Wednesday 25 December 2013

Christmas Gifts for the Nurses

While it's well known that soldiers in France and Flanders received a Christmas gift in 1914, it was something also extended to nurses on active service. A present from Princess Mary was given to women abroad, a card from the King and Queen, and an extra present from Queen Alexandra to members of her own service with additional items from other sources such as the Daily Express. Maud McCarthy, the Matron-in-Chief, wrote about the distributions of these gifts, sometimes a difficult undertaking, in her war diary (TNA,WO95/3988):


Christmas Day
Received the King and Queen’s cards. The little Company at Headquarters were paraded. D.M.S. addressed them and presented the cards to all officers and men. In the afternoon visited the little Red Cross Hospital; gave the Nurses Princess Mary’s gift.
Sent a telegram to Queen Alexandra:
The members of Your Majesty’s Military Nursing Service respectfully offer their heartfelt thanks for the beautiful gifts which are being distributed, and offer you every possible good wish for Christmas”

And one to Princess Mary:

The Q.A.I.M.N.S. and Reserve thank your Royal Highness for their Christmas gifts and wish you every happiness.”

Miss Barbier and I dined with Colonel Leishmann and Major Burrell. Letter from Matron-in-Chief saying gifts were coming from Lady Galway – turkeys and puddings – Princess Mary’s book for everyone – wallets and soap from the Daily Express, so that I am returning to Boulogne to arrange about their distribution. It is not noted where they are arriving but I presume Boulogne.

To A.D.M.S. office, then to supply stores to find no gifts had yet arrived ....
Miss Wohlmann came to see me wearing Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift, a beautiful fur lined cloak with fur collar, a muff, a hood which I didn’t see, which she had received enclosed in a bag tied with ribbons and containing also her photograph and a letter in her own hand writing – Miss Steenson also came from her ship.
Left Abbeville early for Boulogne in order to meet Miss Sydney Browne R.R.C., Matron-in-Chief T.F.N.S. who was arriving with gifts from Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, with gifts for the Territorial Nursing Staff. Instructions were sent from the War Office requesting that every facility should be given.

Saw Miss Browne off, then distributed Queen A’s gifts at all the hospitals. Had lunch and then Miss Barbier and I returned to Abbeville, arriving 5pm, to find many letters awaiting me, as well as nurses being required at 10 Stationary, 4 Clearing, 13 General, 3 Ambulance Train, to fill vacancies made by Sisters being laid up with influenza.
A large number of beautiful gifts – writing cases and needle cases for the nurses have arrived from the Daily Express which I have acknowledged and will distribute without delay.

And this extract is from the personal diary of Nursing Sister Jean Todd, R.R.C., Q.A.I.M.N.S.:

1st January 1915 
No.9 General Hospital (Rouen)
Well, well. Five months war and nearly five months in France and one Christmas over. Wonder what will have happened by next Christmas, and what a marvellous Christmas it has been. The gifts we have had. Queen Alexandra sent us fur-lined capes – grey, down below the waist – quaint hoods and muffs and a Christmas card. The King and Queen their photographs and a message. Princess Mary acid drops and note paper in a special box, and then all kinds of gifts from Newspapers – plum puddings, parcels of clothing – and friends and relatives all sending things. It was lovely… I was far too busy seeing to food for the surgical walking cases to open parcels or read letters, so when anything fresh came… they just joined the pile on our beds.


Sunday 1 December 2013

An Unlucky Hospital

While one or two high-profile nurse casualties of the Great War are well documented, others who died or suffered injuries are rarely, if ever, mentioned. 
No.58 (Scottish) General Hospital arrived in France in the early summer of 1917. It was set up on open land on the outskirts of St. Omer and its early days seemed to be beset by difficulties. Due to a great shortage of hospital beds in France it was pushed into accepting patients before it had either adequate staff or facilities, but within a few weeks it was operating at near full capacity and by August things seemed to be going smoothly.

However, from the first days of September the town of St. Omer became the target for night-time aerial bombing by German planes, and No.58 General Hospital was busy taking in and caring for both military and French civilian casualties, many of whom died. As the situation became worse, arrangements were made for caves in the nearby public gardens to be taken over as air-raid shelters for staff of the hospital and also for any patients able to make their own way there on foot. At the same time, specially reinforced huts were erected where essential nursing staff could sleep safely. On the night of the 30th September, 1917, the worst fears became reality when the hospital received direct hits from German bombs. The account in the unit war diary (TNA WO95/4088) gives the details:


1 October 1917
During a hostile air-raid on the night of 30/9/17-1/10/17 three bombs were dropped in the Camp at 10.40 p.m., (two on marquees for patients and one in the Nurses' Compound). Of the two bombs which dropped on the marquees one struck a marquee which was, fortunately, unoccupied. The other struck a Marquee occupied by patients and two nurses, who were on duty. The bomb which fell in the Nurses' Compound struck a Bell Tent, which was unoccupied as the two Nurses who sleep in the Tent were on Night Duty. The casualties which have resulted are:-
Nurses, killed three, wounded three (one dangerous).
Other ranks, killed 16, wounded 60.
Total killed 19, wounded 63.

Of the other ranks wounded 14 were transferred to other hospitals and one of these has since died. There has been much damage to canvas and equipment. 54 marquees (Hospital, large) have been damaged, more or less. Two have been absolutely demolished while the damage to the others varies from almost complete destruction to mere riddling. 21 Bell tents have been damaged, one was completely destroyed by a bomb and 20 have been riddled. Many pieces of iron pierced the new corrugated iron sleeping hut for Sisters. One piece pierced iron and three pieces of asbestos boarding. Numerous panes of glass have been broken in the permanent buildings. One of the Ablution Houses has been damaged.

SURGEON GENERAL MACPHERSON, the A.D.M.S., and the MATRON-IN-CHIEF called today and it was arranged for the transfer of all lying cases to other hospitals so that at night the walking cases left in hospital might go to the Cave in the Public Gardens and sleep there. It was also arranged that all the nurses should sleep in other hospitals. In the evening patients and Unit moved to the Cave in the Public Garden and only Police and a few orderlies were left in the Camp. The three wounded nurses were transferred today to No.10 Stationary Hospital.

2 October 1917
The three nurses (Sister Climie, Nurse Thomson and Nurse Coles) and the 16 other ranks killed by hostile aircraft on the night of 30/9/17 and 1/10/17 were buried at 4 p.m. today in the Souvenir Cemetery, Longuenesse. Sister Milne who was dangerously injured in the same air-raid died last night in No.10 Stationary Hospital. Two other ranks who were wounded have died today so that the statistics as a result of the raid are to date:
Dead: Nurses 4, Other Ranks, 18.
Wounded: Nurses 2, Other ranks, 58
Total: Dead 22, Wounded 60.


The graves of Daisy Coles and Mabel Milne at Longuenesse (St. Omer) Souvenir Cemetery

The nursing staff who died as a result of that raid were all either members of, or attached to, the Territorial Force Nursing Service:

Staff Nurse Agnes CLIMIE
Staff Nurse Mabel MILNE

and the two wounded nurses:
Staff Nurse Christina. A. DAVIDSON
Staff Nurse Florence McKELLAR

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Honours and Awards to Women - The Military Medal

Despite the mass of books written in recent years about the service of men during the Great War, the contribution of women has never proved popular as a subject of serious study. This new book by Norman Gooding is a most welcome addition and a complement to his previous volume 'Honours and Awards to Women to 1914' (2007).

The introduction outlines the background to the award, and includes details of the ensuing controversy around the wishes of the Canadian authorities that their nurses were entitled to rather more in the way of awards than those of other nations. There is a thorough biography of every woman attached to the British and Dominion Forces who received the Military Medal, most with photographs and all with citations and background detail. This is followed by a section on those awards that were not announced in the London Gazette, mainly to foreign nationals, and lastly a section on awards of the Military Medal made in the years following the end of the Great War.

The book is meticulously researched and brings together at last the mass of scattered information which has previously been so difficult to gather in one place. It will prove a most useful and complete reference guide for anyone researching women's service during the Great War and a fitting tribute to the contribution they made.

Norman G. Gooding
Savannah Publications, 2013
9 781902 366562

Sunday 27 October 2013

Substance with a great deal of Style

The Art and Wartime Surgery of Gillies, Pickerill, McIndoe and Mowlem
Murray C. Meikle
Otago University Press, 2013

I was very fortunate to be sent a copy of this book recently, and it's a real joy in every respect. The first thing you notice is that it's beautiful, which seems an increasingly rare blessing in books these days. Printed on heavy semi-gloss paper it has the feel, in some ways, of a coffee-table volume which, though lovely to look at is a bit lightweight inside. On the contrary, in this case the inside couldn't be better.

Researched to a pitch that leaves the reader breathless, it traces the lives and work of four men, Harold Gillies, Archibald McIndoe, Henry Pickerill and Arthur Mowlem, all four with roots in New Zealand, and in particlar the town of Dunedin and the University of Otago. It outlines the work of surgeons in the Great War on the Western Front and at Aldershot, Wandsworth and Queen's Hospital, Sidcup. It continues with the development of Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead during the inter-war years, the 'Guinea Pig Club' of the Second World War, the work at Hill End House, St. Albans and post-war at Rooksdown House, Basingstoke. Throughout it's crammed with images of people and places, both colour and black and white - a combination of historical photos and portraits, fine art and facial reconstruction, which illustrate the text in an instructional and dramatic manner. The numerous appendices cover not only the usual references but also biographies of the book's lesser players, a list of all 642 members of the Guinea Pig Club and the names of all medical staff who held appointments at Queen's Hospital, Sidcup up to 1929.

In addition, the end cover also contains a DVD which has a series of films of plastic surgery produced in 1945 and converted from 16mm film. It adds up to a meticulously researched and beautifully produced book which will become a definitive account of facial reconstruction through two world wars and more than five decades.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Sick Sisters' Hospital, Alexandria

In view of my previous post about 'The Daughters of Mars,' I thought I'd add an item here about one of the many Sick Sisters' Hospitals overseas, showing the level of care and comfort afforded to nurses on active service.

The Nursing Times, 29 July 1916

     A nightmare haunts the footsteps of Army nurses working abroad, the nightmare of being taken seriously ill. They see personal friends invalided home suffering from the effects of enteric, dysentery, nephritis, and other diseases which attack one with fiercer intensity when the system is already lowered by the effects of strenuous war nursing in a trying climate.  It may interest Army nurses to know that there is a very comfortable and well-equipped hospital in Alexandria for nursing sisters and military probationers. Visitors are at once struck by the air of coolness, restfulness, and daintiness which is characteristic of this hospital. Before the war it was a nursing home for paying patients; and the distempered walls, the marble floors, the many windows, and general structure of the building show how the comfort of the patients has been thought of in every detail. The wards give an impression of cool whiteness. The beds and lockers are white. The only note of colour is the deep saxe-blue linen covering the white screens. Flowers are arranged in highly polished brass jars and pots. The enterick, dysentery, and general wards, each containing seven beds, are on the ground floor.  There is also a small ward with three beds for observation cases. On the next floor there is a large ward with twenty beds, and one small ward with five beds. There is also on this floor a charmingly restful sitting-room, which can be turned into a ward should the need arise. The large, cool corridor on the ground floor is also used as a sitting-room. Patients are often wheeled there as a little change from the monotony of the ward, or they are carried into the garden when advisable. The hospital is provided with light, comfortable beds, which can be wheeled or carried outside, so that patients who are still very ill or very weak can have the benefit of the outside air with the minimum of discomfort in being moved.

     The sister-in-charge has a Red Cross fund, which pays for drives ordered for patients after exhausting illnesses. The hospital ship sisters have found this arrangement a great boon, as they are debarred from the allowances granted to the more fortunate sisters working in Egypt. From November 1915 to April 1916, 113 sick sisters have been admitted suffering from enteric, dysentery, paratyphoid, nephritis and jaundice. Only one death occurred, although the majority of the cases were serious.

     The hospital owes a great deal to the untiring efforts of Miss Dorothy Bates, who was sister-in-charge for some months. Miss Bates was trained at the Sussex County Hospital, and before going to Egypt did war work in the Sheffield and Woolwich military hospitals. Her staff at Alexandria consisted of two staff nurses and three probationers for day duty and one staff nurse and one probationer for night work. The kitchens, in a detached building, were in charge of an Arab chef. One house-boy and one Greek maid comprised the domestic staff. When the top floor was full another maid was allowed. It needs good management to nurse patients efficiently and keep a hospital in immaculate condition, but everything was done punctually, and the building was kept spotless. A recent patient writes that she never had to wait for the answering of the electric bell provided for each bed, and apparently small matter which affects a patient's peace of mind enormously.

     The sick nurses were very much attached to Miss Orr, late matron of the Orwa el Waska Medical Hospital, and also matron of the sick sisters' hospital which adjoined. Although matron of nearly, if not quite, a thousand beds she always found time for a daily visit to the sick sisters. Many times her comforting handclasp and sympathetic 'Poor child, I am sorry,' has cheered miserable sisters and probationers fighting for their lives in a strange land and far away from their dearly-loved 'ain folk.'

Friday 30 August 2013

Bravery - It Started with a Tweet

I've always had quite strong views on Great War nurses being described as angels and heroines, and the assertion that they were all  'brave.'So I was interested in a thread on Twitter which went as follows:

Tweeter A.  Army Nurse Corps took hot water bottles to bed with them then made tea with that hot water next morning!*
Tweeter B.  Some WW stories would be amazing to collate a brave history that we are loosing [sic] day by day
Tweeter C.  Perhaps bravery comes behind professionalism, stoicism, dertermination and skill
Tweeter A.  Bravery, the right choice under terrible circumstances, against all odds.

Obviously A. felt that 'brave' was the best word to describe these military nurses but it made me think again about war, nurses, and bravery. The early 20th century was a time when British nurses were fighting to have their qualifications officially recognised through a process of registration, to ensure that poorly trained and inexperienced women could no longer pass themselves off as fully-trained nurses. Many of them relished the chance that war gave them - to know that they would at last have a platform to show off their skills in a public and wide-ranging manner - the eyes of the nation and the wider world were on them as they were released from the anonynimity of their peacetime role.

I doubt if they were thinking about being brave when they first put on their new uniform and entered the doors of a military hospital. More likely they were thinking about being tested in a strange environment; about what skills they would need; how this new experience would give them an advantage in years to come as they climbed the nursing ladder. They must have wondered who would be working alongside them? Would there be any familiar faces from their training days? Would their pay and conditions be comparable to what they were already getting and would Army discipline defeat them? And when a few months later they added their names to the list of those wishing to go on active service overseas, did they do it because they were brave? I suggest that most of them were desperate to get nearer the action; to feel closer to their brothers, fathers and friends who were already abroad; to grasp the opportunity to visit places and see things they had never contemplated before. Nursing in France had an urgency and importance about it which was lacking in home hospitals - it made them special. And they wanted to be seen as being special.

They knew how hard the work could be - the rushes, the pushes, the pauses; the long hours and early mornings; the boring patches and the restrictions.  They knew that if they asked to be considered for duty nearer the front, at a casualty clearing station, they were nearer the guns, nearer danger, nearer the most badly wounded men. Did they go because they wanted to be brave?  My view is they went because they wanted to make a difference, and to be seen as making a difference.

One of the few nurses who died as a result of enemy action is universally described as 'brave.'  Nellie Spindler died in her bed, while sleeping, the result of a shrapnel wound during an enemy bombing raid on her casualty clearing station. Can 'brave' be the best word to describe her? Unlucky, certainly, but hardly brave.

There were nurses of all sorts, good, indifferent, and some very bad - bad behaviour, poor nursing skills, lack of tact, no sense of discipline. They were not all heroines, and of course, none of them were angels. Angels don't actually exist and trained nurses are very much of the real world. While there were undoubtedly individual acts of bravery by nurses during the war, it was not the lot of the majority. When they were in dangerous and difficult situations, being bombed or shelled or retreating with the enemy at their heels, they relied on their long experience, their skill, their confidence, determination, dedication and fortitude, and on an instant learnt response to emergencies. I would still say that all these came before bravery.

* This surely cannot be true. I have heard of nurses using the water for washing the following morning, but never for tea!

Sunday 4 August 2013

Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service

I've just added a list of women who joined Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service between 1884 and 1928 to my website. There's very little written about naval nurses, and because of the complexity of their records it's not possible to download the service record for an individual woman in the same way that you can for members of the Army nursing services.  I've also added some notes about the records which are held at The National Archives in ADM 104, and how to get hold of them, which can be a bit like negotiating a maze. The page can be found here:

Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service service records

And the image below gives some idea of the problems of finding records with more than one on a page, and notes directing you to other volumes and other pages:

The National Archives ADM104/163/1

Sunday 28 July 2013

The 'Burnt Records'

It's common knowledge to anyone researching family members who served in the Great War that a large percentage of service records were destroyed by the German bombing of London in September 1940. Less well-known is the immense scope of the loss which went far beyond service records.  A while ago I came across a list of records that were destroyed that night.  I'm not sure where it came from, but I believe the original is held at the Imperial War Museum.  So for general interest, here is the list - read it and weep.


AMD 4 Card Index Nurses
Confidential Reports (Nurses) Army Records Centre
Rejects (Nurses) from 1934
All TANS Records 

AMD 5 VD Cards
6 volumes of extracts from CRs (RAMC officers 1825 to 1857)
Complete medical history of the war – card index to same
Almeric Paget’s records
Various records of the QAIMNS

AG 4 (Medals) BMs – Bundles 1 to 93
(Corridor) BM Bundles
Medal receipts
Medal Rolls of the Kings West African Rifles

C 1 Chaplains records
Confidential reports
Colonel Whitton’s reports

CDRD Chemical warfare files

C 4 Records of Civil Subordinates and card index

F 2 Agents Officer Pay Lists 1914 to 1921 and later

F 2d Schedules and Vouchers

F 3 Letter books from 1885

F 7 War Office Cashier’s Accounts
China and Malaya Accounts from July 1934
Malta and Gibraltar Accounts

F 8 Principal Personal ledgers
Contract ledger sheets
General states
Remittances and vouchers
PMA accounts
Post Office Savings Accounts
APL ledger cards
PPL ledger cards
O and F ledger cards

ID Various old books

Lands Branch Maps various

MI (one) Card index of staff employed (military)
All intelligence records including various missions; Russia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Black Sea, Italy, Portugal, Persia, Egypt

MS 2 Officers Commission cards
Confidential reports (officers) all branches of the service, 1870 to 1880; 1910 to 1938. 30 CRs of 1939 RAMC

MS 3 Honours and Awards Card Index (Old and New)
Honour and Award bundles giving a description of the deed which earned the award
Rolls of the VC’s awarded from the commencement
South African awards

MGOF Accounts

QMG 3 Blue prints and drawings (1914 to 1919 period)

QMG 12 Stationary (9 tons)

SD 1 Confidential documents dealing with officers examinations

M1D Files (Munitions inventions) 1 – 5000

WO Library Volumes of leading London papers dating back over 100 years

C4 Tels Secret Cipher Telegrams

A Section BMs from 1926 and reference books and Letter Books
Clerical BMs and Letter Books
K & E Sections BMs and Letter Books

AG4 Medals Bronze Plaques and King’s Certificates unclaimed

C1 General Vennings Reports

CIGS Documents


Q Files
C2 Casualty r

JAG Court Martial proceedings

AFB 199As Officers record of service
ADB 158 Officers strength returns
Volumes of officer strength returns from 1880
Various registers of Civil Subordinates all branches of the service with complete card index
AB 404 Civil Subordinates loose leaf ledgers (AFSC 334)
Roll books of various ordnance factories
Card index of Foreign Honours and Awards
Books containing rolls of Officers RAMC
Numerous Boer War records, including Town Guard, i.e. Kitchener’s Horse, etc.
Amy Lists from 1775, also Indian Army lists
Several volumes of Court Martial proceedings
Records of Horse Breeding
Medway Coast Defence records
Packages of photographic plates (Great War period)
Irish Rebellion. Files and card index
Irish Coastal Command (Registered Files)
General Redcliffe’s documents relating to Italy
Nominal Rolls of the Black Sea Labour Corps
Embarkation returns
Colonial regiments – Nominal Rolls
Officer’s and Men’s Casualty Cards
South African Casualty Card index
GHQ France files
AFsB 199 TA Officers
AFsB 103 Officers
2 tin boxes containing documents relating to 1st Echelon France 1939/40
Part II Orders and Card Index Officers and Men 2nd Echelon NWEF
Routine Orders of the various Commands 1940
RA Reference Books of officers served home and abroad including card index
Card Index of officers serving in the Middle East
Officer Unit and demobilisation Card Index
First commission cards
Card index of deceased officers
Card index of TA and temporary commissions
Staff card index
Officers promotion and Exam Card index
Card Index of Officers and men taken P of W
Card index of prison camps in Germany
Documents relating to conditions under which our troops were interned in P of W Camps
War Diaries of nearly all regiments (Great War)
Duplicate Great War Diaries
Grey books of officers and men killed and missing 1914/18
Nominal rolls of pre-war volunteers
Reference books of pre-war officers volunteers
Reference books of TA officers pre-war
Nominal rolls of the OTC and card index
USA RAMC records
SA RAMC records
Chinese Labour Corps records
Mob Directorate
Documents relating to Harrow Schools
Documents relating to Portugese Labour Corps
Documents relating to Russian Labour Corps
1 case of effects
Vote 10C Accounts ( F 7)
Great War volunteer records
1 parcel of photographs of old guns used by the RA
Documents relating to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force
3040 Card Index (particulars of soldier service)
ABs 358 all like regiments
ABs 216 TA
ABs 359 Special Reserve and index books
ABs 72 Lists of soldiers documents forwarded to Chealsea
Part II Orders all branches of the service 1914 to 1921
2 South African Rifles and 1 sword
Reference books of the various ammunition columns
Company Rolls of the Labour Corps
WAAC documents and card index (3040’s)
Various records of the QAIMNS
Reports on German atrocities
Approximately 50 files of 26/records/series
Various records of the Royal Air Force
GHQ files
Numerous copies of the London Gazette
Zion Mule Corps
Various records of the Kings West African Rifles
BW1 Records
WIR records – pre-war
Card index of the various divisions, bridges, etc.
Army orders
Cinque Ports
Allied Police Commission, Constantinople
Reference books of the Young Soldiers Battalions Great War
Various records not scheduled (MT 4)
All reference books dealing with the work at Arnside Street including a complete summary of the documents held
4 books of Kings Regulations (Key copies) 1912 to 1913 from Marshelsea Road
Documents relating to the Camel Corps
Reference books of Widows Pensions

The following documents were waiting to be transferred to the Public Records Office at their convenience:

Documents relating to the conquest of Florida and Louisiana
Map of Gibraltar about 1770
Correspondence relating to the relief of Mafeking
Correspondence between Lord Kitchener and the Archbishop of Canterbury re the appointment of Roman Catholic Priests
Diary. Journal of Egypt 1800
Correspondence relating to the West Indian Regiment 1790
PWIB BM Bundles

Approximately 2 tons of oddments including parts of two Machine Guns, barbed wire, periscopes and a Range Finder from Great War
Card Index of the Military Hospitals
Card index relating to the BOAR
Regimental Histories from various Records Offices including one volume of the Prince of Wales
All these volumes were received under Mob 32
Royal Hibernian Military School. Documents and Registers
Great War Soldiers documents received from Record Offices.

Great War Soldiers non-effective documents up to 7th August 1920 inclusive
Soldiers documents of M G Corps up to disbandment 1922
(Out of 6.5 million documents only 1.25 million have been saved)

Documents relating to War Department Constabulary

Sunday 21 July 2013

Snatches of Life

Because there are so few official records of the pre-WW1 military nursing services still surviving today, piecing together the details of the nurses' lives can be hard. So coming across little snatches of information can be useful, both for adding to the story of the service, and also the background of the women themselves. The National Archives hold copies of the minutes of meetings of the Nursing Board of Q.A.I.M.N.S. between 1902 and 1911, and they provide one of the few sources for discovering how original decisions were made. For those who find pleasure in being immersed in the most minute and boring of detail (me) they're a gold mine of both useful and useless information. Yesterday I found this little gem, which refers to a nurse born in Aberdeen in 1876, the daughter of a farmer, and who trained as a nurse at Liverpool Royal Infirmary between 1905 and 1909:

13 October 1909
The case of Miss J. F___, a candidate for Q.A.I.M.N.S., medically unfit owing to loss of teeth, referred by Selecting Sub-Committee was considered. The Board decided that this lady should be accepted on condition that she provides herself with a second set of artificial teeth, in the event of being ordered abroad.

Miss J. F. was accepted, and went on to serve at home and abroad and throughout the Great War, teeth or no teeth. I'm not sure what I learnt from this little extract, but somehow it says a lot about life at that time and the official reaction to it.

Sunday 7 July 2013

Edith Hope - by the purest chance ...

While travelling back from Cornwall a couple of days ago, I just happened to stop briefly in Salisbury for lunch. Not having time to get as far as the Cathedral, I popped into a local church - St. Thomas and St. Edmund - to spend a cool few minutes.  The organist was practicing, and to a background of 'Jerusalem' I wandered around looking at the various memorials.  I suddenly stopped at one small plaque, which was placed in memory of Edith Hope, who died on September 23rd, 1954.  Next to her name were the magic letters 'R.R.C.' - Royal Red Cross - which made her one of those who have a place in my fold.
There was something familiar about 'Edith Hope' which I couldn't place, but the penny dropped when I sat down in front of my computer and realised that Edith and I had met before, here:

Edith Hope - Naval Nursing Sister

Out of all the thousands of women who received the award, not only had I picked her out, at random, to write about last year, but had then discovered this week, by the merest chance, where she spent the final years of her life and is remembered. A long time resident of Thornton Heath in Surrey, how did she get to Salisbury? Her service record shows that her brother spent his later years in the city, so she must have made her home near to him after she finally retired.

So coincidence, serendipity, or maybe something more spiritual? I shall keep a look-out for Edith in the future!

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Dorothea's War

Dorothea Crewdson was one of more than 100,000 women who served as VADs during the Great War, but in so many ways she stands above the heads of others.  She was one of only a small number of women to receive the Military Medal for her actions during an enemy air raid in 1918* and she is one of the few nurses to be commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, dying during her period of active service in France.  More importantly she is one of that rare breed of nurses who left behind a diary that has survived through the decades.  There are a number of published personal accounts of VAD life during the Great War, most vague about names and places, frequently a mix of fact and fiction making it difficult to judge where truth ends and over-egging the pudding starts. Diaries can provide so much more, usually written with no other motive than to keep an accurate and honest record of a period of life and work which may prove useful at a future time.  As a private account there is no worry about naming friends and colleagues, and no fear of falling foul of the censor by mentioning individual hospitals and locations.

This diary, sympathetically edited by the author’s nephew Richard Crewdson, and accompanied throughout by Dorothea’s own original drawings, covers the entire period of her wartime service as a VAD in France between June 1915 and March 1919. It charts her time at three separate military hospitals and describes VAD life in great detail introducing many friend, relatives, patients and colleagues, some who were with her throughout the period. Very little is written elsewhere about the basic facts of a nurse’s life in France, and in this diary there’s a lot to be learnt about living arrangements, conditions of service, pay, ward work and above all about loyalty and friendship. Although sickness and death have a part in the book, they are not the main players.

The introduction to the book makes no secret of the fact that Dorothea Crewdson’s life was cut short, with her sudden death in France in March 1919.  That knowledge had a great impact on me. As the reader I was aware that I knew that which she did not – that her life was not going to be a long one; that this time next year ...  this time next month ... this time next week ...  I could hardly bear to turn the last few pages and enter her final days, the days that I knew about, but she did not.  The book ends with a letter written to Dorothea’s mother by her Matron, Melina McCord. It’s a heart-breaking tribute, guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of all but the most dispassionate reader.

This diary informs and instructs, but more than that it shows that where loss, death and hardship exist, whether they be personal or professional, ways can always be found to deal with them. It makes essential reading for anyone with an interest in nursing, VADs and hospital life during the Great War.  But be warned – have a handkerchief ready for the finale.

* London Gazette, 30 July 1918: For gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy air raid. Although herself wounded, this lady remained at duty and assisted in dressing the wounds of patients.  DIED 12 March 1919

For a preview of the book, and a glimpse of some of the Dorothea's wonderful drawings, this will whet your appetite:

Dorothea's War - YouTube


Dorothea's War, Dorothea Crewdson: edited by Richard Crewdson; published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 13th June 2013:  ISBN 978 0 297 86918 4
[Hardback and on Kindle]

Sunday 26 May 2013

On This Day - May 26th 1940

I have copies here of many accounts by members of the military nursing services who were serving in France between the outbreak of war and mid-June 1940. The originals are held at The National Archives, ref. WO222/2143.  This one is the last part of a descriptive and atmospheric account by Sister Gretchen Leyland of No.6 Casualty Clearing Station. An experienced nurse, she trained at Guy's Hospital between 1930 and 1933.


Sunday 26th May 1940

A pump had been started for water and a dynamo to supply electric light in a wider part of the abri, where a Theatre for minor cases had been improvised. We had one or two dressing stations set up and were in a position to function as a C.C.S. in a small way.  I was sent to attend to twenty German prisoners who were in the former strong rooms. Pte. Sunderland gathered some equipment and came with me. In spite of the language difficulty we set two of the unwounded ones to the task of tidying up and cleaning the dishes with paper and we set about dressing the wounds of the others and prepared two for operation.  After a time Pte. Sunderland went off in search of food and water and I found it rather eerie to be alone with the German prisoners, except for the sentry outside, in a silence which was only broken by the sound of artillery coming nearer and nearer beyond the ridge behind the hospital.

The news came that the Sisters were to be evacuated along with the German prisoners and the last of the wounded.  In the morning one of the Nuns had asked me if the rumour was true that the British would not be able to hold back the Germans. This idea had not occurred to me and I had told her that of course they would be held back. Even now we assumed that we were being sent to work in a base hospital simply because a C.C.S. could not function very well in these conditions.  We left a unit that seemed to be downhearted at our going and made our last journey by ambulance through a desolation which included a field full of dead horses.

As we came into Dunkerque we saw a heavy roll of black smoke pouring across the sky. It was the ending of the burning Oil Dumps.  We realised that we were en-route for England but not that the whole of the B.E.F. was being evacuated, in spite of a continuous marching up of small companies of men beside the long queue of ambulances.  The hospital ship was crammed with twice the number it was meant to take and I renewed dressings which had not been touched since the field ambulance until 3.30 a.m. when I went up on deck.  My last memory, like my first of this period of the war, is of Calais, for I watched it now a high blaze, climbing into the air and shining far on the dark water.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Amy Frances Turner

I included a photograph with my last post of Amy Frances Turner, so I thought it would be worth writing a little about her wartime service - a little bit is all I have of course. She was born in York in 1883/84, the daughter of a printer's compositor, and trained as a nurse at Northampton General Hospital between 1906 and 1909.

Amy Turner became a member of the Territorial Force Nursing Service shortly after the outbreak of war and in December 1914 she was sent to the No.3 Southern General Hospital (TF), Oxford, to work as a Staff Nurse.  I was sent a wonderful set of images taken at the hospital, by Judy Burge who lives in Australia and whose grandmother Isobel Wace also worked at the same hospital and was the owner of the photos - they give a remarkable and varied view of life at the hospital during the first half of the Great War. Amy was promoted to the rank of Nursing Sister on 13th July 1917, and in September,1918, she went to France to join the staff of No.54 General Hospital, Wimereux. In February,1919, she was invalided back to the UK for some surgery, and after her convalescence was demobilised on the 6th May,1919. Her next-of-kin is given throughout her file as her married sister, a Mrs. Cawley who lived at 21 Harlech Avenue, Leeds.

After the war, like many other nurses, Amy Turner remained a demobilised member of the Territorial Army Nursing Service, prepared to re-join in the event of further hostilities. But for her that time didn't come, as a letter in her service file shows that she resigned the service just after the outbreak of the Second World War on 12th September, 1939. Surprisingly, her reason was her forthcoming marriage and subsequent move to Canada. Unfortunately there is no note in her file giving her married name or a later address, but it does show that it's never too late to start a new life! The caption on the photo from Judy reads 'Don't know this lady but someone may.' Hopefully someone will.

Friday 24 May 2013

Women and the Great War Centenary

Amy Frances Turner (courtesy of Judy Burge)

I feel that by the time we reach August next year I might be all centenaried-out.  Already there is so much publicity, advance announcements of planned TV programmes, authors rushing to make sure they make the deadline with their latest books, and various institutions nationwide preparing their own events to mark the date.  Although so much emphasis seems to have fallen on 1914, the centenary commemorations, like the war, will go on for four years, and the fall-out for much longer. By the time we get to 1919 the whole caboodle will, I expect, simply be taken over by the 90th anniversary of the Second World War.  One of the main initiatives is in the hands of the Imperial War Museum who are hoping to gather a database of those who served, with the help of the general public - Lives of the First World War. Do sign up to receive latest news about the project and find out how you can contribute.

However ... I already have some doubts about the way in which the contribution of women will be represented. After all, many women belonged to civilian organisations that were not under military control, or were formed to give aid to military personnel other than those from Britain and the Commonwealth. They include munitions workers; members of War Hospital Supply Depots who produced almost all the dressings and surgical requisites used by the B.E.F.; the majority of VADs who worked in hospitals under control of the Joint War Committee; members of the French Red Cross, the Scottish Women's Hospital, the Serbian Relief Fund, Queen Mary's Needlework Guild, the YMCA and YWCA, and so many more - the list is a very long one. Hundreds of thousands of British women played an active part in the Great War, often on the Home Front, but are certainly not counted among the '8 Million' participants suggested by the IWM.

The IWM have been keepers of a 'Women's Work Collection' since 1919 when Priscilla, Lady Norman and Agnes Conway first began to gather photos, information and evidence of the contribution of women to the war. They hold thousands of photographs of women who either died during their war service, or were honoured for the part they played.  At present I'm indexing, just for my own information and pleasure, a thousand photos of women who were awarded the DBE, CBE, OBE, MBE, or the Medal of the Order of the British Empire during, or shortly after, the Great War. The range is vast, from titled ladies - aristocrats out of the very top drawer - right down to the most humble of munitions and factory workers. In this last category many were 'rewarded' after having been blinded or disabled during the course of their work, which probably took the place of any formal pension or disability benefit.

Part of the IWM's project is now up and running - it's called 'Faces of the First World War' and they are adding a new photo each day and inviting further comment or information. As of today there are 457 photos to view. Of those, just a single one is of a woman, a munitions worker who died as the result of TNT poisoning. I know that this omission isn't because they're short of wonderful photos of inspirational women - they're not. I know it isn't because they have ignored women over decades - they haven't. So why such a reluctance to put women in their proper place in relation to the Great War? Maybe it's because the person or team entrusted with this task are, like many others, only interested in Infantry, Artillery, guns, tactics, strategy - men's things.

The gap needs to be filled - it can't be that difficult. But if this is an example of things to come, women of the Great War, our women, will be poorly served.

Jane Croasdell

Monday 6 May 2013

Ambulance Trains - Crossing London

I grew up in the London suburbs, just a couple of hundred yards from a railway station. It was an odd sort of station as which ever way you went - there were only two platforms - you ended up at Waterloo half an hour later - that's where the train stopped. If you wanted to go north, east or west you then crossed London by tube or bus and reached one of the other London terminus stations - Paddington, Liverpool Street, Kings Cross ... that was where all the trains started from, and of course stopped. It never occurred to me that it was, or had ever been possible to cross London by train, without stopping.  London was one big full stop.By 1988 I was living near Brighton, and the Thameslink line opened.  I thought it was a great innovation, the ability to go right through the heart of London without changing trains, though I admit to never having gone beyond Farringdon. It never occurred to me that the wheel hadn't just been discovered, only re-invented.

So when I started to get interested in ambulance trains, it puzzled me how these huge trains, longer than anything we see now, could get from Dover, going north, without making some long haul round the M25 of railway lines. I apologise if this sounds really naive and stupid but I grew up spending my life on trains, and believe me, they always stopped at Waterloo or Victoria. Since then I've learned a little bit about the mass of independent railway companies that owned track nationwide, and the tangle of different lines that criss-crossed London taking trains anywhere at all if the mood took them.  So, to get to the point.

During the Great War there were three main ways that an ambulance train could cross London on its way from Dover, depending on its stopping places and final destination. Briefly, they were:

The West route:  From Clapham Junction over the Thames at Battersea Railway Bridge (at that time called Cremorne Bridge), and then via Addison Road Station, now Kensington Olympia, and up via Willesden Junction and onwards north or westbound.

The Central route:  From Loughborough Junction in the south, across Blackfriars Bridge and then up through Farringdon, King’s Cross, and Snow Hill Tunnel - the current First Capital Connect (Thameslink) route.

The East route:  Up via New Cross and Surrey Docks in the south, crossing under the river via the Thames Tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping, then up the eastern side of Liverpool Street Station. The Thames Tunnel has had a long and chequered history, but today is used as part of tfl's London Overground services.

The Thames Tunnel in its original condition

So London has never been a full stop for trains, and even today you can travel long-distance north to south across London on at least two of the routes used during the Great War. The wheel is very old, and still going strong.


Sunday 5 May 2013

Ambulance Trains - where did they actually go?

During the Great War many existing railway lines nationwide were taken over by the Government in an effort to make the best use of services for transport of goods, armaments, service personnel, civilian travellers and also for ambulance trains. The vast majority of casualties from abroad arrived in the United Kingdom at either Dover or Southampton and unless remaining in one of those two towns they were then transported onwards by train to all parts of the British mainland.

There were two hundred 'stopping stations' - railway stations that received  sick and wounded men and women for onward transfer to local hospitals by motor car or ambulance, and a list of these can be found in 'British Railways and the Great War.'*  In alphabetical order, and excluding Dover and Southampton themselves, they were:

Aberdeen; Addison Road (now Kensington Olympia); Aintree; Aldershot; Ampthill; Avonmouth; Axminster; Bangour; Basingstoke; Bath; Belmont; Bentley; Berrington; Berwick; Bexhill; Bickley; Birkenhead; Birmingham; Bletchley; Bournemouth; Boscombe; Bradford; Brentwood; Brighton; Bristol; Brockenhurst; Brocton; Bromley South; Brookwood; Bulford; Bury St. Edmunds

Cambridge; Cambuslang; Canterbury; Cardiff; Carlisle; Catford; Chatham; Chelmsford; Chelsea; Cheltenham; Chester; Chichester; Chislehurst; Christchurch; Clacton-on-Sea; Clandon; Clapham Junction; Colchester; Cosham; Court Sart; Coventry; Crewe; Cromer

Deal; Derby; Devizes; Devonport; Dewsbury; Dorchester; Dundee; Durham; Eastbourne; East Croydon; Eastleigh; Edmonton; Edinburgh; Egham; Epsom; Exeter; Farnborough; Faversham; Fawkham; Fovant Railhead; Fratton

Gillingham [Dorset]; Glasgow; Gloucester; Gosforth; Gosport; Grantham; Gravesend; Greenock; Greenwich; Guildford; Halesworth; Halifax; Hamworthy Junction; Harlow; Harrogate; Haywards Heath; Hereford; Herne Bay; High Barnet; Holmwood; Huddersfield

Ingham; Ingress Park Siding; Ipswich; Keighley; Kendal; Lancaster; Leeds; Leen Valley; Leicester; Leigh; Lichfield; Lincoln; Liphook; Liverpool; Lyme Regis; Lyminge; London Charing Cross; London Paddington; London Victoria; London Waterloo

Maidstone; Malmesbury; Manchester; Margate Sands; Mayfield; Minster Junction; Napsbury; Neath; Netley; New Barnet; Newbury Park; Newcastle-on-Tyne; Newcastle-under-Lyme; Newmarket; Newport; Newton Abbott; Northampton; Norwich Thorpe; Nottingham; Orpington; Oswestry; Oxford

Paignton; Paisley; Penrith; Perth; Plymouth; Poole; Portsmouth; Preston; Ramsgate; Reading; Rubery; Saffron Walden; Salisbury; Selly Oak; Sheffield; Sherbourne (sic); Shorncliffe; Shrewsbury; Sidcup; Sidmouth; Sittingbourne; Snaresbrook; Southall; Southend; Southport; Stafford; Stoke-on-Trent; Stourbridge; Stratford; Stratford-on-Avon; Strathpeffer; Sunderland

 Taplow; Templecombe; Tidworth; Tonbridge; Torquay; Torre; Walmer; Waltham Cross; Walton-on-Thames; Warminster; Warrington Arpley; Well Hall; West Croydon; West Gosforth; West Marina; Weymouth; Whalley; Whitchurch; Willesden; Wimborne; Winchester; Windemere; Windsor; Witley; Wrexham; York

Strathpeffer Station

The farthest north of these was Strathpeffer, a distance of approximately 625 miles away, and an estimated journey time (with a fair wind and bit of luck) of 20 hours and 33 minutes.  Thank goodness that Richard Beeching was only one year old when the Great War started and many years away from wielding his axe.

The Wounded at Dover by Sir John Lavery (Imperial War Museum)

*British Railways and the Great War, Edwin A. Pratt (Two volumes); Selwyn and Blount, 1921; now freely available online.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Versailles - The British Hospital, 1914

Following the events of the Boer War where hundreds of wealthy female 'camp followers' invaded British hospitals in attempt to claim some involvement in nursing the sick and wounded, the War Office made every effort to ensure that in any future war strict controls would ensure that only authorised and approved workers were allowed to be employed in British hospitals. I've recently acquired a copy of a book written by Maud Sutton-Pickhard, who seems to have followed in the footsteps of her South African sisters in gaining admittance to places that she should not really have been.  Her sheer nerve and arrogance are a sign that life, particularly for the rich, was rather different a hundred years ago.  Having been refused a job by the American Ambulance in Neuilly on account of her lack of qualifications or experience, she wanders around Paris seeing the sights, and one morning took the train to Versailles 'to see the big English hospital there.' As there are so few accounts of the hospital I guess she should be thanked for writing about her experience.

At Versailles I had an omelette at the little station inn called the " Lion d'Or," and then I went to a tabac  and bought all the French cigarettes I could find as there were no English ones, and some tobacco and cigarette papers. (Horrid cigarettes they are too ! — but the "Tommies" seemed pleased to get them, as smoking is their one solace.)

Walking up the fine avenue called the Boulevard de la Reine, with its noble trees, I came to the magnificent hospital, formerly the Trianon Palace Hotel. It is a truly ideal spot for a hospital, and it is a marvel of English efficiency and organization. I was one living exclamation point of admiration from the moment I entered the gate until I left. The grounds were filled with convalescents in khaki, all looking happy and cheerful. I passed them and went to the front door, where a Red Cross soldier asked me very politely whom I wished to see. I had been asked the same question in the grounds. I said I wished to look over the hospital; so he called the Colonel. The latter was exceedingly courteous, but it was obvious that he was somewhat puzzled at my unexpected arrival. (I seemed to be the only visitor except one old French Sister with a basket of food.) He asked me if I knew any of the officers, if I knew anyone in the hospital. I said I was awfully sorry, but I didn't — that I had just heard about the hospital, and had come up to look it over and take some Kodak pictures.

He said, "You want to take Kodak pictures of the wounded?"
"Of the hospital and grounds — of the whole thing in fact," I replied.
"What do you want to do with the pictures?"
“Oh, send them to my friends to show what a nice place the wounded have over here."

He seemed satisfied, and said, “It is rather unusual, but you don't look like a German spy! "I laughed and got out my passports for him. He examined them, but he still seemed a trifle puzzled. Finally he said he would show me round, and he told me there was going to be a funeral that afternoon, and asked me if I wanted to go to it. We met the old French woman in the hall, and he asked if I knew what she wanted.
I said, "Why, don't you speak French?"
He said, "Not a word."

The interpreter had come forward, but I found out that she just wanted to give the things in her basket to the soldiers in the garden, only she wanted to distribute the stuff herself, and it was against the regulations. The Colonel looked in her basket, and told me to tell her that she could do so to those out of doors but not to those in the wards. Then he shook hands with her, and we wandered through the ground floor ward, while I distributed the cigarettes among the Tommies. The Colonel stopped to give some directions about a wounded man, so I said I would go on upstairs. He told me to knock at any door before I went in, but I preferred to get hold of a Sister, and she took me in to see an officer in the Worcestershire Regiment. I offered my own private cigarettes to the young man, who was evidently pleased to see visitors. The poor boy had been shot in both arms and one leg.  His right arm was paralyzed. But, in spite of this, he was most anxious to get well and return to the Front. I started to go, and he said, " Oh, don't go yet ! " I replied that I feared conversation would tire him, but he said that on the contrary it took his mind off himself. So I sat down on an adjoining bed while he told me the history of his battles and wounds. It was quite thrilling, yet so simply told, with only the barest necessary mention of himself — all about his men, and the Germans and the fighting. He had crossed a branch of the Aisne, by wading, in order to take a farmhouse on the opposite bank ; there he found he was trapped, with the Germans at his back, behind some trees. He had taken sixteen prisoners, but they had surrendered only in order to lead him into a deadlier place in which he was ambuscaded. There was no way out but to hurry back through the fire. He had been the first to cross, so he was the first to discover the trap, and hastily called to his men to get back as quickly as they could. Though wounded in both arms, he managed to get away, but was again hit in the leg at the last moment. He was helped out of danger by some of his men, but it was hours before he could see a doctor. He had to lie on straw and freeze until he could get medical assistance, and finally be moved to a hospital. He told me a lot about the Germans. They are very tricky, but the men only obey orders. One German prisoner told him that he did not know he had been fighting the English!

Fearing to fatigue him by letting him talk too much, I went upstairs and gave the Tommies on the top floor the rest of my cigarettes, helping them to light them, and trying to say some words of comfort. They seemed so pleased to have someone to talk to, and so grateful for the wretched cigarettes. Some had just arrived from the trenches, and they looked most horribly weak and ill. But all of them were so brave and patient and cheerful, although they brought tears to one's eyes when they said how glad they would be to see wife and children again.

I went over the grounds and inspected the tents, which are ideally clean and well arranged. The entire place struck me as the perfection of efficiency and comfort. Before I left I had an opportunity of seeing the funeral. It was a most imposing and solemn sight. When the hearses were drawn up in front of the gates everybody stood, the convalescents, who were sitting on chairs in the sunshine and under the lofty trees, rose and leant against their seats, or else they were helped up and supported by their comrades. There were six men buried, all English soldiers. Hundreds of French people crowded outside the gates, and the great majority of them followed the funeral to the cemetery as a tribute of respect to their brave Allies.

France in Wartime 1914-1915: Maud Sutton-Pickhard: Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1915
(and freely available on the web)

Sunday 24 February 2013

Leaving France

Several years ago now I transcribed the official war diary of Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief with the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders during the Great War. She arrived in France on the 15th August 1914, and except for a break after suffering a serious illness, she worked continuously and tirelessly until her final return on the 5th August 1919. She spent five years of non-stop work with barely a day off and only the briefest periods of leave, running the military nursing services with precision, inspecting hospitals and casualty clearing stations, and leaving her mark on everything and everybody she came into contact with.  She was not a young woman, fifty-five when the war started, but her energy and charisma were remarkable. I typed my way through Miss McCarthy's war - four thousand pages of it - and began to understand just a little of the difficulties she faced as the war grew and she struggled for staff, and order, and perfection - nothing less was good enough for the sick and injured. When I reached her final day in France I found it almost impossibly emotional. The account, written by her successor, Mildred Bond, paints the most vivid picture how much respect and love she commanded. While going through some photos I found a series of grainy snaps taken by a nurse that day.  They are of poor quality, indistinct, and faded, but along with Miss Bond's words, go some way to describing the feelings on the quayside at Boulogne on the 5th August, 1919.

Departure of Matron-in-Chief, France
On August 5th the Matron-in-Chief, BEF left France, from which date I took over the duties of Principal Matron of France and Flanders. On the evening of the fourth, Dame Maud McCarthy GBE, RRC, dined with the DMS General Gerrard CB, and the officers of his staff, who were giving a farewell dinner in her honour.  The following guest were present:  Colonel Barefoot DDMS, L of C, Colonel Statham the DDMS Boulogne and Etaples, Colonel Gordon the ADMS Calais, and also the A/Principal Matrons of the Areas, Miss L. E. Mackay QAIMNS, Miss Allen QAIMNS and Miss Rowe QAIMNS; also Miss Congleton QAIMNS, Matron 32 Stationary Hospital; Miss G. Wilton Smith and myself.  In the centre of the dinner table was placed a gorgeous basket of choice hot-house flowers which was afterwards presented to Dame Maud, and the DMS made a very appropriate and gratifying speech in which he expressed so much appreciation of her noble work and character and regrets at her leaving France, in which we all concurred so heartily.

On the afternoon of the 5th, Dame Maud left by the afternoon boat for England.  I went with the DMS in his car to see her off, and Miss G. Wilton Smith and Miss Barbier CHR went with her in her own car.  There was a large crowd waiting on the Quay when she arrived.  Among those present were a  Representative from GOC, General Asser being absent from Boulogne; the DMS and his staff; Brigadier General Wilberforce CB CMG the Base Commandant; Colonel Barefoot DDMS L of C; Colonel Statham DDMS Boulogne and Etaples; Colonel Gordon the ADMS Calais; and many other officers; Major Liouville, who represented the French Medical Service and Monsieur M. Rigaud, Secretary to the Sous-Prefecture who represented the French civil population, came in place of Monsieur M. Buloz who was absent from Boulogne.  These two men thanked her on behalf of the Military and Civil Authorities for all the goodness and courtesy they had always received at her hands.  The Matrons and the Nursing Staff from all the near Units who could be spared from duty and who were anxious to show a last mark of respect to their retiring chief were present.
She shook hands with everyone and was wonderful to the last, in the way she carried through a most difficult and trying farewell.  Her cabin was a perfect bower of most beautiful flowers sent from the staff of the different Hospitals.  One of her own staff, Miss Hill VAD, was able to cross with her as she was going home on demobilisation.  As the ship moved off the Matron-in-Chief, Miss Hill and Major Tate RAMC of the DMS staff, who was proceeding to England on transfer, escorted Dame Maud to the bridge and remained with her.  They all waved from the bridge and we all waved and cheered our loudest and sang “For she’s a jolly good fellow” as the ship sailed out of the harbour.  I think we shall never forget that sight and shall always like to remember the courageous and plucky way in which our chief carried our flag flying to the very last moment into her civilian life, where we wish her all happiness and success and where she will still command the love and respect of us all.


The war diary is held at The National Archives, ref: WO95/3988-3991 and the transcription can be found here: Official War Diary of the Matron-in-Chief with the B.E.F. in France and Flanders

Monday 11 February 2013

A New Year Message to the Boss

At present I'm going through nurses' service files and am finding all sorts of interesting items which escaped the violence of the 'weeding' process at the War Office in the 1930s.  One thing that stands out is the more compassionate tone (if that's the right word) of official correspondence in the Territorial Force Nursing Service files, when compared to similar items in QAIMNS files. The TFNS so often strikes a more personal, friendly note, and the senior members appear to have a closer and more genuine connection with their nursing staff.  And it went both ways as this letter shows, written by Helen Brotherton, while working as Matron of the Hospital Ship 'Newhaven,' to Miss Sidney Browne, Matron-in-Chief, Territorial Force Nursing Service.

Dame Sidney Browne by Austin Spare IWM Art 2768

Hospital Ship Newhaven
January 1st, 1916

To: Miss Sidney Brown, Matron-in-Chief, T.F.N.S.

My dear Miss Sidney Brown

It is just a little over a year since you said goodbye to a party of us at Victoria Station, leaving for France.  I've been going to write to you often since then, I have often thought and spoken of you, and how splendid you are to us and how proud we Territorials are of ‘our Matron.’  I've had such a happy time since I came out and was attached to the Indian Expeditionary Force at the Rawal Pindi Hospital, then when the Matron of my section was moved to a large Camp Hospital, I went with her as Home Sister.  We had a staff of 90 Sisters and V.A.D.s.  I did so enjoy life under canvas and was sorry when the hospital had to disband as we were under water.  Then I had orders to join this Ship as Matron, it was good of Miss McCarthy to give me the post, she too has been awfully good to us.

I hope that you are well and that you will excuse the liberty I've taken in writing to you, but I thought it was so unkind of us to think all the good things about you and never let you know how grateful we are to you, for all the care and thought you've given our service.  I shall always be grateful to you for giving me the opportunity of nursing in France and helping our Boys, when they've done so much.  They are such splendid fellows.  We always go to Dover on the Home side and if ever you were there I should be so pleased to show you round my ship.

This War has few compensations, but one of them is that it’s given me an opportunity of serving my Country and you and Miss McCarthy.  My best wishes for the New Year.

I am, Yours most faithfully,
Helen Brotherton.

[TNA WO399/10029]

Thursday 31 January 2013

Dead Man's Land - Robert Ryan

I'm a great reader of crime fiction, often to the exclusion of doing other, more important things.  On the whole I stick to British authors, like complex plots, skip over too much gratuitous violence, and prefer to arrive at the end actually understanding what's gone on in the middle. So about eighteen months ago I was intrigued and rather flattered to be asked by Robert Ryan if we could meet up to discuss a new book he was working on (these days a bit of flattery is so very welcome).  He intended to include 'some plucky VADs' and wanted to make sure that they would be appearing all present and correct.

Over the next months I was kept up to date with the progress of the book and then asked to check the first draft to see how the VADs were doing.  Anyone who has read this blog on a regular basis will know that of all the bees that float around my bonnet, the indiscriminate placement of VADs in Casualty Clearing Stations on the Western Front is the one that stings hardest, and in this book their inclusion in very forward areas was going to be essential to the plot. If I have learned one lesson from the exercise, it’s this.  If you’re a writer of fiction and make fundamental errors because of inadequate research and blissful ignorance, the wrath of pedants will be unleashed upon you.  On the other hand, if you include factual inaccuracies and weave them in an intelligent way, in full knowledge of your sins, you will always be forgiven (fingers crossed).

Dead Man’s Land was published at the beginning of this month with the full approval of the Conan Doyle estate. It follows Dr. John Watson’s travels around the Western Front during the Great War, and where Dr. Watson goes, death and intrigue are right on his heels. By most estimations he must be getting on a bit in age, but his physical limitations are highlighted, not glossed over, and his place as an elderly medical practitioner in wartime never seems extraordinary. The military setting is sound, and the depiction of hospitals and casualty clearing stations in wartime is thorough. The VADs are skilfully introduced into a place where they would never actually have been, with the difficulties and regulations surrounding their employment made clear. Even I was heard to clap. The story is unusual and absorbing, it has complexity, but with enough clarity to prevent it becoming confusing, especially for those who don’t usually dabble in ‘war,’ and it should appeal to everyone who enjoys crime fiction of any era, but perhaps especially to devotees of Sherlock Holmes.  Yes, of course he’s there as well.

And my thanks to Rob for his kind words in the acknowledgements where he accepts all errors as his own.  May I take this opportunity to clear my conscience and admit that there might just be one that’s mine!