorkshire, the daughter of Isaac Kaberry, a solicitor, and his wife Mary. Trained as a nurse at Bristol General Hospital between 1899 and 1902 where she was awarded the gold medal as top student of her year. She was appointed to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service as a Staff Nurse in June 1905, and promoted Sister in November 1910. She held the position of Acting Matron during most of her Great War service, and was awarded the Royal Red Cross, Second Class, in January 1918. Her elder sister, Ethel Kate Kaberry, also trained as a nurse and served with QAIMNS, resigning on the grounds of ill-health in 1913.

LATHAM, Kathleen Mary; born in Richmond-upon-Thames in early 1880, the daughter of Thomas Latham, a barrister, and his wife Mary Harriet, née Doveton. Mary Latham died within three months of her daughter's birth, her death registered in the June quarter of the same year. Kathleen had one elder brother, Fenton Henry Latham, born in 1877. She trained as a nurse at St. Bartholomew's Hospital between 1906 and 1909. During the Great War was a nursing sister with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. Her home address during the Great War was 'Stillingflete, Folkestone, Kent

McCARTHY, Miss/later Dame Emma Maud, Matron-in-Chief, France and Flanders

MAXEY, Kate; born in Spennymoor, County Durham in 1877, the daughter of Walter John and Jane Maxey (née Watford). She trained as a nurse at Leeds General Infirmary between 1900 and 1903. She enrolled in the Territorial Force Nursing Service in January 1912 while working in Leeds, and was attached to No.2 Northern General Hospital (Territorial Force) as a Staff Nurse. On the outbreak of war she was mobilised and went to France on 9 October 1914, initially to No.8 General Hospital, Rouen, being promoted to Sister in September 1917. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class, and the Military Medal for her actions at No.58 Casualty Clearing Station on the night of 21 March 1918, the citation reading:
For gallantry and conspicuous devotion to duty displayed during a recent hostile bombing raid on a CCS. Although severely wounded herself, she went to the aid of another Sister, who was fatally wounded, and did all she could for her. Later, although suffering severe pain, she showed an example of pluck and endurance which was inspiring to all

RENTZSCH, Ethel Maude; born on 5 April 1970 in Hackney, London the daughter of Benjamin and Marie (Edith) Rentzsch. Educated at Notting Hill High School, and trained as a nurse at King’s College Hospital, London, between 1896 and 1899. Ethel Rentzsch was appointed as a Staff Nurse to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in May 1905 and promoted Sister in 1909. She had a brother, Sigismund Rentzsch, which suggests the family were descended from the well known 19th century watchmaker of the same name. Ethel Rentzsch retired from QAIMNS in August 1924 and died in Brighton in 1941.

SCHREINER, Believed to be either Ursula Hester Schreiner or Frances Lydall Schreiner, both South African VADs.

SMITH, Gertrude Mary Wilton (also WILTON-SMITH); born 14 April 1872 in Folkingham, Lincolnshire, the daughter of William Wilton Smith, a clergyman, and his wife Louisa. Trained as a nurse at Bedford County Hospital between 1897 and 1900, and appointed to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service as a Staff Nurse in July 1904. Promoted Sister in June 1906, and during the Great War served as an Acting Matron from June 1915. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class in June 1915 and a Bar to the award in January 1919. Gertrude Wilton Smith retired from the service on 21 October 1926

SMITH, Jeanie Macpherson Barclay (also BARCLAY-SMITH); born in Scotland 22 February 1874, the daughter of John Smith, a pharmacist, and his wife Margaret. Trained as a nurse at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary between 1901 and 1904 and joined Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service as a Staff Nurse in September 1907. She resigned from the service in July 1911, but returned on the outbreak of the Great War to serve once more. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class, on 23 June 1915. Jeanie Barclay Smith died of endocarditis on 28 April 1916, and is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery.

STEEN, Lavinia Eliza Caroline; born in St. Petersburg, Russia, 20 January 1869, the daughter of a stockbroker. She trained as a nurse at Bristol General Hospital between 1891 and 1894, and was appointed to the Army Nursing Service in March 1897, transferring to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in February 1903. She served in South Africa during the Boer war and was promoted to Matron in May 1910, the rank she held during the Great War. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class, in June 1916, and a Bar to the award in March 1919. After being invalided home from France in March 1916 (diary 9/3/16) she was granted sick leave, and later returned to work as the Matron of Reading War Hospital, Berkshire. She retired from the service on the grounds of ill-health in December 1922

TRUSLOVE, Annie Elizabeth, b. circa 1875 in Warwickshire

TUNLEY, Mabel Mary; born 10 July 1970 in Pontypridd, South Wales, the daughter of Charles William Tunley, a schoolteacher, and his wife Louisa (née Smith). She trained as a nurse at Leeds General Infirmary between 1896 and 1899, and soon after the completion of her training served with Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service Reserve in South Africa during the Boer War. She was appointed to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service as a Staff Nurse in March 1903, rising to become an Acting Principal Matron in France and Flanders during the Great War. Mabel Tunley received the Royal Red Cross, First Class in January 1916, and a Bar to the award in January 1919. In September 1916 she was awarded the Military Medal for bravery under fire, the citation reading:
At Bethune, on the 7th August 1916, she did exceptionally good work in assisting getting all the patients, 260, down to the cellars, so that when the Clearing Station was eventually hit not one of the patients received a scratch. Her cheeriness and courage were instrumental in keeping everyone who came in contact with her up to the mark. She was slightly wounded and remained at duty.
She retired from the service in July 1925, and died in Hull in September 1932 from the complications of diabetes

WAITE, Margaret Bowman; just surname given, and believed to be this woman, but not able to confirm in the absence of a service file.



BARBER, Albert Edward, M.M., L/Cpl 9189, Essex Regiment
BELL-IRVING, Captain Malcolm McBean
BERREL, John, Private 2827, Seaforth Highlanders
BLOGG, Edward Basil, Major, Royal Engineers
CHITTY, Henry Leonard, Serjeant 12/3583, Auckland Regiment
COOPER, T., Private 1633, Yorkshire Regiment
HENDRY, Mr., a wounded officer with family living in Paris
HAMMOND, Paul, Captain, East Lancashire Regiment
KERR, Charles, Private 8209, Manchester Regiment
LENNOX, James, Rifleman 1925, Royal Irish Rifles
LIMBRICK, George Thomas Alfred, Private 1265, Australian Infantry
MADDOX, Sam, a patient
MIDDLETON, F. G., Serjeant 639, Lancashire Fusiliers
PARTLIN, J. E., Serjeant 15967, Border Regiment
PIERCE, a New Zealand Sergeant-Major and patient
ROGERS, a patient from Sandwich
RUDMAN, a patient
SAWDON, George Herbert, Sapper 59612, Royal Engineers
THACKERAY, Edward Rennell, Colonel, Royal Field Artillery
VERNON LEE, Mr., patient, formerly musician and composer

A full list of all those mentioned in the diary, identified or otherwise, can be found on the following page:

Edith Appleton's Diary - complete list of those mentioned

If you are related to any of those named above, and wish to get in touch, please contact Dick Robinson through the visitor's book here:

Edith Appleton - Visitors' Book

Or by contacting me via the email link on my profile page in the right-hand menu.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

A Bit of Luck

I was very excited to wake up early on Sunday morning and find an email on my phone telling me that one of my book 'wants' had turned up, and asking if I wanted to buy it. The book in question was Kate Luard's 'Unknown Warriors' and definitely my most 'wanted.' I've got a wide range of old and new books relating to nursing during the Great War, but this one had previously eluded me - I've found a couple of copies before, only to be pipped at the post, and one or two that I couldn't afford. This time I was determined not to miss out, and my copy arrived this morning, complete with Kate Luard's hand-written dedication to her brother inside:

T. B. L. from K. E. L.

The cover is a little tatty, but the pages still so tight that I'm not sure it was ever read, or certainly not more than once. I think that's about to change!

Unknown Warriors - Extracts from the Letters of K. E. Luard, R.R.C.
Chatto and Windus, 1930

Monday 8 August 2011

Military hospitals 1917

I've recently completed a database of all the hospitals that were caring for military personnel in the autumn of 1917, and thought it might be helpful to add some of this information to my Scarletfinders website. The database is quite detailed, so not easy to put all of that on the site - both author and readers would lose the will to live I think - but I've added the names of all 2,500 hospitals with at least the town they were situated in (or more correctly 'in which they were situated'!). Hopefully it will come in useful for someone. The new pages start here:

UK military hospitals 1917

I'm collecting quite a few photos of these hospitals now - some were in very grand buildings - and will add some here soon.

Monday 20 June 2011

The Superwoman

From the magazine of the 4th London General Hospital (King's College Hospital)

Friday 17 June 2011

Not nurses, but ...

I've recently been adding some transcripts of Great War articles to my web site - not nursing, but either connected round the edges to hospitals, or to women's war work in general. I've tried to find some areas that are poorly understood, but which add background information to other more popular wartime subjects. One of them, which must have been written by a rather patronising man, concerns women's work at the War Office, and contains some alarming lines such as:

... whether they are capable of seeing through complex problems it is difficult to judge ...

... As a whole, women's work is inferior to that of men, but against this has to be put the fact that at present they are in their infancy as far as public and office life is concerned ...

But at least interesting to find some mention of these women in print! The full article is here:

Women in the War Office

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Nurses in India

There's a very useful page on the FIBIS website (Families in British India Society) on nurses and nurses in India, both civil and military. It gives exact references for many of the relevant documents both at The National Archives (Kew) and the British Library, as well as trails to follow in other libraries and archives. It's a subject that is very under-researched, probably because of a lack of source material, but this page is a great help to family historians and others trying to find nurses in India.

Nurses in India

Sunday 1 May 2011

Queen and Matrons

The Daily Telegraph, 11 May 1918

In the 'Court Circular' a few days ago the announcement was made that the Queen had received Miss Margaret MacDonald, R.R.C., Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Army Nursing Service, Miss Evelyn Conyers, R.R.C., Matron-in-Chief of the Australian Nursing Service, and Miss Mabel Thurstan, R.R.C., Matron-in-Chief of the Nurses of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. It was a gracious and spontaneous thought on the part of her Majesty, and it has behind it a significance far greater than might at first sight appear. All the nursing of the war has been carried out with a quiet reticence that has concealed the magnitude of the task performed with such splendid efficiency; and if those at home know little indeed of the actual work of our own Army Service and that of the Territorial Force Nursing Service, with the Reserves that they have built up, still less are they aware of the noble help that the daughters of the Dominions have brought to the wounded. For this recognition, truly queenly as it was, of the mercy of womanhood throughout the Empire has afforded to every nurse from overseas a sense of personal distinction. Canada, the first of the younger nations to send its highly-trained nurses, has contributed no fewer than 1,900 members to the service of the Allies. The contingents from Australia have numbered 1,500, and none will have forgotten the devoted services that they rendered at the time that the wounded from Gallipoli were needing all the care that gentleness and love could give them. From New Zealand have come 500, these being the round figures, which represents a fine response in relation to the population of the Southern Dominion. The Matrons-in-Chief have shown themselves to be women of high powers of organisation and control, and have insisted throughout upon a lofty standard of qualifications on the part of those who they have accepted for service.

Her Majesty accorded to the ladies the rare distinction of receiving them in her private apartments at Windsor Castle, and Princess Mary was also present. Specially in attendance was the Countess of Minto, whose knowledge of and sympathy with all that pertains to nursing has been so forcibly show in the service which bears her name in India. The Queen was not only extremely interested in the details that each matron could give in regard to the contingent for which she was responsible, but asked for any suggestions that might be desirable in improving the conditions and status of the nurses' important labours. Before the ladies left, the Queen showed them some of the specially notable and valuable things that she had acquired in the course of her travels, and delighted each of her guests with some of her reminiscences of their own homelands. It was indeed the intimate and homelike character of the reception that has made so strong an appeal to the nurses generally as a proof of the Queen's comprehension of the attitude of mind and the love of things domestic among the women of the daughter-lands. This is the point that is being emphasised in the hundreds of letters dwelling on the reception that are going to family circles, whether in Australia or Saskatchewan, New Zealand or Newfoundland.

Monday 25 April 2011

V.A.D. Wisdom

From the 'Daily Sketch' 14 April, 1919

The Importance of a Length of Cretonne

They had just been demobilised, the three V.A.D.s in the railway compartment, and were congratulating one another on the approaching farewells to their regulation bundles.

"I felt all the time that we had taken out the wrong things," said the girl with the three chevrons. "Those canvas baths, for instance, what a bore they've been and how little use except when you had lots of hot water and a batman to empty them - which we had about twice. Do you remember how Jones always spilled hers over everything? And those candle-lamps we were made to get. No use, except to drop grease all over the place. In every camp I went to they were strictly barred after one trial."

"I think those white coats and skirts we had out East were the most impractical things," said the girl with the R.R.C. ribbon. "It was always too hot to wear both a blouse and a drill coat, and it was impossible to get the coats properly done up. Smith and I made ourselves coat-frocks out of sheets when we got out of red-tape reach, and they were far better in every way. The St. John's black and the Red Cross blue are both wrong, too. It's hard enough to keep black and blue costumes in good order in town with a maid. In the wind and dust on active service it's impossible. We ought to have had grey or khaki."

"I thought much more about the things we should have been told to take, rather than the things we took that were no use," said the third V.A.D. "If I were going again I'd take a dozen yards of chintz or cretonne. It wouldn't take much room, and yet would make all the difference between comfort and misery in some places. You could screen off a corner of a tent when you were quartered with girls you didn't know or care about, and you could cover up your trunk and kit-bag when you were settled anywhere.
"Other things that ought to be in regulations are a small mat to stand on while dressing, and a fancy-dress costume. Why not? Dressing-up was the only relief we had from uniform, and it was difficult to contrive anything really amusing out of the few things we had. Costumes needn't take much room, and they might have saved a few cases of Balkan top. And a tea basket would be a good idea, too, instead of the regulation kettle and cup and saucer. Every V.A.D. made tea out somewhere when she could, and a basket simplifies things so."

Thursday 17 March 2011

Could you repeat that please?

Thanks to a link on another nursing site I came across a new word:

Prosopography is an investigation of the common characteristics of a historical group, whose individual biographies may be largely untraceable, by means of a collective study of their lives, in multiple career-line analysis. Prosopographical research has the aim of learning about patterns of relationships and activities through the study of collective biography, and proceeds by collecting and analysing statistically relevant quantities of biographical data about a well-defined group of individuals. This makes it a valuable technique for studying many pre-modern societies. Prosopography is an increasingly important approach within.

I'm not sure I understand it, but have a sneaking feeling that it's what I'm doing!

Wednesday 23 February 2011

The Last Veteran?

There has been a fair bit of publicity this week for Florence Green, who on reaching her 110th birthday has been named as both a 'super-centenarian' and also the last surviving female 'veteran' of the Great War. As time goes by, the definition of 'last veteran' seems to have changed. Once it was used solely for those men who had met the Germans or other adversaries on the battlefield, but as they disappeared, it was broadened to include anyone who was in military service at any time during the Great War. Florence Green joined the Women's Royal Air Force in 1918, and served for a short time before the Armistice as a waitress at an R.A.F. station. Her position entitled her and her colleagues to both military status, and also, if unfortunate enough to die during service, commemoration by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

However, there were great numbers of other women working for their country at that time, many of whom were involved in direct contact with victims of war, but whose work did not offer them the same entitlements as Florence Green and her colleagues. More than 70,000 women worked during the Great War as nursing 'VADs' - members of Voluntary Aid Detachments. The vast majority of these women came under the auspices of the British Red Cross Society, and served in the United Kingdom only, and their status as civilians excluded them from being classed as military workers. They worked long hours to ensure that wounded and sick soldiers received the best possible care; they scrubbed and polished, made beds, lit fires and cooked meals; they helped with dressings and treatments, and faced, on a daily basis, sights and smells unimaginable today. For this, the vast majority were unpaid - they were indeed 'voluntary.' For the many who died during the course of their service, there is no official commemoration - as far as the Ministry of Defence and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are concerned they are the civilian nameless, unworthy of national recognition.

There are a number of women in the UK at present who are older than Florence Green. I wonder if any of them worked as young VADs during the Great War? If so, they will not be recognised. They were civilians. They are of little interest to the veteran-hunters. Oh that they might have spent their working lives during the Great War as waitresses in an officers' mess.

Florence Green - the last female veteran

Wednesday 16 February 2011


What an amazing amount there is to learn with such easy access to the internet. Still roaming through the Royal Red Cross Register, I found on entry from the London Gazette in October 1954 announcing an award to a Lieutenant Audrey Mary Jones, Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps:

'In recognition of brave conduct during the fire on H.M.T. EMPIRE WINDRUSH'

Like many other people I had never contemplated a life for the 'Windrush' other than its voyage in 1948 bringing migrants from the Caribbean, but its history and eventual fate is here:

Empire Windrush

Thursday 3 February 2011

She Came from Home

I recently came across a book written in 1916 by actor Harley Granville Barker about his time serving with the British Red Cross Society in France. He was, perhaps, a rather unlikely volunteer. The book starts with an introduction by Sir Frederick Treves, and I found his final few paragraphs very touching - an emotional tribute to the thousands of women who also volunteered their services during the Great War:

'It is said that the Great War has produced no Florence Nightingale. That may be so; but it has produced a much esteemed and lovable lady, hitherto unknown in any war, who has earned for herself a reputation little less than that attained by the great pioneer of Red Cross work. She is known by the curious title of 'the V.A.D.' She works as a volunteer. She is quite a new being, yet she represents the womanhood of England, the tender-hearted, unselfish, capable woman, whose sole desire is to help the wounded soldier. She seeks no glory. She has no name. She is merely a 'V.A.D.'

She will work as a cook, as a housemaid, as a kitchen-maid, and none will beat her. She will carry trays all day and be proud of it. She will live in a railway carriage and there keep a buffet for tired men. She will tramp a station platform night and day if only she can give some comfort to a sick man in a passing train. She will nurse as far as her abilities will permit, and her abilities are considerable. She will feel it an honour to be a ward maid if only she can help to make things comfortable for the patients she scarcely sees. The men are devoted to her, and in that devotion she finds the sole reward she seeks.

One little episode that I saw in France will remain in my mind as the embodiment of the spirit of Red Cross work. A V.A.D. was holding a cup to the lips of a dying man. Looking at her with a dim curiosity he asked faintly,
"Where do you come from?"
"I come from Home," she replied
A smile spread over his face and in a while he was dead. Such was the secret of his last pleasant thought - she came from Home.'

Introduction to: The Red Cross in France: Granville Barker, Hodder and Stoughton, 1916.