Tuesday 29 September 2015

More Misdeeds of Military Nurses


 I always enjoy coming across tales of sins committed by nurses in military hospitals and although I don't go hunting for them, when they jump off the page I find them hard to ignore. I've always stepped back from constantly portraying nurses during the First World War as angels of mercy and have tried to show them for what they really were - a wide range of normal women with a variety of different backgrounds and personalities. Finding tales of misdeeds gives a wonderful window onto the social mores of that time and serves as a stark reminder of how things have changed over the last hundred years. I came across this nurse while searching at The National Archives for someone with the surname Kerr.  This wasn't the right file but the contents proved interesting.*

     Margaret Taylor was born in 1893, the daughter of a coal miner, and her home was in Ellington, Northumberland. She trained as a nurse at St. Mary's Infirmary, Islington, and following her training she enrolled as a Staff Nurse in the Territorial Force Nursing Service. Her first posting was to the Killingbeck Section of the East Leeds War Hospital where she was employed from the 20th August 1917. Trouble - or maybe it was love - came swiftly. The following correspondence is taken from her service record and the letters are between Miss Sidney Browne, Matron-in-Chief of the TFNS and Euphemia (Effie) Innes, Principal Matron, No.2 Northern General Hospital, Leeds.

21st October 1917
Letter from Miss Innes to Sidney Browne:

Dear Madam - I am sorry to have to report the following occurrence at the Killingbeck War Hospital. One of the nurses, namely Nurse Margaret Taylor, was married without our knowledge on September 22nd 1917 to a patient who was in the hospital suffering from dysentery. It was found out by the Chaplain, owing to a clergyman he knew mentioning to him quite casually in conversation that he had married two people from Killingbeck. The Chaplain then made inquiries and got a copy of the marriage certificate. The marriage was witnessed by a V.A.D. and a patient from the Hospital. We have suspended Nurse Taylor until we hear from you. The V.A.D. has not been very satisfactory and we had already told her we would not keep her after November 11th 1917.  The patient who has married Nurse Taylor has been suffering from dysentery and had no right to be outside the Hospital grounds.
I am very sorry that this happened as we are very particular about the behaviour of the nurses with the patients, and this kind of thing has such a very bad effect on the patients. I told Miss Tomlin to tell Nurse Taylor that she would probably not be allowed to go on duty again.
Margaret Taylor, Staff Nurse, joined the East Leeds Hospital from the Headquarters Staff on August 20th 1917. She was sent to the Killingbeck Section of the Hospital for duty on arrival.

24th October 1917 
Reply from Sidney Browne to Miss Innes:

Dear Madam - With reference to your letter of the 21st October with regard to Miss Margaret Taylor, I am so sorry to hear about her behaviour, particularly as she had such good references when she joined. Do not let her go on duty again, and unless you and the Colonel think it advisable to allow her to resign, the report of her conduct must be sent in officially with the recommendation as to the course you wish to be taken, and she will be dismissed the Service, but if you and the Commanding Officer would rather she resigned you can tell her this may be allowed, although she does not deserve it, and she must not apply to another Military Hospital for Service again. I shall be glad if you will kindly let me have her married name, when I will let the British Red Cross Society and the other branch of the War Office know she is not suitable for enrolment. Miss Taylor in the circumstances forfeits her claim to a gratuity.

31st October 1917
Miss Innes to Sidney Browne:

Dear Madam - In reply to your letter and in consultation with the C.O. we have decided that it will be better for Staff Nurse Miss Margaret Taylor, now Mrs Kerr, to resign and therefore today I have forwarded her resignation papers to the D.D.M.S. I enclose the Insurance Form but unfortunately Mrs Kerr does not know her number.  I have given her a very severe reprimand and I fear very much she will live to regret her actions.

It's impossible to know of course if Margaret Taylor did live to regret her actions, but after just four weeks devoted to meeting and marrying John Kerr I too have my doubts about the possible recklessness of her decision.  True to her word, Miss Browne confirmed that Margaret Taylor's career as a nurse military hospitals was over by writing the following day to all other interested parties, Ethel Becher, Matron-in-Chief, QAIMNS, Miss Swift, Matron, British Red Cross Society, and Katharine Furse, VAD Commandant at Headquarters:

Dear Madam - I am directed to inform you that the following Staff Nurse T.F.N.S.:
Mrs Kerr, nee Margaret Taylor has resigned from the Territorial Force Nursing Service. If this lady applies to you for enrolment if would be well to apply to this office for further particulars.

If you have John and Margaret Kerr in you family tree, I'd love to know what the future held for them!


*Service file of Margaret Kerr, née Taylor, The National Archives WO399/12562

Wednesday 16 September 2015

What Matron Did Next

     At the time of writing the last post I hadn't been able to confirm more information about Matron Maud Banfield or discover what became of her. She figured prominently in pre-war nursing journals, but post-war she seemed to disappear and with no file at The National Archives I'd come to a bit of a dead end. However, such a lack of information did suggest that 'something' had happened to her so I persisted. I knew from entries in the British Journal of Nursing that she'd trained at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, so I contacted their archivist to see if they could provide the dates of her nurse training which I'd estimated to be around 1890. Luckily one email unlocked Maud's secrets and confirmation of her forenames provided the key.

     She was born Emma Maud Banfield on December 21st 1865 in Swansea, the daughter of James Banfield, a colliery owner and his wife Emilie. She trained as a nurse at St. Bartholomew's Hospital between 1890 and 1893 and in 1895 she moved to Philadelphia, USA, where she worked for the next fifteen years, becoming prominent in nurse management and training.

     On returning to England she made her home in Malvern and in March 1915 applied to join Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. By that time she was almost fifty years old which was outside the age limits for QAIMNS, but she adjusted her age downwards, giving her date of birth as 21st December 1870 and thus qualifying herself for entry. Even then, her application form shows what could be described as 'strength of character' making it plain that she would only accept a Matron's post, and in answer to the final question 'Are you a candidate for any other nursing service,' she wrote 'Not at the moment - other posts are being offered me and I'm afraid will require an answer soon.' As there were no suitable vacancies at the time her admission was delayed, but finally in March 1916 she was appointed as Matron at the Lord Derby War Hospital, Warrington. All reports on her work and character show her to be efficient and diligent, but she didn't always see eye to eye with either her nursing staff or the medical officers.

     Following the episode outlined in the previous post there was another occasion in early 1918 when complaints were made against her by a Staff Nurse, Edith Ashworth, and supported by the senior physician at the hospital, Major Nash, and it was decided by the QAIMNS Nursing Board that Miss Banfield should be moved. On the 28th February 1918 she wrote to the Commanding Officer at the Lord Derby Hospital:

Sir, I received a notice yesterday, the 19th inst., that Miss Lewis was to proceed to this Hospital for duty as Matron on Wednesday next, the 27th inst., and I hear today that I am transferred to the Ripon Camp Military Hospital. I shall be glad to serve wherever I am ordered, but in view of the recent complaints by Major Nash, R.A.M.C. and Staff Nurse Ashworth, which I thought were satisfactorily explained and accounted for, I should appreciate it very highly if this transfer might be postponed for 2 or 3 months. I think, Sir, you have been entirely satisfield as to my conduct of this and other matters and will understand that whilst wishing to obey my orders promptly, military or otherwise, I feel that an immediate move is a reflection upon me personally which I have not deserved ...

     There was some agreement by the authorities that Miss Banfield had not acted unreasonably but a a transfer was still thought politic. She was allowed to stay at Lord Derby for two months and was then transferred to France where she was posted to No.3 Stationary Hospital, Rouen, receiving glowing reports for her work there. Ill health forced her return to England in May 1919 and she continued on sick leave throughout the following twelve months before final demobilisation. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class, in February 1917.

     In 1923, by then fifty-seven years of age, she married New Zealand barrister and solicitor Arthur Richmond Atkinson in London and later moved to Wellington where she died in 1932.


Thanks to Kate Jarman at St. Bartholomew's Hospital Archives, London
Pioneering Nurses - an online database from King's College London Archives
The National Archives, service file of Maud Atkinson, WO399/224 and service file of Edith Ashworth, WO399/208
Find My Past for details of civil registration and emigration records

Friday 11 September 2015

A Case of Instant Dismissal

There was considerable unrest during wartime about the lack of protection afforded to nurses in their contracts of service and the risk of instant dismissal with no power of appeal. Following many protests this was changed in early 1918, but prior to that a number of nurses had the misfortune to discover how powerless they were in certain circumstances. More details of the background to this can be read on this page of The Fairest Force website:

Contracts and the Serf Clause


Mary Elizabeth Southern was born in August 1882 in Binchester, Co. Durham, the daughter of an official in a coal mine. She worked for four years at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Lunatic Asylum, Gosforth, before taking her General nurse training between 1910 and 1913 at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Union Infirmary. She joined Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve in April 1915 and was quickly posted to Egypt where she served for a year before being transferred to the Lord Derby War Hospital, Warrington, in August, 1916. Her work and behaviour appeared entirely problem free, but events in the summer of 1917 were to prove her downfall. On the 29th August Mary Southern was dismissed without notice by the Matron, Maud Banfield, herself a nurse impeccably trained and with great nursing experience pre-war both in the UK and also the United States of America. That day Miss Banfield wrote the following letter to the medical authorities:

Copies of some of the photographs are contained in Mary Southern's service file held at The National Archives and one is reproduced below.

It can hardly be thought of as shocking to us today and even then was probably considered fairly mild in most circumstances, but the horror expressed by Miss Banfield knew no limits. Her letter fails to mention quite how angry she was at the time, but a letter written  the following month by Miss Southern to Ethel Becher, the Matron-in-Chief, gives a better idea of what was said by Miss Banfield:

I have served over one year abroad and on a Hospital Ship, and a year in the Lord Derby War Hospital, Warrington, and from this hospital I was dismissed, my offence being that I had given a picnic to five patients and my night nurses. I confess to the deed, at the end of my run of nights I gave that little pleasure to those people. ...  What I must complain of is the severity with which I was punished and the awful personal accusations of the Matron, amongst them the following: 

"You are a disgrace to any nursing staff"
"You are absolutely unfit to wear any nurses uniform"
"You are capable, and guilty of leading nurses astray"
"You are a dangerous woman to have about the place"
"Your familiarity with patients is contemptible."

These and other cruel and untrue things ... 

"Pack up and go as quickly as possible."   In three hours I left the institution, no longer time was allowed me or any other warning given. Thrown instantly out of employment and robbed of reputation. The sentence was as unjust as it was drastic and out of all proportion to the offence.  I was given no opportunity to speak in self defence, evidently I was to be punished to the limit of Matron's power as a warning perhaps.  But if this is such a huge crime I am not by any means the first or only offender. Altogether it does not appear to be a fair example of British mercy and justice. My patients' gratitude and enthusiasm was reward enough for the pleasure I had given them. And though I have had to pay so dearly, I can only regret in so far as it prevents me from doing any further nursing in the Army where every British nurse feels she ought to be serving if possible.

A grievously dishonoured servant, M. E. Southern.

On the 17th October, Miss Banfield replied to Miss Southern's remarks:

On leaving, Miss Banfield added a note to Mary Southern's file saying 'I regret I cannot recommend Mary E. Southern for a gratuity.'

On the 26th September 1917, the QAIMNS Nursing Board met to discuss what should be done about Miss Southern's dismissal, and whether the chance of resignation would be a fairer outcome:

The Nursing Board met to discuss a report received in regard to Miss M. E. Southern, Q.A.I.M.N.S.(R.), employed at Lord Derby Hospital, Warrington.  Miss Southern had been summarily dismissed by the Matron, Miss Banfield, Q.A.I.M.N.S.(R.), on account of flagrant disobedience to rules.  The case was referred to D.P.S. who did not concur in the action taken by the Matron.  Miss Cox-Davies proposed that Miss Southern's contract should forthwith be terminated, but on account of her previous satisfactory records of work, her resignation should be accepted. This was seconded by Miss Lloyd-Still and carried unanimously.

Miss Southern was allowed to tender her resignation rather than having the stigma of dismissal on her record and she did later receive the gratuity due to her. Unfortunately there's no service record for Maud Banfield at The National Archives, but after another intricate affair the following year, full of intrigue and complaint, the Nursing Board recommended that Maud Banfield should be moved from the Lord Derby War Hospital and reign supreme elsewhere.  My sympathies definitely lie with Mary Southern whose account throughout sounds entirely reasonable, and congratulations must surely go to the soldier who had the knowledge and enterprise to develop photographs on the ward of a War Hospital!


Details above from the service file of Mary Southern held at The National Archives, WO399/7811. Images from the file used with TNA permission and an image fee paid for web use

Sunday 6 September 2015

Dorothy Mortimer Watson - A Soldier's Will

Dorothy Mortimer Watson was born in Yorkshire in early 1888 and after training as a nurse she joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service in February 1915, working at No.2 Northern General Hospital, Beckett's Park, Leeds and also at the East Leeds War Hospital.  In September 1916 she applied for overseas service and was posted to St. John's Hospital, Malta. The following spring she contracted measles and on the 13th March 1917 she died of associated toxaemia. Despite the fact that she had one sister, Beatrice Balfour Kemp, on all correspondence she named her cousin Herbert Illingworth as her next-of-kin, so following her death arrangements for managing her estate were referred to him, and all her belongings returned to his address. However, in June 1917 Herbert Illingworth wrote to the War Office from his home, Carlrayne, Leadhall Lane, Harrogate:

... Staff Nurse D. M. Watson died intestate so far as a fully drawn out will is concerned but left in my charge on leaving England a letter which she asked me, acting as her guardian, to dispose of her possessions, in the event of her not returning.  Would this be considered a 'soldier's will' to be accepted as legal, if so can it be forwarded on your request.  The small amount of money of which she was possessed she wished to be given to her only sister, small keepsakes of no great monetary value are to be given to various friends. Her sister has need of financial assistance, she is married but her husband is in the army ... 

The letter, addressed to Herbert's wife, read:

East Leeds War Hospital, Beckett Street, Leeds, September 8th 1916

My dearest Nell,
I hope you will never have need to open this, but if you do, I would like you to have my ring with the diamond made into a tie pin for Stanley.  The rest of my money I think I would like Bea, my sister to have as she has most need of it. Will you have either my locket or my opal ring, & give the other to Clare, Pattie my brooch, and I have no more jewellery, so will you give Beatrice some little things amongst my work which I have made.  The rest of my things such as they are of course, you take.

Dorothy Watson

Three weeks later a reply was sent to Herbert Illingworth from the Assistant Financial Secretary at the War Office confirming that Dorothy Watson's brief letter could indeed be taken as a 'soldier's will.'

... it has been regarded by this Department as a valid Will executed by the late nurse whilst 'in actual military Service' within the meaning of the Wills Act, 1837.

Dorothy Mortimer Watson was buried at Pieta Cemetery, Malta
CWGC - Dorothy Watson


Details taken from Dorothy Watson's service file held at The National Archives, WO399/15353