Monday, 21 December 2015

The VAD and the Casualty Clearing Station

     I'm always complaining about errors made in placing VADs in Casualty Clearing Stations during the First World War.  Writers of fiction, newspapers, the BBC, the world and his wife, all love to see them in the thick of it with bombs falling and shrapnel whizzing past the poor VAD on her way to the bin with an amputated leg.  It's fair to say that the senior medical staff in France and Flanders would have agreed to them being there, but the Matron-in-Chief was adamant that only the best and most experienced trained nurses were good enough to be working at the sharpest of ends and it was she who won that battle.  Of course if you look hard enough it's often possible to find an exception to any rule and during a long and varied war there was at least one VAD who managed to buck the trend.

     Alice Batt was born in Oxfordshire in 1890, the daughter of Charles Dorrington Batt, a doctor, and his wife Isabel (née Wake). By the outbreak of war Charles Batt and several of his children were involved with local Voluntary Aid Detachments, his son John, also a doctor, becoming resident medical officer during wartime at the large auxiliary hospital at Ampton Hall, Bury St. Edmunds. Alice Batt first worked as a VAD in London at the Officers' Hospital, 6 Bruton Street - the heart of Mayfair and in March 1916 she signed for overseas service and was sent to No.9 British Red Cross Hospital, the 'Duchess of Sutherland's,' at that time in Calais.

Operating theatre staff No.9 BRCS Hospital (Duchess of Sutherland's) in July 1917  [IWM Q2615]

     During the final weeks of the war as the British army advanced, the hospital moved further forward to Hazebrouck by which time Alice Batt was working as an operating theatre orderly. Although this was not a role undertaken by VADs in British military hospitals, it was found acceptable in units run under the control of the Joint War Committee of the BRCS and Order of St. John. By the beginning of October 1918 although Britain seemed to be winning the war, casualties were great and all medical units were working under extreme pressure.

     Three Casualty Clearing Stations working side by side at Rousbrugge [Roesbrugge], Nos.11, 36 and 44, were in danger of being overwhelmed with casualties and a request had been made for extra staff which could not be fulfilled at the time by other British units under War Office control.  The principal need was for 'surgical teams' which were mobile groups used to fill urgent gaps, and each team  was made up of one surgeon, one anaesthetist, a trained theatre sister and one or two theatre orderlies.  Appeals were made both to Canadian and American units who were able to send some reinforcements but the three CCSs at Rousbrugge were still understaffed.  At that point two surgical teams were offered by No.9 British Red Cross Hospital, an offer which was gratefully accepted and probably the only time during the war that this happened.  Theatre orderly Alice Batt was part of one of those teams and she joined the staff of No.36 Casualty Clearing Station. Within a few days she was at the centre of a drama for which she was later awarded the Albert Medal for her actions. The citation published in the London Gazette 25th April 1919, gives the details:

The KING has been pleased to award the Albert Medal in recognition of gallantry displayed in saving life: —
Miss -Alice Batt, Voluntary Aid Detachment
On the 1st October, 1918, a fire broke out at No. 36, Casualty Clearing Station at Rousbrugge, Belgium, and quickly reached the operating theatre, where the surgeon, was performing an abdominal operation. The light went out, and the theatre was quickly filled with-smoke and flames, but the operation was continued by the light of an electric torch, Miss Batt continuing her work of handing instruments and threading needles with steadfast calmness, thereby enabling the surgeon to complete the operation. Miss Batt afterwards did splendid work in helping to carry men from the burning wards to places of safety.

     As the staff of the Duchess of Sutherland's Hospital were predominately female, it's possible that Alice Batt was not the only VAD employed at a British CCSs during that hectic period, but the award of her Albert Medal makes her the only one to be positively identified.  Full details of Alice Batt's wartime service are included on the BRCS website here:

Original card that shows work in London

Later card for overseas service


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

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Orphan Annie and the QAIMNS Nursing Board


     From its earliest days Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service was determined to be an elite organisation. It demanded a high standard of nurse training, but even more importantly insisted on its nurses being socially acceptable.  During its early years, the minutes of the QAIMNS Nursing Board (WO243/20) are full of comments noting why applicants have been rejected, and rejection was the fate of the majority of the women who wished to join. Among the reasons for rejection were:

'Apparent want of social standing and appearance unsuitable'

'Social status and behaviour not suitable'

'Her appearance and style is not at all what is required in an Army Nurse'

'Quite unsuitable. Father was an iron-plate worker'

'Unsuitable from her parentage. Father a shoemaker'

     Along with the usual references from the matron of the hospital at which they'd trained, applicants also had to provide the names of two ladies who could vouch for their background and behaviour. Many of those wishing to join had no trouble in providing the most glowing background and references. With professional fathers, or indeed fathers whose wealth enabled them not to work at all, and a history of private education at home and overseas, they couldn't fail. Many spent their final school years in France or Germany, but my interest was raised when I saw one entry which showed an education first at a private school in Henley-on-Thames and later at San Diego High School, California. I wondered how a young British woman had trodden that path at the turn of the twentieth century. The trail led to a conclusion that the QAIMNS Nursing Board could be fooled and social status brushed aside if you tried hard enough.

     Annie Esden was born in Paddington, London, on May 18th, 1883, the daughter of James and Annie Esden. She was the fourth surviving child of the marriage and would seem to have been very much an afterthought. At the time of her birth her father was fifty-two years old and worked as a gas inspector for the Gas, Coke and Light Company, her three older siblings ranging in age from twenty-six down to fourteen years. The elder of her two brothers, James Beckett Esden was fifteen and was to play an important part in years to come. Records show that her father had a difficult early life and both he and his brother William were raised in the Norwood Workhouse School of Industry where they received training in the tailoring trade.

     Gaps in records make it very difficult to be sure about events but such an unusual surname makes it possible to find some pivotal points in the life of Annie Esden.  Her elder sister, Victoria, was married in the spring of 1884 and James Esden senior died later that same year when Annie was one year old. At the time of the 1891 census Anne Esden, her mother, was living in a respectable part of East London with her two sons, James, a commercial traveller and William, a clerk.  So where was Annie?  The census shows that she was seven years old and a resident at the Wanstead Infant Orphan Asylum, a stone's throw the family home in Leyton. Anne Esden senior may have been ill at the time as she died a year later, and perhaps her sons were unable to look after Annie due to work commitments, although I wonder why her elder married sister could not have cared for her.

     By the time of the next census in 1901, things had changed for Annie Esden. At seventeen years of age she was living at a small private school in Henley-on-Thames run by a Miss Lloyds. Her status was given as 'pupil' but the other five pupils were all aged nine years and under, so it appears that she has been retained or employed there after school-leaving age as an assistant teacher or helper.  The 1901 census also shows her brother James as living in a boarding house in London, his occupation given as 'Lemon Grower in California.'  At last a Californian connection had turned up, but when James returned to the U.S.A. in May 1901 he went alone.  In fact there is no evidence in passenger records that Annie ever left England for the United States.

     Between February 1905 and June 1908 Annie Esden trained as a nurse at Salisbury General Infirmary and then studied for the Dispenser's Certificate of the Society of Apothecaries before joining Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service as a Staff Nurse in January 1909. One of the 'ladies' called upon to supply a reference was Miss Lloyds, Principal of the school in Henley where Annie had almost certainly been employed. Her army career took her through the First World War and beyond and she received the award of the Royal Red Cross for her devoted service.  She resigned in 1929 and in later life she lived at Queen Mary's House, Fleet, Hampshire, a home for retired members of QAIMNS where she died in 1959 aged seventy-five years.

     So she was raised in an orphanage, the daughter of a man raised in a workhouse school. There seems to be no evidence that she ever attended San Diego High School nor that her brother James returned to England again though I would love to be corrected on those points. She possessed none of the social background suitable for admission to QAIMNS.  When she filled in her application form she knew what to write. Her relationship with her Californian brother would certainly give her the knowledge to fabricate information about her schooling, if that's what she did. I would guess that Miss Lloyds had trained her well - she knew how to dress, how to speak, how to behave and must have learnt all the necessary social niceties. If that hadn't been the case she would have fallen at the interview hurdle - even as a well-trained nurse she would have been rejected by the QAIMNS Nursing Board had known about her background or that of her father.

     I wonder if Annie Esden kept her secrets through the following decades or if she became confident enough in later years to talk about her past life.


Unfortunately a service record cannot be found for Annie Esden. Some particulars relating to her admission are available in the Register of Admissions to QAIMNS held at The National Archives, WO25/3956.

Census and civil registration information from Find My Past

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Nurses and Bravery - two years on

Two years ago I wrote about nurses being regarded as 'brave' for their work during wartime and suggested that they were many other things above 'brave.'  Since then, with the coming of the Centenary of the First World War, a great deal more has been written about nurses, mainly untrained VADs, and the concept that nurses were angels and heroines has become a strong thread running through their stories in books, the popular press and on television.  So two years on I'm taking the liberty of repeating my thoughts of August 2013 on what motivated nurses to engage with the war and where bravery stood on their list of attributes. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Male Nurses in the 1920s

Imperial War Museum: Army/Training 25/10

     As part of a transcription of the General Nursing Council Register (England and Wales) for 1928, I've compiled a list of male nurses who were included on a separate part of the Register. In today's NHS male nurses are so numerous and prominent that there are a great many people who don't remember a time when they were virtually absent from general nursing, so I thought it would be interesting to post some details of those few who were employed in the role more than ninety years ago.  In 1928 there were over 40,000 trained female nurses included by the GNC on the general part of the Register, and separate sections for fever nurses, children's nurses, mental nurses and male nurses. Although the names of several thousand men can be found in the section for mental nurses, there were just two hundred considered qualified as 'general' trained male nurses. Inclusion in any of these categories was subject to stringent conditions laid down by the GNC which varied from section to section and male nurses had to satisfy the following conditions to be included on the roll of 'Male Nurses':

(a) A certificate that the applicant has had not less than three years' training before the 1st November, 1919, in a Hospital or Institution approved by the Council for the training of male nurses, or evidence that he has had not less than three years' training before the date aforesaid, as a male nurse in the service of the Admiralty, the Army Council or the Air Council, or that as to part of the period aforesaid, he has had training as a male nurse in such Hospital or Institution, and as to the remainder, training as a male nurse in such service as aforesaid;


(b) Evidence that the applicant has had not less than one year's training in a Hospital or Institution approved by the Council for the training of male nurses, or evidence that he has had not less than one year's training as a male nurse in the service of the Admiralty, Army Council or the Air Council, accompanied by evidence in either case that he has subsequently been bona fide engaged in practice as a male nurse in the attendance on the sick for not less than two years before the 1st November, 1919.

In addition, in common with female nurses, those who started their training after 1922 were required to pass a written and practical examination.

     Of the two hundred men named as registered general nurses active in 1928, roughly three-quarters had received their nurse training in military hospitals, having previously served in either the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force Medical Service or the Indian Medical Service. The majority of these men received their training prior to the First World War, some as early as the 1880s, and no doubt most were actively engaged with the military medical forces in wartime. In two cases the training was split between the pre-war and post-war periods which maybe suggests that their wartime service was with some other corps or regiment of the army.

     Of the total number, 133 men qualified on the basis of holding a certificate of three years' training, while the others had a variety of training and experience that met with the conditions in paragraph (b) above. The remaining forty-six men provide an interesting insight as to which civil hospitals and institutions in England were actively training men as general nurses at that time and are as follows:

Hackney Hospital and Infirmary:  18
H.M. Prison, Parkhurst:  10
National Hospital, Queen Square, London:  8
Bradford, Municipal General/St. Luke's Hospitals:  7
Erdington Infirmary, Birmingham:  1
New End Hospital, London:  1
Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading:  1

     It seems apparent from the addresses given that Parkhurst held responsibility for training men for the nursing service in prisons across the country, and understandable that the National Hospital, Queen Square, needed male nurses when its official title at that time was 'The National Hospital for the Relief and Cure of the Paralysed and Epileptic.'  As for the rest, it seems likely that one or two solitary men qualified on the basis of their experience in Birmingham and Reading.  However, there did seem to be a definite aim at both Hackney and Bradford to offer formal general nurse training for men both pre and post-war and who, after 1922, were qualifying by examination and not simply on the basis of previous experience.

     By 1942 the number of general trained male nurses had increased slowly, but still only stood at about 600 nationally (England and Wales).  A brief check shows that the same hospitals were still prominent in training men for the general register, but that's for a future project!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Ministering Angels - A History of Nursing from the Crimea to the Blitz

     A new edition of Stella Bingham's 1979 book 'Ministering Angels' has just been released by Dean Street Press in e-book format.  It covers the history of nursing from its early beginnings through to the 1970s and brings together most of the important advances within the British nursing profession during that time. It's an informative and well-written account ranging over four major wars, and presents the facts clearly and in depth without relying on a mass of over-sentimentalised or dramatic quotes. The nursing services of the First World War are in fashion at present and this book places them in the context of what came before and after, thus giving a fuller and more rounded view. Although it lacks the photographs which appear in the original, this e-book version is a welcome addition and makes it easily available to a new and modern audience.

Cover of original 1979 edition

Ministering Angels, Stella Bingham
Dean Street Press, May 2015
ISBN: 978 1 910570 13 5
For Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iPad and GooglePlay


Sunday, 3 May 2015

Top of the Pops ... oops! Sorry, 'Posts'

I've just been checking down the list of posts I've made since the blog started more than eight years ago to see what was popular and what bombed.  The range of 'views' for individual entries is enormous, from less than twenty to well over five thousand, but here are the top five again. The figures suggest that not surprisingly posts with photos are the best received. The top five, in reverse order are:

5.  Some Hospital Visiting for the New Year

4. 13 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne

3.  Etaples and Camiers

2.  The Trained Nurse and the VAD

And in first place way ahead of anything else, though I'm not sure why, with more than five thousand views:

1. The Casualty Clearing Station

A pity that external links have now been changed or removed, but the post still valid I think.  These five are in no way my personal favourites and only reflect the number of views each one has had - maybe my own will come later.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Nurses - Training and Registration

     At the time of the Great War there was still no national registration of nurses in the United Kingdom nor any official registers of who they were and where they were trained. Family historians trying to trace pre-war nurse ancestors still have to rely on information, letters and photos passed down over the generations. Census returns might yield up some information if caught at just the right moment, but even then only give a snapshot of where a nurse was working on one single day. Although nurses trained between 1860 and 1890 were likely to have completed just one year in hospital, by the turn of the twentieth century a three year training had become the standard required in hospitals throughout the country. As there were no national standards for nurses, those with a lesser training, or even no training at all could continue to nurse as long as they worked within the law and proved themselves safe - trained on the hedgerows of life.

Nurses in the classroom in 1900

     Nurses trained in hospitals received a certificate at the end of their one or three year period which was precious as it provided proof for future employers of their training and experience. Some hospitals insisted that nurses stayed on for a further year at the end of their training before receiving their certificate. Hospitals considered they'd spent a lot of time and effort on the training and the fourth year ensured they would retain a good supply of newly-trained nurses on their staff, at least in the short term.  Women were not compelled to stay for a fourth year but to leave without their certificate could have serious implications for their future careers.

     The fight for the national registration of nurses continued over more than three decades and was not universally supported by hospitals, doctors or nurses themselves. Ideas and suggestions as to the need for highly-educated nurses at that time throw up alarmingly similar parallels to the current debate on whether nursing has been improved by making it an all-degree profession. In 'The Lamp and the Book' Gerald Bowman writes of nurse reformer Ethel Bedford Fenwick:

'She was a crusader of almost fanatical spirit, a close friend of Mrs. Pankhurst who was leading the campaign for the women's vote.  She believed that only educated women could have a chance of winning freedom for womankind who were debarred from almost all professions and who, until 1882, five years beforehand, had no legal right to their own money after marriage.  She wanted her own profession of nursing to be brought into the same category, if not on a level with, the profession of medicine. That was the object of her first proposed state register to be exclusive to those who were fully trained and could pass an examination demanding a high educational standard. Only those women were to bear the honoured title of Nurse.  For the rest, her original proposal was that those who could not or would not train and sit for the examination, no matter how efficient they had been in practice, should drop the work.' **

     By the time the Nurses' Registration Act passed into law on the 23rd December 1919 the conditions for inclusion in the register were far broader than Mrs. Bedford Fenwick had desired. In addition to those nurses who held hospital certificates it was also possible for both women and men to be included if they had been in practice for a minimum of three years prior to November 1919 and had adequate knowledge and experience of nursing the sick.  The Act contained various clauses with regard to training, but it was Rule 9(1)g which set out the conditions by which a nurse without a hospital training or certificate could be registered:

'In the case of a nurse who was at 1st November 1916, engaged in actual practice and who produces the following evidences of knowledge and experience:
(a)  a certificate of good character;
(b)  a certificate signed by the matron of a general hospital or an infirmary or by two medical men setting out that the applicant has been in attendance upon the sick in the capacity of a nurse for a period of not less than three years prior to the 1st November, 1919; and
(c)  a certificate signed by a registered nurse and by two medical men, one of whom shall be on the staff of a general hospital, setting out that the applicant has adequate knowledge and experience of medical and surgical nursing and is competent to attend upon the sick in the capacity of a nurse.

     Registers of the General Nursing Council for England and Wales were published yearly from 1921 and from then all newly qualified nurses could apply to be included.  After 1923 it was a requirement that all women and men undertaking nurse training must pass a written and practical examination at the end of their course and from 1927 the GNC Register shows nurses qualified 'by certificate,' 'by examination' or by one of the other avenues, usually Rule 9(1)g.

A page from the General Nursing Council Register for 1928 showing nurses trained in the three ways mentioned above (click to enlarge)

     Almost one hundred years later medical care has advanced and nursing care has had to keep pace. However, the parallels in nurse training are still present; there are nurses working in hospitals today with various levels of educational achievement and training according to the regulations in place at the time. There are men and women with degrees, diplomas and still some qualified by examination at the end of their course. The latter group are fading fast as they work their way toward retirement. With nursing currently an all degree profession for new entrants in the United Kingdom, one hundred years on Ethel Bedford Fenwick finally seems to have come into her own. Of course, as might be expected, not everybody agrees with her, neither then nor now.


** The Lamp and the Book, the story of the RCN, 1916-1966; Gerald Bowman; The Queen Anne Press Ltd., 1967

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Naval Nurses - The Problems with the Records

Royal Naval Hospital, Granton [IWM Q18930]

     With an increasing number of records being made available online, it's now possible to find service records for almost every First World War soldier, sailor and female worker as long as they've survived both the Blitz and the rather random 'weeding' process of previous decades. In addition to soldiers' service records which can be found on genealogy sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past, The National Archives have digitised and made available a whole range of records relating to personnel who served in the First World War and it's been made easy to search for individuals and to download any available record for a fee.

     However, one exception are the records of members of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service who served between 1894 and 1929, the majority being records of nurses with wartime service. These records are held on individual pages of large ledgers and I have to admit they were originally created in a rather slapdash manner, often a single record ranging over several pages in different volumes, squeezed into tiny gaps and with different women appearing on a single page. The Royal Navy were certainly keen on economising on paper.  In total, there are records for 244 members of the regular QARNNS, and another 394 for members of the wartime Reserve.  So not an enormous number, but it seems that The National Archives have decided not to make these available as single records and I can only assume that's because it's simply too much time and trouble for too little eventual financial return. Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service is doomed to stay firmly shut in the cupboard.

     So in answer to the question of how you negotiate the records to find out about great-aunt Gertie's daring deeds, I have to say it's only with the greatest difficulty.  When I asked a question on Twitter recently about the possibility individual records being made available, I was told 'Hello, thanks for your query - the nursing service register is available to download here:

Nursing Service Register, Royal Navy

Unfortunately, whoever's in charge of the Twitter feed at TNA isn't familiar with the records as that link only gets you to a small portion of the whole.  If you click on the link you'll notice that even this small part adds up to a download of more than 500Mb and your chances of finding Aunt Gertie are pretty slim as in addition there are another eight files available which you haven't been told about. There is another way if you search hard enough, and this TNA guide leads you on to the full range:

Looking for records of a Royal Navy Nurse?

     Before you start, note the warning on the page 'Please be aware that these are very large files and only suitable for download on a fast and unlimited broadband connection.'  That's OK though because we've all got one of those these days, haven't we?  Having attempted the downloads, failed, contacted TNA for help on a couple of occasions and grown a few more grey hairs, you're now the proud possessor of eleven very large .pdf documents totalling just under 2 gigabytes in size, but whereabouts is Auntie Gertie?

     There are rather rough indexes to the volumes, so you can browse through the pages of each one to see if you can find her, but the problems are not nearly over.  Some women have entries on as many as five different pages, covering three different .pdf downloads and I would bet my week's supply of doughnuts that there are no more than a handful of nurses who might be considered easy to find. I would challenge members of TNA's staff who are familiar with records in general to find Gertie among that lot without going off sick with stress; the general public are in a far worse position.

Note that Phoebe Gill's record started on a previous page, and is then continued in another volume of the register - a total of three different pages over two volumes [ADM104/163/1/folio 48] *

     Downloading 2Gb of data to find a couple of pages on Aunt Gertie is simply not practical, and anyway it just doesn't work in practice.  So wouldn't it be helpful if TNA could at least produce an index giving the volume and page references for each woman thus reducing the downloads needed to the minimum?  It would be even better if they could split the .pdfs into single pages and make each woman's pages available online as a single download. Sitting here in my little back room I've managed to create an index of individuals without much difficulty and I can whip off the pages I need using the simplest online tools - it's really not that hard!

     I asked again at yesterday's 'webinar' if there were any plans to index or digitise these records and was told that there was nothing in the foreseeable future. As far as TNA are concerned, Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service is destined to stay firmly locked in that cupboard.

* Image fee paid to TNA for online use of documents

Friday, 13 February 2015

Evacuation from Dunkirk

Geoffrey Moulson, who appears in the previous post, served for nearly forty years as a medical officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps. During the First World War he initially worked in Mesopotamia and later in India, a place he knew well from his childhood. During the inter-war years he rose rapidly through the ranks and on the outbreak of war in 1939 he was posted to France as Commanding Officer of both No.4 Casualty Clearing Station and No.203 Field Ambulance - the 'sharp end.' Following the German invasion of the Low Countries in May 1940 his medical unit was one of many that had to take action to avoid the enemy advance, and eventually make their way back to the United Kingdom through the Channel ports.  After the evacuation was complete and all the nursing staff safely home, the Matron-in-Chief, Katharine Jones, asked some nursing sisters to write accounts of their experiences of the evacuation and two were submitted by staff of No.4 CCS of which Geoffrey Moulson was Commanding Officer. The following was written by Sister Annie Trethewey* Territorial Army Nursing Service, to Geraldine Ball** Principal Matron at the War Office.



Sisters’ Quarters,
Military Hospital,
Co. Down.
20th January, 1941.

Dear Miss Ball,
Your letter of the 11th instant just to hand and I am pleased to accede to Miss Jones’ request and give you an account of my very interesting, if not always useful experiences with the B.E.F. after the invasion of the Low Countries. How well I remember the news at midnight on the 9th May of the invasion. I was on night duty at the time and our Colonel brought me the news, after listening to the announcement, with the remark as he retired for the night “I shall probably see you again before morning”.

May 10th – 5 a.m.
Our first “alert” since the previous October. Our C.C.S. was in a Chateau with a basement for the evacuation of walking patients, but our stretcher patients had to remain in their beds which we pulled into the middle of the wards away from windows, and during the remainder of our stay there I marvelled at the calm with which the men, mostly Air Force, behaved during “alerts”.

May 11th
The “Dawn Patrol” becoming a daily habit and our C.C.S. becoming very busy with air casualties.

May 12th
We evacuated 115 patients at 1.30 a.m.

May 13th
Much confusion in the town of Epernay with constant alerts and continual streams of refugees, such pathetic sights, while convoys of French Troops were going through the town and up the line.

May 14th
The Hospital getting busier every hour – such fine men to nurse – I have remarked in my diary “Makes one proud to be British”.

May 15th
Rumours of our evacuating the Hospital, so I get my packing done before going to bed. By this time I had given up hoping for much sleep but I usually managed to stay in my bed and rest unless there was too much activity overhead. When I arrived on duty at 8 p.m. all patients were on stretchers ready for the evacuation and we were supposed to be 'closed' to admissions, notwithstanding we admitted patients all night and the Theatre was busy the whole time. There was a very anxious night ahead of us; the Red X train, which was due at 1 a.m. got delayed owing to enemy action further along the line; at 5 a.m. the Colonel decided to let the patients travel all the way to the Base by ambulance so arrangements were made accordingly and by 8 a.m. the Convoy was ready for a start when the news that a train would soon be through to take them arrived, cancelling the road transport (many of the patients were too ill for a long journey by road).

IWM H1642

May 16th
Eventually the train arrived at midday and the Sisters and half of the R.A.M.C. Personnel also went on the train for a journey of about 20 miles to the town of Chateau Thierry where we said 'Goodbye' to our patients while they went on to the Base and safety, we hoped. Here we found a curious reception, the French were rather afraid to let us stay in the town as up to then they had not had any raids, so our Officer who was in charge decided with the aid of the Interpreter to find us billets in the village of Chiery, two miles away, and how we welcomed the peace after our recent experiences; but alas, it was not for long and on...

May 17th
… the Enemy reached that spot.

May 18th
After 36 hours of fairly heavy raiding and wondering where the other half of our Unit was, it was a great relief when the Colonel arrived to take us to our new home and so we hoped Hospital. We had a long and chequered journey through convoys of refugees going in the same direction as ourselves, with convoys of French troops coming in the opposite direction, but fortunately it was peaceful from the air. We reached our destination – Ville Neuve – to find we were going to live in a cottage attached to the Chateau which was to be our Hospital and delightfully situated in the woods. Alas our Hospital did not materialize and although we all appreciated the quiet and rest at first, we soon began to wonder what was happening to our wounded and feeling rather useless. For some days we stayed there and I am afraid found it very difficult to believe 'They also serve who only stand and wait'. We were finding it most trying not to be up and doing, knowing that so many of our own men must be wanting attention.

June 2nd
Various signs that we were on the move again.

June 3rd
Up at 5 a.m., breakfast and packing done, ready for a start at 7 a.m. It was a lovely day and the Motor Ambulance Column had provided most comfortable transport for our 150 miles drive; our destination was once more a chateau with a view to making it into a hospital, in a small village near Bauge, but not only was the chateau inadequate, the grounds were unsuitable for tented extension.

June 5th
We move again, this time by ambulance and reach our new home, which is to be tented in some very nice grounds near Chateau du Loir. For a week we lived in tents at this delightful spot and our wards were being got ready for occupation, but, alas, on …

June 13th
… we packed once more and left on …

June 14th
… travelling in convoy by ambulance to Nantes, and spending the night in our ambulance, too near a munition dump for our popularity with the French Authorities.

June 15th
We were up early, waiting for orders which we received from an unexpected quarter; the French Authorities having given the order for us to move out of the field. As our Colonel is away on business, there is no alternative for the Second-in-Command but to have the convoy draw out on to the roadside and await the return of the Commanding Officer. At 1 p.m. the order came through for the Sisters from Nantes to go to La Baule to join the Staff there. It was with great regret we left our Unit and travelled the remainder of the journey in one ambulance. We were received by the Matron of No.4 General Hospital and given accommodation for the night.

HMHS 'Somersetshire' from IWM FL19182

June 16th
A long day of waiting and at 4 p.m. left La Baule on the hospital train for embarkation at St. Nazaire; a raid was in progress during the journey and for some hours while the Hospital Ship “Somersetshire” was being loaded at the port, but we got safely away at 4.30 a.m. on …

June 17th
During the homeward journey we once more had a visit from the enemy and two bombs were dropped close enough to shake the ship from end to end, but we reached Southampton safely on the evening of June 18th. Although during the whole of our journeying we had quite a fair amount of aerial activity to contend with, we travelled very comfortably and I realize only too acutely that after the invasion of the Low Countries, when we had hoped to be useful to our Unit, it was quite the reverse and we were an additional responsibility.


* Annie Mary Trethewey was born in Cornwall at the turn of the century. She trained as a nurse at the Royal Cornwall Infirmary, Truro, completing her training in 1925. 

** Geraldine Catherine Ball trained at the West London Hospital, Hammersmith between 1909 and 1912 and served with QAIMNS Reserve during FWW, later joining the permanent service.

Account taken from documents at The National Archives, WO222/2143

Monday, 9 February 2015

Faith, Hope and Family

The recent release of the film ‘Testament of Youth’ has provided an opportunity to view yet another portrayal of nursing during the Great War.  Based on Vera Brittain’s book of the same name this isn’t the first time it’s been dramatized – it was a popular television series first broadcast in 1979. Vera Brittain was not a fan of trained nurses who on the whole she regarded as both socially and educationally inferior, lacking in imagination and altruism.  As readers of her work will know, one nurse she met in France and with whom she formed a lifelong friendship was the character she refers to as Hope Milroy – in real life Faith Moulson.  In common with most professional nurses Faith Moulson is not known to have been a writer nor did she come to notice for noble deeds, so Vera Brittain’s account of her as mad and eccentric is the only one available to us today. Both the television characterisation and that of the current film are rather different, so is the Sister of the 'Hun' ward, the Hope Milroy we read about or see on the screen anything like the real Faith Moulson?  Although sadly I’ll never know, I have found out a little about the Moulson family and while it won’t answer the question as to her mental state, it does shed some light on her life during the 19th and 20th centuries.

     Faith Moulson was born in 1885 in India, either Ferezepore or Abbottabad according to source, where her father John Moulson was a chaplain.  In ‘Testament of Youth’ Faith is described as coming from a long line of Bishops on her mother’s side and actors and writers on her father’s.  While the former is undoubtedly correct, her paternal grandfather was a commercial traveller and if there were actors in Faith’s past there is no obvious or immediate link to be found.  Her parents John Moulson and Lydia French were married in Amritsar, India, in November 1881. Lydia was born in Agra, the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Valpy French, first Bishop of Lahore, and to whom John Moulson was Chaplain.  Over the next ten years they had five daughters, Ruth, Muriel, Faith, Dorothy and Irene, all born in various parts of Northern India and then in 1892, back in England, their sixth and final child, a son, Geoffrey.

     During the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century the family travelled frequently to India but with Lydia Moulson and her children spending more time in England while her husband continued his ministry in India. There is some evidence to show that John Moulson was an abusive and violent man in private life. The following newspaper report is one of many similar accounts of an incident which occurred when the family were spending time in Devon in 1888, the case having been brought to court by the newly formed London Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children:

On July 17 there was disclosed at Axminster Petty Sessions a tale of cruelty to a child so revolting, and in some of its circumstances so unprecedented, as to be almost incredible. The Rev. John Moulson was charged with having, on May 15 last, committed an aggravated assault upon his child Dorothy, aged 16 months. The reverend gentleman is an army chaplain in India, at present on furlough, and residing with his family in lodgings at Seaton. He happens to be the son-in-law of the Bishop of Lahore. The prosecution was instituted by the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. On the morning in question the nurse had been out with the child, and brought it in about noon to prepare its food. Before the food was ready the child appears to have begun to cry. The nurse distinctly says that it was not naturally a fretful child, but not only was it waiting for its food, but the little thing was teething. It had cut about six teeth at this time. The defendant met the nurse coming out of her room with the baby, and ordered her to go back, lay the child on the bed, and leave the room, which she did. The scene which followed may be best told in the nurse's own evidence :—

" When I got halfway out he pushed the door against me, forced me out, and then locked himself in, ... I remained out- side the door listening. My mistress was not at home. I heard the defendant slap the child very violently. I heard the baby shriek at each slap which was given her, and I think this continued for five minutes. I did not count the number of slaps, but I should think there were a dozen at least. I went downstairs for about ten minutes. When I went up again the defendant came out, locked the door, and kept the key in his possession. ... It was two hours before I obtained admission. For the whole of those two hours, with the exception of the short time the defendant was in the room himself, the baby was in the room alone. I asked Mr. Moulson to let me have the key, and he told me to go to my work. . . . I was afraid the child would die, but I was not able to get access to the baby until after 2 o'clock, when I found her quiet. . . . Her little hands were terribly swollen and very red. When I took her in my arms she shrank from me as if in pain. I was horrified at the finger marks on the baby's hips and on the lower part of the body. . . . I kept the child in my arms for the remainder of the day. The baby was fretful, as if in pain, and she looked very pale, and did not like to be touched. She did not take her food properly. During the night the child suffered and could not sleep. Next day I showed the marks to Mrs. Still. There were then marks of congested blood under the skin where the finger-marks were to be found."

This evidence remained substantially unshaken on cross-examination,     although the defendant had the good fortune to be represented by the Hon. Bernard Coleridge. It was strongly corroborated. Mrs. Still, a lady lodging in the same house, saw the child next morning, and says: —

"I saw marks on her as if she had been struck with a stick. In one or two places the skin was almost broken — on the edge of the blows. The blows were half an inch or an inch in width. . . . The baby looked very pale and very languid. I considered it had been beaten, and it would have been cruelty to have beaten a 10 year-old child in the same manner. I should think it endangered   the child's life."

One or two witnesses to character endeavoured to show that the reverend defendant was a model   of everything that is good and noble in a father. Two young ladies, friends of the parents, saw the child at a second-floor   window on the afternoon of the assault, when, according to one, "she waved her hand and laughed," and " looked as happy and well as usual." They also alleged that on the next day the baby's hands were as smooth and white as they should be — the one conflict of evidence in the case. There was also an attempt to show that the child had an abnormally delicate skin. A doctor was called for the defendant — one Evans, a surgeon practising at Seaton — who said— " When children are teething they are naturally very irritable. A child with a hasty temper is liable to have its health seriously injured by giving way to that temper. You must use some discipline to correct it." The five Axminster Justices retired for five- and-twenty minutes. They then dismissed the summons, on the ground that "the evidence did not support the very serious charge made against the defendant;" they next proceeded to stultify themselves by ordering that as "Mr. Moulson showed a want of judgment in administering corporal punishment of that kind to a child of such tender years" he should pay the Court fees, amounting to £1 11s.


     Following this incident the family moved, perhaps the result of gossip and unpleasantness from neighbours in Devon and when in England they lived first in Chislehurst, Kent, where Geoffrey was born and later in Winchester. The return to South Devon finally happened during the First World War when the family went to live at Redlands, Sidmouth.

     In 1906 Muriel Moulson moved to London and began a three year nurse training at University College Hospital qualifying in 1909, the same year that Faith decided to follow her elder sister’s path when she became a nurse probationer at the East Sussex Hospital, Hastings.  London was home to the United Kingdom’s most prestigious teaching hospitals; young women aspired to be accepted at one or other of them and records show that the hospitals themselves favoured the daughters of clergy as probationers, so Muriel fitted perfectly into an accepted pattern.  The hospital at Hastings was small and provincial with just 86 beds and it’s not clear what factors were instrumental in Faith preferring that to somewhere more exclusive, or whether she had perhaps been refused a place elsewhere.  After qualifying in 1912 she took midwifery training in London before returning once more to Hastings. Accounts of the life of ‘Hope Milroy’ suggest that she turned to nursing to move away from university and an academic life, but there remains the possibility that Faith and Muriel Moulson saw nursing as a safe and immediate way to gain independence and escape family life and whatever problems it had produced for them.

     None of the five sisters ever married and Faith and Muriel both served as military nurses throughout the First World War until 1919. Faith initially offered her services to the British Red Cross Society [BRCS] and worked in France at Sir Henry Norman’s Hospital, transferring to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve in April 1915. Muriel was a member of the Territorial Force Nursing Service attached to No.2 London General Hospital and later also worked in France although the sisters’ paths never crossed professionally while there. By the end of the war Muriel was suffering from symptoms of mitral valve disease of the heart contracted following rheumatic fever nine years earlier and that could have been a contributing factor to her relatively early death in 1945.

     At the start of the war Geoffrey Moulson was a medical student at St. Thomas’s Hospital, but he set aside his training and went to France in 1914 with the BRCS as a ‘dresser,’ returning to his studies in London in 1915 and qualifying as a doctor the following year.  From 1917 he had a very long and distinguished career as a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving in two world wars and finally retiring in 1954 with the rank of Colonel. In 1919 he was married in Bombay to Irish nurse Eileen Rynd, also a wartime nursing sister in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and who served on hospital ships, at Mudros, and in India where it seems likely she and Geoffrey met.

     Following the Great War Faith went back to India, first on a temporary posting with Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service for India, and later as Lady Superintendent at the Sassoon Hospital, Poona, where she worked until her return to England in 1935 following the death of her father and her sister Ruth.  India runs as a thread through the lives of the whole family as do houses in Bournemouth and South Devon where most members of the family lived over the decades, and eventually died.  Faith died in Devon in 1964, immortalised as Hope Milroy in ‘Testament of Youth.’ I wonder how she regarded her other life as Hope?


Main Sources:
The National Archives WO399 for service files of Faith and Muriel Moulson and Eileen Rynd.

Drew’s Medical Officers in the British Army 1660-1960, Volume 2, for details of Geoffrey’s career

The Great War at Fairlynch - Hunting Geoffrey Moulson

Testament of Youth - An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-25; Vera Brittain Various publishers over many editions

Testament of Youth, 1979: available on YouTube

Findmypast  For almost everything else!

Then on the other hand ...

... I've discovered that there are always going to be some things that I find so interesting they will draw me back ...