Friday 19 October 2012

The Silver War Badge

I've just finished transcribing the nurses' silver war badge roll, which gives details of awards to women who were unable to continue their employment with the military nursing services on account of illness or disability caused by their war service. It's searchable on Ancestry, but it's only when put into a database or spreadsheet of some kind that it's possible to have a good look at the number of awards to the separate nursing services and the wider view. And some interesting facts emerge which I admit to not understanding at all.

There were a total of 735 awards of silver war badges on the roll (TNA WO329/3253).  These awards were spread among Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, QAIMNS Reserve, the Territorial Force Nursing Service, and members of Voluntary Aid Detachments, most of whom, as far as I can make out, were working in Territorial general hospitals. There are also a handful of civilian women who don't seem to have a place there, but never mind.

Out of roughly 22,000 trained nurses who served with QAIMNS (plus Reserve) and the TFNS, QAIMNS had a slightly higher proportion of members - let's say it was about a 12,000 to 10,000 split.  So it seems odd that a breakdown of awards to the separate services shows:

QAIMNS and Reserve     ---     131
Territorial Force Nursing Service     ---    438
Voluntary Aid Detachment members   ---   162

As many, if not all, of the VAD awards were to nurses serving in Territorial hospitals, that means that in total the Territorial Force received well over three-quarters of all SWB awards to nurses. So what was the reasons for this?

Territorial Force Nursing Service members were physically weaker to start with, or worked under more challenging conditions?

The TFNS chiefs at the War Office pushed harder to get some sort of award for their members on leaving the service, especially if they hadn't served overseas?

There was some special TFNS pathway through medical boards to ensure their members' illness or disability was made attributable to war service?

Being awarded a SWB made it easier for them to claim a pension at a later date - their 'proof' that they were disabled by the war?

QAIMNS chiefs felt that silver war badges for their nurses was nonsense and put obstacles in the way of them applying, or being recommended for such awards?

Were these SWB awards nonsense?  What actually was the point of them for nurses? As there was no conscription for women they didn't need to prove to anyone that they had 'done their bit.'  And why did they continue to be awarded to women right up until January 1922, more than three years after the end of the war? The SWB roll shows that a good proportion of awardees were gainfully employed by the time they received their badges, both in military and civil hospitals.  Certainly the uneven division between QAIMNS and the TFNS suggests that it was not simply a case of a woman's health affecting her work, but that there must have been some administrative minefield that worked in favour of members of one service and against members of the other.

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