Friday, 12 December 2008

Our Hospital ABC

T are the Tents whos inmates maintain,
They are fine healthy places in spite of the rain

Several years ago I bought a copy of a book called 'Our Hospital ABC'. Published in 1916, it's a variation on a child's alphabet book, but based on a VAD's life in a military hospital. All the illustrations are by Joyce Dennys with verses by Hampden Gordon and M. C. Tindall. Joyce Dennys died in 1991, and since then there has been a great surge of interest in her work, and I thought it might be of interest to include a couple of the pages from this small book which is becoming increasingly rare. Some difficulty with scanning has resulted in the image colours not being quite true, and the uniforms are more blue in the original, but they are still a delightful look back at life as it was then.

N are the Nurses, the right sort of wenches,
To look after the lads who are back from the trenches

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Difficulties with Recruitment 1903

When QAIMNS was formed in 1902, many of the staff and conditions of service were carried over from the old Army Nursing Service. At the same time, it was planned that the new Service would be an elite, forward-thinking one which would be the envy of civil hospitals and aspired to by many nurses. However, when the Nursing Board met in September 1903, it was to discuss the failure of their recruitment process to supply adequate numbers of nurses of the right calibre. The following abridged notes are taken from the minutes of that meeting, and set out some of the perceived reasons for the problems [The National Archives, WO243/20].

'The Nursing Board are face to face with the position that they cannot get nurses to join the Q.A.I.M.N.S... The terms of the service have been circulated amongst the civil hospitals, and there is but one opinion, that the terms offered are inadequate.
The Nursing Board must either be empowered to offer better terms, or the military service must be the dustheap into which is shot those nurses from civil hospitals whom the civil matrons do not want to keep, or female nursing of soldiers must be abandoned.
The Nursing Board want to attract into military nursing, firstly, the really good nurse, women who would assuredly succeed in civil nursing, and not the failures, who are many in number; secondly, women of good social position - very important.'

'When a young woman of 28 has finished her training at a civil hospital she looks round and decides what her future is to be, whether she will stay in hospital work, or, whether she will take up private nursing. In the former case, if at all good, she is quite certain of getting almost at once to be a sister, and from that position to gain, as she feels sure she will, a salary of £60 to £100... She then sees before her a matronship, perhaps first of a cottage hospital, with six to ten beds, and then of a larger hospitals, with a salary of £150, £300 and even £400...
If she stays in her civil hospital promotion is rapid. Few people realize how rapid...
But in the military service the promotion will be, and always has been, very slow. In civil work there are many openings for obtaining a better position and salary, in military nursing very few. Another reason why promotion must be slow in military nursing is that once having been in it for any length of time a nurse, never mind what her position, is absolutely debarred from any nursing appointment outside the Service. No matron of a civil hospital would take into her hospital a nurse who has been in a military hospital - a nurse who has had no experience in the nursing of women and children or of old people. It is a specialized service. So equally no committee would ever appoint as matron of a civil hospital a nurse from a military hospital; she would not have been in close touch with all the modern improvements which every year take place in the big civil hospitals. Thus all outlets are closed to women in the military service ... and the result is that "once in, always in" must be the state of affairs for any woman taking up military nursing. To sum up, if a nurse stays in military nursing she unquestionably loses her nursing pecuniary value. Her capital, so to speak, is depreciated.'

The Nursing Board solution to these problems was to offer a new, increased salary and pension scale which still did not look particularly attractive alongside the civil hospital scales that they had just set out. I find it interesting to reflect on the "once in, always in" comment, and the depressing view that on leaving the service, these well-trained and educated women would be found useless in civil nursing. Neither have the Board extolled the virtues of the Service, particularly the opportunities of overseas travel, and a certain security in their everyday life. I'm sure that many 'leavers' went on to have productive and rewarding careers after leaving military nursing, but these notes do provide an interesting angle on QAIMNS and its perceived 'elite' status.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

What's in a Name?

Soon after War broke out in 1914, No.3 London General Hospital (Territorial Force) was mobilised at the Royal Patriotic School, Wandsworth Common. The Commanding Officer, Colonel Bruce Porter, agreed to take on a group of men as Royal Army Medical Corps orderlies, all members of the Chelsea Arts Club, who were either too old, or unfit for military service, but who wanted to contribute to the war. Thus, he accumulated a wonderful collection of artists, sculptors, writers and poets, and laid the foundations for a hospital journal which became a prince among all others - The 3rd London General Gazette. It contains artwork, poetry both serious and humorous, cartoons, anecdotes of daily life in the hospital - hard to describe such a treasure trove. One of these Chelsea Arts Club men, Ward Muir, became the editor of the Gazette, and continued to write prolifically throughout the war. Here he describes the problems of addressing women in general, and some pitfalls facing the unwary when in the proximity of the trained nurse.

SISTER by J. Ward Muir

"There is a deal of difference, in hospital, between the word Sister and the word Nurse. Sister is, of course, a Nurse. But Nurse is not a Sister. However, there is nothing to prevent you calling Nurse 'Sister' - provided that Sister herself is not at your elbow. If she is, you had better be careful, both for your own sake and for Nurse's.
Some wearily-wise orderlies, and many patients of my experience, apostrophise all the female officials of a hospital as 'Sister.' The plan has its merits... Apart from the fact that it can offend none, and will cajole not a few, some universal appellation of this sort is - the soldier finds - almost a necessity in his constant dealing with women who are strangers to him.
He comes into contact with a host of women, especially after he is wounded; not only nursing women, but women on the ambulances, women who serve refreshments at halting places, women clerks who take his particulars, women who trace casualties, women who transact postal errands, and so on... To address them each indiscriminately as 'Miss' is absurd... 'Madam' is pedantic. 'Nurse' is in many instances manifestly ridiculous; you cannot call a clerical V.A.D. or a Y.M.C.A. waitress 'Nurse.' So, by a process of elimination, 'Sister' is reached.
Thus is comes to pass, the Mlle. Peroxide of the Frivol Theatre who takes a turn at ladling out cups of coffee in a railway-station canteen (with a press photographer handy) finds that the mud-stained Tommies are saying 'Another slice of cake, please, Sister,' or 'Any fags for sale here, Sister?' The Duchess, too, who is cutting bread-and-butter hears herself hailed by the same designation. And if both Miss Peroxide and the Duchess are not flattered (and maybe a little moved, too) I should be surprised.
For really, you know, 'Sister' is the happy word. It fits the situation - all such situations. Wouldn't it be possible to add one perfect touch; that our women comrades should drop into the habit of addressing us as 'Brother'? Officers and men alike - 'Brother'! It would be a symbol, this, of what the war ought to mean to us all; a fine collaboration of high and low, equals in endeavour...

When I was first put into a ward to serve as an orderly I was instructed beforehand that the only person to be entitled Sister was the goddess with the Stripes. Eager to be correct, I addressed the Staff Nurse as 'Nurse.' At once I divined there was something wrong. Her lips tightened. In a frigid voice she informed me of the significance of the Cape: all Cape-wearers held a status equivalent to that of a commissioned officer in the army, and must be treated as such by privates like myself. All Cape-wearers were to be accorded the proper courtesies and addressed as Sister. Furthermore, the speaker, realising that I was now a recruit, and therefore perhaps ignorant, would have me know that all Cape-wearers had undergone certain years of training... The speaker concluded by a sketch of her past career - I was held up in the midst of an urgent job to hearken to it - and a rough estimate of the relative indispensability of the female compared with the male staff. Finally I was dismissed with an injunction to hurry, and finish my incompleted task. 'Very good, Sister,' I replied.
Half an hour later, in a pause in the morning's rush, I was beckoned aside into the ward kitchen by Sister herself. She gently apprised me that, as I was a new recruit, she thought perhaps I was not yet aware of the accurate modes of address and the etiquette customary in a military hospital. Etcetera, etcetera. She had overheard me call the Staff Nurse 'Sister.'

Enough. One may smile at these exhibitions of feminine human nature (and I could match them, absolutely, on the male side), but when all is said and done 'Sister' is a beautiful title, and most of the women who receive it - whether correctly or because, by war service, they have had it bestowed upon them - richly deserve it as a token of gratitude and honour."

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Blue Plaque - an update

In May this year I wrote about English Heritage Blue Plaques, and said that I'd sent in a proposal for a plaque to be placed on one of the two houses in Chelsea that was home to Dame Maud McCarthy. Born in Australia, she came to England in 1891 and trained as a nurse at The London Hospital. She served as a member of the Army Nursing Service Reserve in South Africa during the Boer War, and joining QAIMNS in 1902 she later became Matron-in-Chief with the British Expeditionary Force, serving in France and Flanders from 1914 to 1919.
This plaque proposal was considered (with many others) at English Heritage's Committee meeting in October, and yesterday I heard that it has been considered worthy to go forward for full historical research. They always have many proposals in the pipeline, and this next step is likely to take at least two or three years, but it's very encouraging that the first hurdle has been overcome.

English Heritage Blue Plaques

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Military Medals

In June 1916 the Royal Warrant for the Military Medal was amended so that women could also be eligible for the award. Since 1883 the Royal Red Cross had been awarded to nurses for outstanding acts of bravery and devotion to duty during the course of their work, and was much revered by the profession as a reward for services above the normal call of duty. However, during the Great War the RRC was separated into two classes, 1st class (RRC) and 2nd class (Associate or ARRC) and was issued by the thousand to women who although engaged in some way in the nursing of sick and wounded soldiers, were not necessarily trained nurses. It became an anomaly that due to a 'quota' system, the untrained Commandant of a forty-bedded Red Cross Hospital could receive the RRC for running her small unit efficiently, while the Matron of a 2000-bedded British General Hospital who was working sixteen-hour days on the Western Front went without. When nursing sisters and other women workers in France and Flanders became increasingly subject to the dangers of German air-raids and shelling, many of them showed the most outstanding bravery and disregard for their own safety in order to protect and care for the patients in their charge. The amendment of the Royal Warrant extending the award of the Military Medal to women provided a prestigious alternative to the Royal Red Cross, and one which would recognise a small group of women who had acted with great courage under fire.

During the Great War 135 Military Medals were awarded to women, both civilians and those working in military hospitals. Fifty-five of those awards were to members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service, and I've recently put details of these women, with citations for their awards, on the Scarletfinders website. The citations are those written by the officer responsible for submitting the names for consideration, and vary in their content and descriptive quality, but give an excellent picture of the magnificent work and outstanding actions of nurses during the normal course of their work during the Great War.

The pages can be found by following this link:

Scarletfinders - Military Medals awarded to members of QAIMNS and TFNS

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Training Hospitals 1902

As I've got an enforced period of sitting at home at present, I've had some time to go through documents I've found, and re-read some of those I'd forgotten about. When QAIMNS was formed in 1902, it was planned to improve its exclusivity by only accepting applications from women who had been trained at the best hospitals in the country. In the event it soon became obvious that this method would never provide enough applicants, and the rules were rapidly relaxed, but this extract from the minutes of the QAIMNS Nursing Board that year gives the list of preferred institutions - I wonder what a similar list would look like today?

The National Archives WO243/20
Minutes of Nursing Board, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service 1902

List of approved hospitals and training schools
The Board has at its disposal information concerning hospitals with accommodation for about 100 patients and upwards in the UK and British Dominions, in which training for nurses is provided. It has come to the conclusion that the training in these institutions varies greatly, and also varies from time to time in individual institutions. In many of these institutions it is clear that the training provided for nurses is not of the standard which should be recognised for the purposes of the QAIMNS.
The Board concludes that it will not be advisable at present to draw up a definite list of hospitals and nurse training schools, but for convenience of the Board it recommends that the Nurse Training Schools attached to Schools of Medicine in the UK should for the present be recognised for the purposes of QAIMNS. In the case of nurses applying for admission from other training schools, the application of each nurse should be specially considered by the Nursing Board and recorded in its minutes.
List of approved institutions:

Charing Cross Hospital
Guy's Hospital
King's College Hospital
The London Hospital
Middlesex Hospital
Royal Free Hospital
St. Bartholomew's Hospital
St. George's Hospital
St. Mary's Hospital
St. Thomas' Hospital
University College Hospital
Westminster Hospital

Birmingham General Hospital
Birmingham, The Queen's Hospital
Bristol General Hospital
Bristol Royal Infirmary
Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge
Cardiff Infirmary
Leeds General Infirmary
Liverpool General Infirmary
Manchester Royal Infirmary
Newcastle-on-Tyne Royal Infirmary
Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
Dundee Royal Infirmary
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
Glasgow Royal Infirmary
Glasgow Western Infirmary

Belfast, Royal Victoria Infirmary
Dublin, Adelaide Hospital
Dublin, Mater Misericordiae
Dublin, St. Vincent's Hospital
Dublin, Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital
Dublin, The Richmond Hospital

Dear Father revisited

I've written previously about the social status of members of the 'Regular' QAIMNS service, and in June I commented this extract from a book by Penny Starns:

'Military nurses were recruited primarily from the ranks of officers' wives, widows and daughters, and this elitist recruitment practice, combined with royal patronage, ensured that the military nursing services occupied a prestigious position within the profession overall'

Doubting that most of these women were the daughters of army officers (there were definitely no wives or widows after 1902) I've now done a little more work on the profession of the fathers of those women who joined the service between its inauguration in March 1902 and the outbreak of the Great War (August 4th 1914).
There were 495 women who were appointed to Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service during this period, and I've fitted them in to one of fifty-eight occupational categories. As I have worked from the applicant's own description of her father's profession, there are varied descriptions of what is likely to be a similar job. For instance, I've used 'Minister of the Church' to include 'clergyman', 'clerk in holy orders', 'Weslyan minister' etc., and similarly 'Merchant' encompasses a multitude of trading - yarn, silk, gold and silver, corn, iron, wine, granite etc; the list is very long, but does not include shopkeepers, who were not very numerous in the list.
I found that of those fifty-eight categories, the top five accounted for half of the 495 women, and the top ten covered 350 in total - here are the top five:

Minister of the Church - 60
Farmer - 57
Merchant - 49
Army Officer - 46
Doctor/Surgeon - 35

There is no bottom five as such; twenty-three fathers have a profession unique to the list, and they include a museum curator, lithographer, a public analyst, the manager of a salmon fishery and a Writer to the Signet (I'll leave that to Google!).
This is a rough and ready appraisal, but certainly shows that there was considerable diversity in the background of QAIMNS nurses which probably veered rather more to peace and love than to war.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Researching a Nurse

For some time I've had a page on the Scarletfinders website which offers some ideas for people who are trying to trace nurses who served during the Great War, and I thought it might be useful to repeat it here. It outlines some of the main sources of records, most of which are not available online, and could lead on to some travelling and footwork, but hopefully a worthwhile cause.


It's often the case that the only thing you know about a family member is that she was 'a nurse in the Great War', but have no inkling of where to look for more information. Hopefully this page will give you some idea of where to start. The term 'nurse' is used frequently and rather loosely in connection with the Great War. Women who worked as nurses could have been trained, partly trained or untrained. They could have been employed by the War Office; the Joint War Committee (British Red Cross Society and St. John Ambulance Association); the French Red Cross (Croix Rouge); any number of independent organizations such as the Scottish Women's Hospital, or in ordinary civil hospitals in the United Kingdom. They might also have worked with the military nursing services of Canada, South Africa, New Zealand or the USA. If you're looking for a trained nurse, the first thing to do is check the Catalogue of The National Archives to see if she is included in class WO399, which contains all surviving files of women who served with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service:

The National Archives Catalogue

Put the surname in the 'Word or Phrase' box, and in the 'Department or Series Code' box put WO399. If you're searching for a common surname, remember to scroll through the complete results, as although they will be displayed as one continuous list, there are two separate alphabetical runs combined. If you find the right person, you will find her service file number, but the records themselves are not online. Not all files have survived, some being destroyed during the 1930s. If your nurse served overseas with the Army medical services, the British Red Cross or one of the recognised independent organizations, she would have been entitled to service medals, and should have a medal index card at The National Archives. These cards, in themselves, do not give a lot of information, but if you're working in the dark they are particularly useful for finding which organization a woman was attached to, and her position or rank. Start with this page on TNA website:

TNA Documents Online

Follow the 'Search' link and on the next page choose 'WW1 Campaign Medals' to access the search page. For trained nurses it's always worth searching the archives of the British Journal of Nursing, which are complete and online for the period from 1888-1956. This is a wonderful resource both for tracing nurses, and for general information on the history of nursing:

British Journal of Nursing

Use the 'Search Journals' link, and try to keep it as simple as possible - just surname if it's unusual to stand alone, and remembering to insert a full stop after initials if you're using them. Not all trained nurses get a mention, but it's often possible to trace a woman's career for many years. Fully trained nurses who continued to work after 1922 are likely to have registered with the General Nursing Council following the Nurses Registration Act of 1919, and their details might be found in the Registers of the GNC. A run of these are held at The National Archives in class DT10, and also by the Royal College of Nursing. These volumes contain details of name, number on the Register, training school with dates, and permanent address at time of publication. Registers for women trained in Scotland are held by the National Archives of Scotland, and also by the Royal College of Nursing in Edinburgh.

Untrained nurses (VADs) and trained nurses who worked for the Joint War Committee often have service records held by the British Red Cross Society in London, and it's always worth an enquiry. Information and contact details are here:

British Red Cross Society personnel records

Going back a bit further, there are limited service records available for women who joined the Army Nursing Service between 1870 and 1891, and which are held at The National Archives in class WO25/3955. Unfortunately there are none for those who joined between 1891 and 1914 unless they went on to serve during the Great War and have a file in WO399 (see above). However, their postings to different hospitals can be found by tracing them through copies of the Army List, available at The National Archives and many other large libraries and archives. Many nurses who served during the Boer War, either in the Army Nursing Service or Princess Christian's Army Nursing Service Reserve, can be found in the database on this website - it's been updated recently and seems a little more difficult to navigate, but persevere:

Boer War Nurses

If you know where your nurse trained, there might still be records held of her time there. The location of all surviving hospital records are held on a national database jointly held by The National Archives and the Wellcome Library:

Hospital Records Database

Note that none of these records are acutally held at TNA - the details of each hospital will give you the current location with scope and dates. For more advice about tracing nurses in civil hospitals see this page on the Royal College of Nursing website, which contains much useful information, addresses and links:

Tracing Nurses

I get asked increasingly about tracing members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service who served in the Second World War. All service records for these women are still retained by the Ministry of Defence, and are only available to the nurse herself, her next of kin or their representatives. Full details and the address for all enquiries is here:

Ministry of Defence personnel records

Happy hunting!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Gallipoli 1915 - Part Two

Suvla, August 1915.

Every day that passes shows more plainly that the great attack has failed. The Australians, I gather, had a success on the 2nd, at Tasmania Post, but their losses were very heavy. Those on the spot appear to know rather less than more of the real issues. Everything seems in a terrible muddle, but the scattered utterances I hear are very dispiriting.

“We got there,” Colonel ‘A’ told me; and his voice was unutterably weary when he added: “and then we had to come back.”

It seems that the Gurkhas and some of the Irish struggled up to the heights of Sari Bair under murderous fire, and there waited for the rest of the detachment, greatly exulting if suffering severely; the others lost themselves and never reached their comrades in front, who had to retire exposed to fire from the same guns. I never listened to a sadder story.
We rise at 6 a.m., and are seldom in bed before midnight. Upon the arrival of the “Gloucester Castle,” surgical operations commenced and were continued for thirty-six hours without a pause, and it is fortunate that the weather kept fine. The poor maimed suffering boys – for the majority of the wounded are nothing more than boys in years – like in rows on the deck outside the operating theatre, just as they are taken from the lighter, awaiting their turn. After being operated upon they are carried to the wards, thus saving them unnecessary moving and handling. How wonderfully brave and uncomplaining they are.

“Just let me have a look at that,” said one lad. “It’s only my mother,” he added, with a shy little smile. Poor boys! Poor mothers! So far apart. They are worse off than those in France.

The mental strain weighing on the officers runs through their delirious mutterings. One Captain must have been hit just after he had sent an important despatch, for he is continually muttering, “That fellow ought to be back.” “He got through all right.” “I watched him all the way down, it is time he was back.” “I cannot think why he does not come.” Only death ends his anxiety. Another shot through both lungs, keeps starting up and saying he must get back, he is wanted. “I’d be fit enough if you would only give me something strong to pull me together. Can’t you give me anything?” On trying to drink he falls back gasping, only to start all over again until unconsciousness comes to his relief. Another patients is suffering from almost complete paralysis; he was knocked down and covered by rock and debris; he is quite award of the gravity of his case, but very rarely does he give way. (I am glad to say that reports show he was making a good recovery in England.)

The transport of the seriously wounded down the rough mountain tracks was both painful and slow. A major of the Royal Irish, who had been shot through the lung, said how dreadfully he had suffered from the jolting of the stretcher; he was almost unconscious at the time but can just remember someone leaning over him and saying, “He’s done for, poor chap.” The less seriously wounded were full of fun; one staff officer, from whose leg a bullet has been extracted at his own request without chloroform, insists on hopping round on his good leg to talk to the others. He does his comrades so much good that the nurses pretend not to see him disobeying orders right under their eyes. He knows Captain “D” who is dying unconscious with a fractured base, and promises to write to Captain “D’s” people. There are a large number of medical officers and chaplains among the patients; one Roman Catholic padre being seriously wounded.

There is no cover of any sort on shore, and at the dressing station fragments of bursting shell splash into the basins, so that the staff have to seize their patients and scamper with them along the beach.. On the ship, accommodation has been provided for an extra four hundred patients by putting mattresses and hammocks along the decks. As they lie there huddled together as close as possible, they have to be sorted out and dressed; then entered on the nominal roll. Oh, that nominal roll! The Commanding Officer is heard to talk of it every night in his sleep. One unregistered officer was discovered on deck, raving and delirious; another, lying among some lightly wounded, was so faint that he could not call; his face was disfigured with ugly sores, his uniform in rags, and his badges missing. Whenever an orderly cannot be found near his duties, he is generally found talking to a young Australian who is lying in a hammock, and who has lost both of his legs and his eyesight, while one arm is fractured; yet he lives and jokes and sings. He is known as “Tipperary.” (He reached Alexandria, but after that I lost sight of him.)

Three miles out from Suvla the ship slackens speed and the dead are committed to the deep. Ships carrying sick proceed to Lemnos, where orders are received either to transfer th epatients to a home-bound ship, or take them to one of the Mediterranean bases. In spite of the rush and scramble, anti-tetanic serum is being given with great regularity and with good results. There are some very bad cases of gas-gangrene; one young New Zealander, who was lying out for twenty-four hours with a compound fracture, lost first his leg and then his life from this condition. Even slight shell and shrapnel wounds are complicated by much bruising of the surrounding tissues and need to be treated with great judgement. Cases of dysentery, gastro-enteritis and colitis are very numerous; there is also a good deal of paratyphoid, but inoculation has done much to diminish cases of enteric. The “Gloucester Castle” has twice the number of patients it is supposed to accommodate, and on an average a fresh lot are received every week, consequently the supply of hospital suits on board is not sufficient to meet this demand, and as the patients come on board covered with dirt and blood, and it being impossible to deal with the patients’ own clothing, the Red Cross clothing is found invaluable.
August 1915 will not soon be forgotten by any who spent it in the Dardanelles.

Malta, December 1915

It is always pleasant to get to Malta, the patients feel that they are half-way home. Lemnos now is terribly bleak, and although Mudros harbour appears sheltered, it can blow furiously there and show as cold and dreary an aspect as any spot on earth.
December has been the saddest month of the saddest year! At the end of November (27) one of the most furious storms broke over the much tried troops at Suvla and Anzac. Those who lived through it say it seemed as if the Powers of Darkness had broken loose. The wind howled and shrieked, wrecking buildings and tearing up every shelter. Provisions and clothing were carried away and destroyed by flooded torrents that burst from the hills. To sleep or prepare any food was impossible.
One officer came across some men reeling drunk with spirits they had taken from a wrecked store; they were staggering unsteadily along, bearing a stretcher with a wounded man, yet the officer said that at the time it did not surprise him, it just seemed part of the pandemonium that reigned everywhere. The storm and floods lasted three whole days and were followed by a severe frost. This cold weather had not been expected so soon and very few possessed any warm footgear, consequently hundreds of frostbitten cases were received on board. The Gurkhas suffered badly and I am afraid some of them will lose their feet. After this it was a relief to hear that Suvla and Anzac were to be evacuated, and although the evacuation was a severe blow to one’s pride, there was considerable satisfaction when, a few days before Christmas, the evacuation order was successfully carried out.
The Australian troops felt the leaving very bitterly; they had struck deep roots at Anzac, but they entered into it with zest and even got some fun out of it. Groups of half a dozen remained behind to run up and down the gullies showing lights so as to give the impression that the usual number were there. Already their hearts are set on France: it is there that they wished to go. A very interesting picture of a group who had been in the first landing, eight months previous, was taken on the last hospital ship from Anzac. A staff group, photographed on the deck of the “Aragon,” had a narrow escape. A Taube dropped a bomb on the spot where the group had been standing, a few minutes after they had dispersed.

One of the hardships of the Gallipoli campaign was its remoteness for sick and wounded. Those invalided home from France could see their people almost immediately, but what patient cared about getting to Malta or Alexandria? And how deeply they loathed Lemnos; mails, too, were scanty and irregular. A particular case I have in mind is of an officer who was suffering from a very serious head wound, and how, on his partially regaining consciousness, his eyes would rove about so wistfully, seeking for some familiar face. I used to think that his groping senses might have cleared could they but have settled on someone he knew. It was pathetic to hear this officer ask over and over again, “Where? Where?” Colonel Balance spent considerable time on board in consultation over this particular case; his sympathy and kindness to the patient made a great impression on me. (I had the pleasure of being shown round the beautifully equipped hospital at Ligne by Colonel Balance. My patient eventually died in that hospital.)
What should we do in these times without some of the lighter interludes? A major who was suffering from a contused wound of the head caused roars of laughter by his account of how he was hit by a tin of biscuits. His dug-out was protected by a barricade of stores consisting chiefly of tins of biscuits; a shell went right through them, alighting in the last case but one, but without exploding, the last tin being thrown with some violence on to his head. It was a wonderful escape and the major boasts that he is the only man in the British Army who knows exactly through how many tins of biscuits that particular kind of shell will penetrate.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Gallipoli 1915

Here is a further account taken from 'Reminiscent Sketches 1914 to 1919' written by members of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service and the Reserve. This one is taken from diary entries written by Mary E. Webster while she was working on board the hospital ship 'Gloucester Castle.' Split into two parts, it gives a flavour both of the landscape, and of life on a hospital ship over several weeks.

By M. E. Webster

H.M.H.S. “Gloucester Castle,” Lemnos, July 1915.

If it were not for the dark war-clouds, nothing could have been more delightful than this trip through the summer seas, with the blue, sunlit waters and purple islands whose names are poems in themselves. Milo! Paros! Naxos! Samos! Chios! How these conjure up visions of gleaming marbles, rose-wreathed cups, gods and goddesses! Surely no youthful Greek hero ever displayed a finer shape, or more noble poise, than the Australian soldiers who could be seen bating from a transport moored near the “Gloucester Castle” in Mudros harbour. The physical beauty of the Australian soldier was startling, their vitality wonderful. They are at Gallipoli, not driven by fear of invasion (the remoteness of their country saves them from that), but they are here from sheer love of adventure and loyalty to the mother country. Willing even to die if need be.

Lemnos is about sixty miles from the fighting – roughly six hours’ steaming. It is an island of green hills, with bare, stony summits and quaint windmills. In the spring the country is deliciously green, and the grass starred with asphodel lilies and every kind of wild flower. Even now there is just one lovely hour before sunset, when purple shadows lie on the slopes and hollows, and the dull hues of sand and dry grass turn to orange and gold. The glories of the sky and fascinating outlines of mast and hull are reflected in the quiet water; but the midday heat is brazen, for there are no trees. I have heard that this is due to the reckless destruction of timber by the Turks. In the old Greek days the island was well wooded and watered, and a favourite country resort for visitors from the mainland. Now it is a wilderness of drought and flies. Clouds of dust hang over the camps and hospital tents, entirely enveloping any moving van or car. Existence on shores is poisoned by dust and flies, making sleep impossible, contaminating food and drink, and infecting wounds.

Over a hundred vessels lie in this crescent-shaped harbour; battle-ships of many kinds, transports, cargo boats, mine-sweepers, hospital ships, and Greek fishing boats side by side. Our Headquarters Staff is located on the R.M.S.S. “Aragon,” and it is there we report for orders. In the elaborately glazed deck spaces and saloons, red-tabbed officers innumerable “live and move and have their being.” A visitor on board the “Aragon” once remarked that “he had never seen such a __ __ conservatory full of scarlet geraniums in his life!

Anzac, first week in August, 1915.

The “Gloucester Castle” lies about a mile from the shore at Gaba Lepe – now known as the Anzac beach in honour of the Australians and New Zealand Army Corps. It is only a narrow strip of beach, backed by bold red-coloured bluffs, deeply scarred and furrowed in their formation, and reaching to a height of nearly 1,000 feet. There are occasional tracks like those of a mountain goat, with here and there little terraced spaces. The face of the cliffs is covered here and there with patches of dull green prickly undergrowth, chiefly consisting of a shrub resembling holly, but bearing acorns; these, however, scarcely relieve the red-hot glare of the midday. In the distance on the right is Achi-Baba, and on the left, beyond the New Zealand lines, the land falls away into a tree-dotted plain, while beyond that again are the Salt Lake and Chocolate Hill. In the early morning and at sundown this strange, forbidding coast assumes a beauty all of its own; the gullies are deeply blue, and the sea and sky glow with wonderful tints; then, as the darkness falls, lights spring out up and down the hillside, like busy fireflies.

The insistent tapping of machine-guns and the sharp reports of the snipers who are no longer afraid of betraying their hiding place destroy the silence of the night. Sometimes stray bullets are found embedded in the woodwork on board. One of the best Australian snipers is of partly Chinese origin. The costume of a Turkish sniper was brought on board. It was of a dull green colour like the foliage, with coverings for face, hands and feet. Some snipers prefer to paint their faces. The Turks who know the country have found and provisioned posts in most of the larger trees, where they stay for a week or more. In the day time, shelling goes on for hours at a time. The white smoke of the bursting shells can be seen against the blue hills. “Beechy Bill” is responsible for many casualties, and “Tucker Time Liz” always chooses the meal hours; there is really no good cover either on sea or shore.

We have been interested in watching a mine-sweeper dodging about for three days trying to land a cargo of hand-grenades. At last she was hit and stopped alongside the “Gloucester Castle” for a few minutes to leave one of the crew whose arm had bee literally torn off. (I am glad to say he is getting well.) We hear few particulars on board, but can gather that this is to be a great and decisive week. Many senior officers have come on board to rest before their turn comes; they say that a bath and a well-served meal make new men of them, but that the sheets and soft beds keep them awake. Bathing on the beach is very dangerous and strictly forbidden. There is an Australian patient named McRodgers, who won the V.C. and a commission in South Africa, and is now of the Australian Army Service Corps. He is over 40 years of age, and has a fractured skull and arm, but does not consider himself permanently incapacitated to say the least. The “Gloucester Castle” leaves Anzac on August 6, with all the sick and wounded who unfit to take part in the decisive action of the following days. High hopes are held by all who are left behind.

(to be continued)

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Australian VADs

There doesn't seem to be a great deal of information out there about the part played by Australian and Canadian VADs during the Great War, so I was interested to find this British Red Cross Society document which gives an account of the work of an Australian VAD detachment in England. I'm always puzzled that while Britain was struggling to staff its own hospitals; had few spare trained nurses, and was pushed to the limits to find suitable VADs to augment the numbers, the Canadians and Australians remained unwilling to release some of their own trained staff to the British and employ VADs to fill the gaps. The writer of the article sounds a bit puzzled too.


36, Grosvenor Place,

29th September 1919

The Australian Imperial Voluntary Aid Detachment was inaugurated in March 1918. Office accommodation was provided at the Australian Red Cross, 36 Grosvenor Place, and every possible assistance was afforded by Lady Ampthill, Colonel Murdoch and Lady Mitchell, to make the scheme a success.

Members who joined the detachment were assured of official recognition, their status being acknowledged by the Imperial Government and the Australian Red Cross Authorities. Therefore it was thought that the many Australian women who were working in England and France would be glad to be united in one organisation, the officers of which would be responsible for their welfare and be pleased to help them in all difficulties connected with their various duties. There was never at any time any intention to disturn members who were already on duty in British Hospitals, or workers with the Australian Red Cross. There were at liberty to join or not, just as they pleased.

In October 1916 Australia had sent over thirty V.A.Ds. to England. These ladies were all members of detachments in Australia and were lent to the British Red Cross to help nurse the wounded in the British Hospitals. These members, together with the various Red Cross workers at Headquarters, formed the nucleus of the detachment. The ranks were quickly filled, new members enrolling daily and officers were appointed. The Uniform worn by the members is the regulation dress of the British Red Cross Society, with the distinctive badges granted by the A.I.F. Authorities, i.e. the bronze “Rising Sun” with the Red Cross in the centre. The hat badge was the same as that of the Joint War Committee and Princess Mary's Detachment.

Generally speaking, all detachments are divided into two classes, Nursing Members and General Service Members, and the latter class included all descriptions of clerical workers, motor drivers, orderly workers in hospitals etc. For various reasons, the Australian Medical Authorities declined to admit nursing V.A.Ds. into their hospitals. This decision was difficult to understand, in view of the fact that Australian Hospitals in France were chiefly filled by British wounded and the Australian wounded were scattered in various British hospitals where V.A.Ds. were freely employed. General Howes had decided to employ V.A.D. General Service Workers at the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Southall. Very few Australian women did this kind of work in the hospitals and the members for these duties were mainly drawn from British Detachments. Arrangements were made, however, in the case of any Australian girl wishing to do this work for her to be given the first opportunity where any vacancy occurred.

Australian girls being barred from nursing in their own hospitals and wishing to do this form of work had to do it in the British hospitals in England and France. That they carried out their duties most successfully is evident from the reports of the Matrons of the several hospitals. I regret to report that Miss Kathleen Adele Brennan (N.S.W.) who had done excellent work, died on the 24th November 1918 while serving at the North Evington War Hospital, Leicester.

At Australian Red Cross Headquarters the members were divided into five sections – the Wounded, Missing and Enquiry Bureau; Prisoners of War Department; Entertainment Department; Hospital Visitors and Supplies, and the Newspaper Department. The Wounded, Missing and Enquiry Bureau was under the able direction of Miss Vera Deakin (Victoria) Assistant Commandant, with Miss Johnson and Miss Lily Wrybrow (Victoria) as Quartermasters. After the return of Miss Deakin and Miss Johnson to Australia, Miss Wrybrow was promoted Assistant Commandant, and carried on the work in a most efficient matter. The Prisoners of War Department, under the splendid organisation of Miss Mary Chomley (Victoria) as Commandant, and Miss Pauline Reid (W.A.) the General Service Superintendent, did work which will never be forgotten. The Entertainment Committee under Miss Florence A. Aikman, the Quartermaster and Assistant Secretary to the Committee, worked exceedingly hard to make the entertainments the success they undoubtedly were. The fourth section consisted of members of the detachment in charge of the Australian Red Cross Stores in various hospitals and Hospital Visitors. The Newspaper Section under the direction of Mrs. Aimee Hewson (Asst. Quartermaster) and Miss Florence Henty (Asst. Quartermaster) worked wonderfully and these ladies deserve particular thanks for their devotion to their entirely voluntary duties. The work was particularly well done.

It is not possible to speak too highly of the way V.A.Ds. have responded to the unique opportunity of training and practical work under supervision. At its maximum strength the membership of the Detachment was 186, comprising 37 officers and 149 members (nursing, clerical and general service). As explaining the large number of officers in proportion to members it must be remembered that V.A.D. officers were often in command of a large number of civilian workers in addition to V.A.Ds.

The advantages of the formation of the Australian detachment were apparent in many ways. The conditions under which the members were working and the accommodation provided by the several institutions where they were engaged were investigated and where necessary efforts were made for their improvement. Members were assisted to find suitable work for their several attainments, and encouraged to keep in touch with Australian Headquarters and each other. As a result of being attached to an organised unit they obtained privileges from which they would otherwise have been debarred. We have been able to render much assistance to members during the difficult process of repatriation, and in recognition of their long and arduous service special privileges were secured for Australian V.A.Ds. which have been greatly appreciated by the Members of the Detachment.

I cannot conclude this report without saying how greatly I appreciate the privilege of being associated with such a splendid band of workers, who have rendered such helpful and devoted services at great personal sacrifice and often under very trying conditions. They have thoroughly deserved the appreciation of those who have benefited by their efforts during this long and terrible war.

Rose H. Robinson

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Keep those nurses under control!

By 1916 it was becoming obvious that there were not enough trained nurses to staff the ever-increasing number of military hospitals both at home and abroad, while continuing to maintain essential services for civilians. A Committee was set up by the War Office to look at the supply of nurses, and to suggest what measures might be taken to improve the numbers available. This confidential memo, originating from the British Red Cross Society, and dated 1 December 1916, sets out some of the ideas that were put forward during the early days of the Committee.

  1. A Register to be kept of all Trained Nurses who leave their training schools.
  2. All independent trained nurses (private, retired, etc.,) to be invited to volunteer for War Service. (The difficulty of this is that you will get all the cast-offs, unsuitables etc., but it is worth risking as you may also get a proportion of useful women).
  3. By this means the names of all available trained nurses would gradually be carded on a Register.
  4. No Auxiliary Nursing Services such as Joint Committee, Anglo-French, Scottish Women, French Flag etc., would be allowed to draw upon Trained Nurses except through the W.O. Register.
  5. All War Hospitals could draw upon the War Office Register.
  6. Auxiliary and V.A.D. Hospitals would not be allowed more than a certain number of Trained Nurses, all of whom would be registered on War Office cards.
  7. Establishments of Civil Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Co-operative and other Private Nurse Organisations etc., would be carefully enquired into and limitations laid down.
  8. No transfers of Trained Nurses would be allowed except through W.O. Register.
  9. All Nurses registered who do not wear either the uniform of the Q.A.I.M.N.S. or the T.F.N.S. to be allowed to wear a badge or something to show that their work is recognised by the W.O. whether for the Army, Navy or Civilians.
  10. Instead of closing the Nursing Homes in order to get the Nurses, it would be advisable to encourage them and to insist upon the rich Civil Population which usually employs private nurses being nursed in such Homes, where more than one patient share a trained nurse. This would effect a greater economy as Probationers could be used for minor duties.
  11. This W.O. Register would necessitate the setting up of a new Department. This could only be a gain as the present system by which there are innumerable War Hospitals, Auxiliary, Private and V.A.D. Hospitals practically not supervised by the W.O. so far as the organisation, control and efficiency of the Trained Nurses and Probationers is concerned, tends to both wastage and inefficiency and want of proper discipline. From our point of view at Devonshire House, the present methods are most unsatisfactory. Only in the case of hospitals staffed by Miss Becher and Miss Sidney Browne are we certain of being able to get attention to anything affecting the comfort, welfare, control and discipline of the V.A.D. members we appoint. The War Hospitals are the most unsatisfactory of all.
  12. One more point. The raising of salaries or bonus. This is very desirable from one point of view, but we must not lose sight of the fact that both Miss Becher* and Miss Sidney Browne** have repeatedly stated that they have no difficulty in procuring sufficient Trained Nurses. Theirs are the popular services and yet it is only in these services that it is proposed to raise the salaries. Where the shortage of Trained Nurses really exists is in the hospitals which can ill afford an equivalent rise in salaries or the proposed bonus. We must not forget the Civil population and practically bribe nurses to neglect it in order to volunteer for what is already the most popular work. Is it fair to the Civil Hospitals to raise the standard of salaries for Trained Nurses at the moment when they are probably shorter of funds than ever before? We all agree that Nurses' salaries are too low, but is it fair to take advantage of the Country's need at a time of stress and to raise them now?
* Matron-in-Chief (War Office) Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Corps
** Matron-in-Chief, Territorial Force Nursing Service

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Second World War

Although my interests remain firmly fixed in the Great War, I get lots of enquiries from people researching their WW2 relatives. Many of them still remember their great-aunts or grandmothers who served as nurses at that time, though relatively few are still alive today.
I recently came across some Second World War documents at The National Archives; letters written by members of QAIMNS and the Territorial Army Nursing Service from various theatres of war, and have decided to add these personal accounts to the website. Half of them describe the events during the evacuation of the Casualty Clearing Stations from France in 1940, while the rest are from further afield, including Malta, Sicily, North Africa, Singapore and India.
Having just decided to give the research a break for the summer and poke my head outside, I seem to be back to slogging over new web pages again - just an addict I think! An introduction and link to the new content can be found on the following page - just a bit to start with, and it will be added to over the summer - unless 'outside' proves irresistible.

Scarletfinders - Second World War Accounts

Friday, 25 April 2008

The Trained Nurse and the VAD

I've recently been re-reading 'The Lamp and the Book.' Written by Gerald Bowman in 1967, it tells the story of the formation and evolution of the Royal College of Nursing from 1916-1966. I was particularly interested in Chapter 10: 'V.A.D.' in which he describes the relationship between trained nurses and members of Voluntary Aid Detachments during the Great War years. It describes all the fears of the two groups, and the fight of the trained women to maintain their professional standards and hang on to their jobs, in the face of a perceived threat from their untrained colleagues.

Chapter 10: V.A.D.

Members of the Voluntary Aid Detachments have already been mentioned in passing. This was an organization which had been formed by a joint committee of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the British Red Cross Society as far back as 1909. Although St. Thomas’s Hospital later gave members a very short semi-training, they were for the most part completely untrained, and the idea behind their embodiment had been that they should take the place of orderlies in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the case of war.
A very different situation developed. The V.A.D. girls came from better-off families and included a number of young women of title including, for a while, the much publicized Lady Diana Manners. Many of them were employed after the outbreak of war in mansion-hospitals specially converted for the nursing of wounded officers. They all wore a red cross upon the apron-bosom and upon the uniform cap, and naturally (because of their social background) they were much photographed and belauded in the general and pictorial Press.

Equally, naturally, they were not loved by the mass of experienced, really hard-working nurses who had little chance of (and in most cases no desire for) employment in the private hospitals run by titled dowagers. Even so, in justice to the V.A.D.s, a large proportion of them did useful work throughout the war, but it was an age in which snobbery was an accepted condition of life and many of them (usually those with the least claim to gentility) allowed it to be known that they did not consider themselves to be on a level with ‘ordinary nurses’. They were, of course, right, but not quite in the way they imagined. In short they were thoroughly and very understandably unpopular with the nursing profession, and when the war ended many of the qualified nurses had reason to suspect that the V.A.D.s would be competing with them unfairly in the professional employment market.
It was said that Arthur Stanley was secretly trying to get untrained V.A.D.s admitted to College membership because so many of them had good social background. A large number of people believed this, largely because people in general are more inclined to believe a rumour than to take the simple course of going to the right source and reading simple facts. If they had applied to the College, the efficient and dedicated Miss Rundle would have forthwith provided the truth as set out in Stanley’s own statements. But few did.
Naturally, trained nurses and nurses in practice who had learned their business by doing it for many years were resentful because Dr. Addison, the Minister of Health, had added to their fears by announcing: ‘We shall need many more nurses than we have ever had before, and we are fortunate in having … thousands of women who have gained experience in V.A.D. work.

Then the Government announced a Nurses’ Demobilization and Resettlement Committee, which while it was for the benefit of all nurses, also made the point that ex-V.A.D.s were to receive some sort of training. The result was that Stanley, by reason of his known connection with the Red Cross Society (part founders of the V.A.D.) was believed to be playing a double game. Nothing was further from the truth. Stanley had stated in public: ‘Our (the College’s) endeavour will be to draw a clear line between trained nurses and V.A.D.s and to encourage such of the latter who are suitable to obtain the three years’ certificate from a general hospital, which will enable them to become members of the College of Nursing.’
Both Arthur Stanley and Cooper Perry realized that the real position concerning V.A.D.’s was not clearly known by the majority of qualified nurses. One obvious result of the war was that several million men – boyfriends and husbands – had been killed. Another result was that money had changed hands with violent effect as between social classes. A good number of people had made fortunes but a vast number had lost calamitously. All over the country ‘comfortably off’ families of 1913 were finding by 1919 that they had little or nothing. Their daughters now had to earn a living, and owing to the enormous casualty rate of the war, had infinitely less chance of marriage.
It was from these classes, the middle and upper middle, who had suffered most financially from war, that most of the V.A.D.s came. The majority of them who now faced earning their bread had only what half-skill they had learned in war hospitals to bring to the market. They were genuinely in need of help, and the Government realized it and proposed a scheme to help them train fully.

Arthur Stanley had spoken with great care on the subject. He had proposed that only ‘such of them who are suitable’ should be trained further. There were left the large number who could never be turned into good nurses, as he knew in common with anyone else of hospital experience. For these, through the Red Cross, Arthur Stanley suggested a scheme which he felt would not only be workable and just, but which would not arouse the opposition of qualified nurses. He outlined the plan: ‘in every village a proper system under which V.A.D.s trained in home nursing and first aid, could work. They could perfectly well do all the small things such as attending to cuts and the like.’ In this sort of work he pointed out that it would be uneconomic to employ fully trained nurses who would be wasting most of their skill and time. In addition to this Stanley, in his negotiations with the Royal British Nurses’ Association, had agreed without question that untrained V.A.D.s should not be admitted to either of their Registers or the National Register.

In spite of all this Mrs. Bedford Fenwick blandly accused Stanley of proposing to push V.A.D.s into positions which should be reserved for trained nurses. Naturally, since her accusation was published in the columns of her British Journal of Nursing, there were many who believed it. However, the truth eventually prevailed by the unexpected – but what should have been obvious – help of the V.A.D.s themselves. They applied in large numbers for registration at the College, but found that the rule was being rigidly maintained. Only a three-year certificate of training from an approved hospital could gain them membership.
Naturally they talked about it. Naturally they reviled the College and all its works. In which they did the College a most valuable good turn, for the talk spread as talk always does, and wherever it spread it brought full confidence in the College among all the qualified and practising nurses in training for whom it had been founded.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

On the Radio ... Uh Oh ...

Last night I did an interview for ABC Radio National, Sydney, which went out this morning on their 'Life Matters' programme. My subject was Dame Maud McCarthy, and what can be gleaned about her from the official war diary which I've recently transcribed. Australian born and bred, she spent most of her life in the UK, and is not well-known over there. Or over here for that matter.
I received lots of good advice from friends and family; speak slowly... don't gabble or you'll sound rushed... whatever you do NO UMMs or ERRs... no throwaway quips or jokes - they will fall on stony ground... etc, etc. These were added to by the radio station staff - hold the phone down below the level of your chin... don't move it around while you're talking or it makes everything crackle...
Due to the time difference, I was sitting to attention by 10.50pm when the phone rang, not too sure what questions I was going to be asked, and with a stack of papers ranged out in front of me (please remember, don't rustle...) I'd done a bit of homework - listened to previous programmes, and checked out Sarah Macdonald, the interviewer, so I knew who I was talking too (I thought a bit like a young Edwina Currie?) and of course it all flashed by in the blink of an eye, without me really knowing if I'd ummed or erred or mentioned anything that could be taken even vaguely to be insulting to Australia (I really hope not).
Of course the first thing I did this morning was to click on to the 'Life Matters' website, and sat for some time pondering over whether I could possibly bear to listen to myself, but eventually couldn't resist the challenge. Surely not me? That ponderous old girl? I passed with flying colours on umms and errs, and definitely didn't gabble. In fact I sounded so laid back I was positively horizontal.
Note to self for 'next time' - forget about umms and errs, and just make sure the audience know you're still alive!

This weeks 'Life Matters' broadcasts can be heard on their website:

ABC Radio National 'Life Matters'

Sunday, 13 April 2008


Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief in France and Flanders, had a couple of portraits done during the war. One was the work of Austin Spare, who she sat for in the spring of 1919 and although it was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum I can't track down its present home. The other is a well-known work by Frank Salisbury, which was completed in 1917. The latter is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery, and I popped in there last week to have a look at the original.
The place was absolutely heaving with people - obviously a very popular choice for a free outing on a Saturday afternoon - and I had to weave and bob my way up to Room 30 on the first floor. Room 30 is a small room, and the theme of the 13 portraits displayed is the First World War - a selection of personalities who, by their actions during that period contributed to change within Britain. Unlike its neighbours, Room 30 was in semi-darkness, and I didn't feel that the lighting did justice to some of the works there.
The Frank Salisbury portrait of Maud McCarthy is a small work, and I felt disappointed by it on two accounts. Firstly, it just doesn't seem to bring out any of her vitality or personality; it's a very muddy portrait, the grey of her uniform barely distinguishable from the muddy brown of the background, and her face eclipsed between the strength of colour in the red of her collar trimmings and the dark brim of her hat. She looks rather pretty and womanly, but with no strength or definition in her face, and eyes that hardly look as though they have seen the world.
But worse than this, was the hanging scheme in the room. Miss McCarthy's portrait is hung above that of John Singer Sargent's portrait of Sir John French (so far so good), her eyes and shoulders inclined towards her left. On her left is a self-portrait of Dame Laura Knight with a nude figure, and I had to wonder what Maud thought of it all. The Knight picture was painted in 1913, so not actually of the period of Room 30, and the artist herself spent the entire war living in Cornwall, well away from the war - how does she come to be included here? What was her contribution to change during the Great War that puts her among Generals and Statesmen? And how can any contribution be compared to Miss McCarthy's five years in France, working 16 hour days, with just a few weeks leave during that whole period. I did think it might be some sort of joke by the staff of the NPG, on a theme of 'those who did, and those who did not.'
I don't think Maud McCarthy would have been happy with the thought that her gaze must fall in perpetuity on a nude woman who played no part in the war. But perhaps I'm prejudiced!

The contents of Room 30, the National Portrait Gallery, can be viewed by using the link below. One other slight 'oddity' there is Lady Ottoline Morrell, but even she can claim to having helped the Great War cause by allowing her house to be used as a convalescent home for officers.

Room 30 portraits, National Portrait Gallery

Friday, 4 April 2008


Over time I've collected a lot of books. When I moved to my present flat I knew less space meant that I would have to prune the number of books I took with me, and after unpacking I was left with about three full shelves. Six years later the number of both books and bookshelves has increased dramatically, and despite my disciplined approach to fiction, which I discard one way or another, I have an ever increasing collection of non-fiction and reference works. Recently I found out about, and have been using the site to catalogue my books. It's an interesting concept, and in addition to providing a convenient way to keep track and view what you either own or read, it also acts as a social network, allowing you to peek into other people's libraries, and discover who has similar tastes to your own. It struck me that there might be an element of 'showing off' attached to it, but I've found it thoroughly enjoyable. I've also discovered quite a few books that I forgot I had, which results in long pauses for browsing. The site can be found here:


Saturday, 29 March 2008

Edith Appleton's Diary

Recently I was contacted by Dick Robinson, to tell me about his great-aunt, Edith Appleton, a member of the QAIMNS Reserve during the Great War. She kept diary throughout her time in France, and members of her family have recently transcribed the diary, and Dick has now put it online. It's a wonderful account of life and work at casualty clearing stations, in hospital and on trains, alternating between outlining the horrors of her work and describing the pleasantries of her off-duty time. Edie has a dry sense of humour which must have helped her through some of the difficult times, both physical and emotional.

War Diary of Edith Appleton

Dip into it and enjoy!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

With the Italian Expeditionary Force

This is a second extract from the book 'Reminiscent Sketches', a selection of first-hand accounts by members of QAIMNS published in 1922. This one about the Italian Expeditionary Force gives an insight into a much neglected area, and one almost unknown to many people.


By D. M. Taylor

On a cold bleak morning, early in December 1917, I and my party arrived at the Italian Frontier on our way to join the Italian Expeditionary Force. The ground was white with snow, and it was exceedingly cold. The railway station was guarded by Italian soldiers, and even at the door of the refreshment room there was a sentry with a fixed bayonet. We were informed by the Railway Transport Officer that food was very short in Italy, and that he did not know where we were to go, but he would send us on to Turin, where we arrived about 5 p.m. No one appeared to know anything about us at Turin, so we were again sent on – this time to Genoa – and arrived there about midnight. Again we were not expected, so were taken to No.11 General Hospital to be kindly received and housed until quarters could be found for us.
There was one General and two Stationary Hospitals at Genoa. The first in a large hotel, the others in schools. Two of them already had patients and the other was being put in order. As there was no heating in the hotel, the building was intensely cold; it was, however, a very fine hotel with a marble staircase and beautiful baths, though at the time the baths were of little use, as there was no hot water. In the schools were some stoves which the patients thoroughly enjoyed. Later on we had an Infectious Hospital at Genoa, also a very nice hostel for sisters coming from the United Kingdom or moving about the country.
Although the weather was very cold, there was often bright sunshine by day. Shortly after I arrived I went to Arquata (which was the Base), where there was a nice little hospital close to the railway. The building had originally been a wine factory, and was compact and workable. The nursing staff consisted of the matron and sisters, who were attached to the Artillery unit, and who had been in the retreat. They had lost all their kit and possessions, and were spending their off-duty time in making cotton dresses out of grey material purchased in the village.
Arquata is a most beautiful spot, standing very high and surrounded by mountains. There was deep snow on the ground that day, and it was not at all certain that we would be able to cross the pass on our return journey. In spring and summer Arquata was a perfectly ideal spot, and the wonderful wild flowers there were a constant joy to us, while the sunsets were both grand and impressive.
Shortly after, I journeyed north to Cremona, where there were two Stationary Hospitals, both in schools. It was when arriving in Cremona in the early hours of the morning – on account of a bad breakdown with the car – that we were received by an Italian soldier who spoke English with a very strong Glasgow accent. He was employed as interpreter at the Sisters’ Mess. He had been born and brought up in Glasgow, where his father, an Italian ice-cream vendor, had married a Glasgow woman; but the Matron explained that he was not of great use as an interpreter as he hardly knew any Italian. There was deep snow on the ground, and it was snowing hard when we went round the hospitals later in the day. A large convoy was arriving at the station, and every one was very busy. The hospital was full, and there were beds in all the corridors.
In these hospitals there was a great deal of Italian hospital equipment (they had been used as hospitals previously by the Italians) which had been left for us. The beds were of several different patterns – some folded up lengthwise when not in use and had canvas laced on instead of wire springs, somewhat to our old pattern beds, but they did not look very comfortable. Fuel was very scarce in Italy in these days, and the buildings with their stone floors were very cold and somewhat damp. The Nursing Staff were drawing Italian rations, as no English rations were then available; they were, however, well fed and sometimes able to obtain butter in the town – which was not procurable in other places.
A few days after my return I went to Bordighera; the drive down from Genoa being most beautiful. The road is by the sea the whole of the way; up steep slopes, round sharp curves, and down steeper hills on the other side; the wonderful blue Mediterranean Sea being always in view. I have gone down that road on dull days; on may sunny days; by moonlight; and when the sun was setting; and each time thought it more beautiful than the last. There are groves of pine and olive trees, and wonderful gardens where roses and carnations grow, also plantations of palms. It is said that a shipwrecked sailor who was rescued and landed at Bordighera took as a thanks-offering palm leaves to St. Peter’s at Rome, and ever since then palms are sent to St. Peter’s from Bordighera for Palm Sunday. There is an ever-constant change of view as you go along, and quaint little villages where the inhabitants can be seen at work, making pottery, drawing in fishing nets, or building boats. At Bordighera it was warm and sunny, with a profusion of roses, mimosa, and heliotrope, to greet one. No one wore great coats, so that we felt rather ridiculous in our fur coats and the warm clothes so necessary at the time of the year in the North.
There were two large General Hospitals at Bordighera situated in six hotels, also some under canvas. They were exceedingly nice and the wards were always bright with flowers. Some of the hotels had nice gardens so that the patients could have their beds taken out in the sun, and those who were well enough used to go and sit by the sea. The Casualty Clearing Stations were right up in the forward area. There were no sisters with the Casualty Clearing Stations at the time of my first visit, but they were sent shortly after. The General Headquarters was at Padova at that time, and we drove from Padova to the Casualty Clearing Stations. It was a wonderful run on exceedingly good roads. Most of the roads, however, had a ditch on either side which proved a pitfall for many of our cars, transport waggons, etc.
New Year’s Day, 1918, was passed at Padova. The night being spent at the hotel – a dreary and dreadfully cold place – the people had no fuel by which to heat the hotel, and even cooking was a great difficulty, as was also food. They had three meatless days at Padova each week – we hit upon one of them and dined in one corner of a large cold dining-room. Most of the night was spent in the cellar as the place was being bombed. We were politely informed that as they had only one charcoal fire for everything, we could not be supplied with both coffee for breakfast and hot water to wash in, but must forego one or the other. We chose the coffee – hoping to wash in the water that was in our hot bottles – this hope, however, had to be abandoned as on pouring out the water it was evident that it had been used for washing the dishes in from the previous night’s dinner.
The scenery right up by the mountains was magnificent. Later on in the summer, one of the Casualty Clearing Stations was moved to a wonderful shooting box standing on a hill, looking across to the Austrian mountains. The shooting box was used as the officers’ hospital for Casualty Clearing Stations and a beautiful hospital it made. Some of the rooms had wonderful embroidered silk hangings. The sisters’ quarters were on the top floor, and were very compact; they had a kitchen and a delightful mess room with the most wonderful views right over towards the mountains. There was also a very beautiful garden with quantities of flowers.
At the camp outside Taranto there was a large General Hospital. It was in the process of reconstruction at the time I was there, the Nissen huts were being replaced by brick huts with verandahs and tiled floors. The Sisters had good quarters with rooms opening out on to a verandah and a nice large mess room. There was also a hostel at this hospital for nurses passing to and fro from the East. As a large number of nurses were accommodated in this hostel, the post of Sister-in-Charge was a very responsible one. Large parties frequently arrived at very short notice, but they always met with a hearty welcome. I remember one sister telling how she remembered being one of a large party who arrived late one Christmas Eve, and how surprised they all were to find that a Christmas dinner was forthcoming for the whole of the party. The staffs of the Scottish Women’s hospitals, lady doctors and others, shared the hospitality of the Taranto hostel with members of our own services. In Taranto there was a Nurses’ Club, run by the British Red Cross Society, which was a great boon to those nurses who had to spend some time at Taranto waiting for boats.
There was a very nice little hospital at the Rest Camp at Faenza. It was situated outside the town, which was a quaint old place. From a hill close to the hospital, a most wonderful view of the surrounding country and some very beautiful cypress trees, could be obtained. At Turin there was a small hospital which was taken over from the British Red Cross Society. It had been equipped privately and used as a women’s hospital before it was given to the British Red Cross Society. Originally it had been a private house and additions had been made to it. There was a nice garden and the part that had been intended for sick officers was used as a convalescent hospital and hostel for sisters passing through. Later there was a small hospital at Fiume, where the nursing staff had an exciting experience when the British Forces left the town in September. The hospital had to be evacuated hurriedly, the most serious cases being put in an ambulance, while the nursing staff and convalescent patients had to walk a distance of several miles to Abbasia, where the patients were put into an Italian hospital and the sisters in a hotel till they could rejoin their headquarters. The hospitals at Taranto, Faenza and Turin were on the lines of communication to the East, and used for troops passing backwards and forwards, not for the Italian Expeditionary Force.