Sunday 27 May 2012

Edith Hope, Naval Nursing Sister

I've always rather ignored Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service in favour of the Army, but earlier this month wrote about their service records which are at The National Archives.  I've now decided to index them, and although brief and scrappy at times, with none of the correspondence contained within the QAIMNS records, there are real gems to be found there. As I've previously transcribed the Royal Red Cross Register,* some of the names are familiar to me, but it's interesting to read additions in the service records which are not included in the RRC Register or London Gazette. One naval nursing sister, Edith Hope, joined in 1913, worked continuously until December 1929 when she retired from the service at the age of 49, and she received the RRC (2nd Class) in 1920 while working in the Royal Naval Sick Quarters, Shotley.  As soon as the Second World War started she decided to rejoin, and served from early 1940 until May 1946, by which time she was 66 years of age. Her ARRC was upgraded to the First Class award on 2nd June 1943, but no citation or details exist in the RRC Register - it just appears to be a general award for wartime service.  However, her naval service record is more forthcoming, stating:

To be a member of the Royal Red Cross for outstanding zeal, patience and cheerfulness and for courage and whole-hearted devotion to duty 

which is a very good addition to the other available information, and gives a much fuller picture of the woman herself.  The number of QARNNS service records is relatively small, but they add a great deal to the knowledge of military nurses of the last century. 

*Just to add a reminder that these records are now searchable on FindMyPast 

Thursday 3 May 2012

A rose by any other name?

     I've recently been browsing through service records of members of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service (and its predecessors).  The records are held in ledgers very similar to those held by the Royal Navy for all their officers and ratings, and although brief they offer insights into the women's personalities and capabilities not present in the thicker service files of members of the army's nursing service. They are judged on conduct, ability, zeal, tact in dealing with both staff and patients, and above all, 'temperament.'  The first four categories are marked on a scale covering 'poor' through 'average' and 'satisfactory,' to 'very good,' 'exemplary' and 'exceptional.'  Temperament, however, is a different matter. The varied and many words used to describe these women's 'temperament' is astonishing, but they give a wonderful view of the changes that can occur during a woman's long career, and how people's perception of character can vary. But to sum up, they were:

     Quiet, reliable, cheerful (so often 'cheerful'), pleasant, bright, energetic, equable (also 'very equable' and 'extremely equable'), alert, keen, ladylike, calm, willing, adaptable, contented and thorough.
Some were diffident, subdued, unassertive and changeable; placid, variable, reserved and moody. Some were many of these things at different times, or seen by one reporting officer as 'firm and thorough' while another viewed them as 'inclined to be domineering.'  A few were reported as 'casual and untidy,' 'not dignified,' or 'somewhat pessimistic and argumentative' and 'occasionally sarcastic.'  Whatever their strengths and weaknesses, for those women who reached the heady ranks of Matron, almost without fail their final assessments reported them as 'quiet and dignified' which seemed to be the most sought after trait of personality. Age may not have wearied them, but it did turn them into proper ladies.