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