Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Not quite the finale!

To everyone who has contacted me about the closure of the blog, thank you, but ...  it's not going to be deleted, just put into hibernation. The content will stay.  I'll continue to concentrate on my two websites which will carry on as usual and grow.  So information about British Military Nurses can still be found on:

Scarletfinders - for a whole range of information and transcriptions of original documents including the complete war diary of the Matron-in-Chief in France and Flanders and advice on how to start your own research.

The Fairest Force - for nuts and bolts information about British military nurses, concentrating on France and Flanders, but applicable to other areas as well. Basic details of pay, conditions, living arrangements, joining, leaving, relaxing ...

But no myth or fantasy, only firm facts and common sense!

Sue

Sunday, 5 October 2014

FINALE


After seven and a half years and two hundred and forty-four posts, this is the last. Ten years ago I decided to try and seek out accurate information and details about military nurses during the Great War in an effort to cut through the myth and fantasy which abounds, both on the web and in written works.  Along the way I’ve done a lot, produced a lot and learnt a great deal. The last year has given me my most important lesson so far. It’s taught me that I’ve failed, or more precisely been very naive and stupid to think that I could ever have made a difference. The mass of books, articles, television programmes and social media sites generated by the centenary of the Great War show that accuracy is not high up on most people’s list when it comes to the nursing services of the Great War. Fantasy, drama and a good story far outweigh any need to get facts right and the professional nurse remains all but ignored, except when held up as a miserable harridan set on her chastisement of the heroine VAD. While there’s an insistence on getting things right for the British military forces in general - i.e. the men - for nurses it seems that anything goes. To criticise or complain is to dig your own grave and I would like to avoid that for a little bit longer.  

Of course there are some wonderful oases scattered throughout the desert for which I’m truly grateful, but the desert seems to be getting bigger and the oases rather wider apart. Let’s hope for a wet winter.  After seven years the Intrepid Band have finally surrendered.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dangerously Ill - Life before antibiotics


Mary Watson was a trained nurse and member of the Territorial Force Nursing Service and was mobilised on the 13th August 1914 with her unit, No.5 Southern General Hospital, Portsmouth. In early February 1915 she was admitted to a ward of her hospital suffering from influenza and a chest infection. Unusually, her case notes survive in her service file held at The National Archives (WO399/15365) and give a stark and rather frightening insight into how severe illness could be in the days before antibiotics. Not only was she very near death, but even when improving her full recovery took several months. Two of her brothers died during the Great War, one at Gallipoli and one on the Somme on July 1st, 1916. Her family were fortunate that their daughter survived.

*****

Surname: WATSON 
Rank:  Sister
Unit:  Territorial Force Nursing Service, 5th Southern General Hospital

1915:
5th Southern General Hospital
Disease:  Acute Bronchitis and Influenza

9.2.15
Patient admitted complaining of pain in limbs, severe cough and headache. Temp. 102.6.  Rales all over chest and back. Hyper-resonance.  Influenza contracted in Ward.

10.2.15
Cough very severe, and cyanosed. Temp. 104.2

14.2.15
Temp. 102.8.  Pains in limbs severe.

20.2.15
Cough very distressing. Steam kettle.

25.2.15
Patient has had bad night and cough has been very distressing.

4.3.15
Dullness base of both lungs.

9.3.15
Very bad night. Very blue. Heart dilated. Breathing very bad.

11.3.15
Patient feels a little more comfortable and breathing easier.

15.3.15
No change but patient holding her own.

21.3.15
Complains of sickness and motions foetid.

28.3.15
Cough loose and expectorating freely. Patient feels better.

4.4.15
Respiration keeps easier and has fallen to about 24 [respirations per minute].  Temp. for three days has been but little over 99.

1.4.15
Improving steadily.

18.4.15
Patient doing well. Heart's action steadier and dullness at both bases somewhat less.

23.4.15
Patient able to sit up for 4 hours without distress.  Patient left hospital on 28 April 1915.

*****

     On June 4th, 1915, a memo was sent from the War Office arranging a medical board for Mary Watson. It was hoped that it could be held near her home as she was still not able to travel far. It included the phrase 'I understand she is able to get about a little,' showing that even four months after her initial illness she was still far from well.

     A second nurse, Agnes Swanson, had a similarly severe illness that today could be easily treated with antibiotics. She first became ill in Salonika in November 1918 as the influenza epidemic raged. Eventually she arrived home, but even six months later remained unwell. Some intriguing itemised chemist's bills survive in her service file, showing the range of treatments that were available at the time for ongoing chest infections. We certainly need to give thanks for the discovery of Penicillin and all that came after. Anyone for a creosote capsule?

The National Archives WO399/14835
*****

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Photos Left Behind


     Last week I was at the Royal College of Nursing in London listening to Professor Christine Hallett talking about her new book ‘Veiled Warriors.’*  In part it explores the myths surrounding nurses during the First World War – the nurse as a romantic figure, the nurse as heroine, and the myth of the overworked, mistreated V.A.D.  At the end, someone posed a question about the images used to accompany the talk. Why, when trying to dispel myths, were the images used all supporting those same myths? Why were they showing a romantic view of the nurse and her patients; where were the wounds, the horrors – why were there no images of those to accompany the words of the women involved?


     As someone who relies heavily on images to add colour and detail to my own talks, it caused me to consider the whole range of photos, drawings and fine art that portray hospital life and medical care during the Great War. My first thought was how lucky we are to have them. So many snapshots of nurses, patients, hospital buildings, ships and trains; glimpses of the great variety of equipment used at the time – the operating theatre, beds, lockers, tents and huts; interiors, exteriors, wards, kitchens, nurses at work, nurses’ leisure time – reading, writing, walking, relaxing, tennis and tea. They provide a unique view of nursing and medical care in a form never seen before or since the Great War.

     In the spring of 1915 an Army Order decreed that it was forbidden for members of the British Expeditionary Force to carry a camera in order to take photographs of life overseas, except those acting in an official capacity and authorised to do so. For nurses, using a camera and passing personal photos to the press, even though they may have been taken in all innocence, was likely to result in them being returned to the United Kingdom or even in dismissal. Luckily for those of us who came after, many women were willing to risk the consequences of breaking this rule, and collections of these personal photographs have survived the years though many more must have been lost over the decades.


     What’s left today falls mainly into two categories; official images taken on behalf of the War Office, and personal images taken by the brave. Some photographs of wounds and various aspects of surgery and treatment were kept for clinical purposes and survive in archives and in the pages of medical journals and textbooks. Other than those, why would anyone have wanted to publicise the surgical horrors of war?  Official photos were important for propaganda purposes and were essential for showing the organisation and depth of our medical services to the British public, relatives, the men themselves, and also to the watching enemy. They display good care in calm surroundings; clean, well equipped hospitals and disciplined soldiers, happy though wounded. They show that our women were eager to be part of the war, professional and willing; they provide a picture of the British soldier as bloodied but definitely unbowed, ready to re-join the fight. Within this framework there was no place to display the brutality of what came before the wounded were transformed once again into upright, smiling figures – who would have benefited by it?


     With regard to personal photos taken by members of the nursing staff, they would have been well aware that there was a line that must not be crossed. The majority of their photos are also of happy groups, off-duty time, tennis, walks and holidays. Though it might be acceptable to go inside a ward with a camera, would anyone really have taken a photo of a wounded man in the process of having his dressing done to send home, or to grace newspapers or magazines?  Would any nurse think that was appropriate then, or even today, other than perhaps for specialist clinical reasons?

     We have to be content with what survives, which is so much, though of course it will never be enough. The full picture can only be reconstructed by adding in official accounts and the personal testimony of all participants.  But the calm and smiling groups will always remain the outward image of the Great War even though they may support a myth, because that’s what was created at the time and therefore remains the gift that is left behind.




*Veiled Warriors; Christine E. Hallett; Oxford University Press, 2014

Friday, 19 September 2014

Mauretania as a Hospital Ship

The 'Mauretania,' built for Cunard and launched in 1906, had a multi-faceted history during the First World War, some of which was as a hospital ship.  There is a war diary of her medical work during that time held at The National Archives in WO95/4146, and although very brief, a transcription is reproduced here in its entirety. It does give some small idea of how the time of a hospital ship was divided over the course of its five months in service.

*****

His Majesty’s Hospital Ship ‘MAURETANIA’
War Diary, 10th October 1915 to February 29th 1916
The National Archives, WO95/4146




1915

10th October:  In accordance with War Office instructions proceeded to Liverpool to arrange details as regards the fitting up of the R.M.S.S. “Mauretania” as a Hospital Carrier. Arrived Liverpool 6.30 p.m.  Visited ship and after, P.N.T.O.

11th October:  Inspected ship with Commander Currie R.N., arranged such matters as bulkheads, lavatory accommodation etc., etc.  Indented for Ordnance Stores, Clothing, Stationary, Red X Stores.

12th to 20th October:  Work in the ship.  Arrival of Stores.

21st October:  Detachment arrived, also a portion of the staff of No.27 General Hospital.  Stores embarked.  Officers addressed on their respective duties.

22nd October:  Anchored in Mersey and sailed at 7 p.m.  Weather – thick.

23rd October:  Off Scilly 12 noon.  Weather – clear.

24th October:  Off Lisbon.  Weather – clear.

25th October:  Passed Gibraltar.  Weather – clear.

26th October:  At Sea

27th October:  At Sea

28th October:  At Naples. Coaled.

29th October:  Left Naples.

31st October:  Arrived Mudros.

1st November:  Coaling.

2nd November:  Embarked wounded from H.S. “Galeka” and H.S. “Delta”.

3rd November:  Embarked wounded from shore hospital.

4th November:  Embarked wounded from shore hospital.  Pte. T. Calderbank, 1/5 Manchester Regt., died. Left Mudros 4 p.m.

5th November: No.3765 Pte. Parker F., 3rd Field Ambulance, R.N.D., died and was buried at sea. Pte. Lee operated on for appendicitis.

6th November:  At Sea.

7th November:  At Sea.  Pte. Lee, 9th W. Yorks died of Enteric with perforation. P.M. showed gangrene of the bowel.  Pte. Marchant, 5th R. Fusiliers died of Dysentery.

8th November:  Off Gibraltar 7.35 a.m.  Received signal (Wireless) asking accommodation for convalescents.  Replied 19 Officers and 81 other ranks.  Message received at 7.45, replied 7.52 a.m. Wireless instrument broke down.  Message reported delivered at 8.15 a.m.  Ship’s fireman Bowen died at --- of Dysentery and pneumonia.

9th November:  At Sea.

10th November:  Docked at 1.45, Southampton.

11th November:  Ship commenced re-fitting.

12th to 22nd November:  Ship in dock.  Improvements are almost completed the chief of which have been (1) Gutting E Deck and erection of Double Tier berths.  (2) Gutting C & D Aft, Double Tier berths.  (3) Officers dining saloon to C1 and old dining room converted into a ward for 51 swing cots.  (4) Altering aseptic theatre.  (5) Altering men’s dining room and fitting of antiseptic tank and washstands. (6) Various sanitary improvements.  (7) Additions to disinfector and increase of laundry machinery.  (8) Erection of Sisters’ Duty Rooms.

23rd November:  Left Southampton with R.A.M.C. details and nurses.

24th November:  At Sea.

25th  to 27th  November:  At Sea.

28th November:  Arrived Naples.

29th November:  Visited British Consul General at Naples. Ship inspected by Consuls of U.S. America, Denmark, Switzerland (representing Germany) accompanied by British Consul General.  Statement in writing given me signed by 4 Consuls, that this ship has no combatant troops or war-like stores on board and that the rules of the Geneva Convention are being strictly carried out.  Left Naples.

3rd December:  Arrived Mudros – Embarked sick from H.S. “Devana”, H.S. “Nevassa”, H.S. “Delta”, H.S. “Soudan” and shore hospital.

4th December:  Left Mudros.  No.10369 Pte. Poole H., died of Dysentery yesterday 1 hour after embarkation and was buried at sea today. (8th Cheshire Regt.)

5th and 6th December:  At Sea.

7th December:  Arrived Naples for coal and water.  Visited British Consul General at 10 a.m.

8th December:  Pte. J. Cuddy, Lancs. Fus., died at 1.45 a.m., from Dysentery.  Left Naples at 7.30 a.m.  Inspection 10 a.m. with Sanitary Officer and Medical Director General of Cunard S. S. Line.  Several matters connected with Sanitary improvements enquired into and a list of these prepared for authorities at port of disembarkation.

9th December:  At Sea.

10th December:  At Sea.  Passed Gibraltar 8 p.m.  Entered bay and stopped – Naval officers boarded vessel and brought papers appertaining to number of sick on board for signature.  Proceeded at 9.10 p.m. westwards.

11th December:  No.1849 Pte. Foot, 1/8 Hampshires died and was buried at 4.35 p.m. – Acute Dysentery.  N.W. Wind – ship rolling.  No.34552 Gr. J. Drawfield R.F.A. developed Tetanus and was isolated.

14th to 16th December:  Arrived Southampton 7 a.m.  Invalids disembarked at 9 a.m.  In Southampton.

23rd December:  Staff Nurse Miss Stanley died in Netley Hospital of Dysentery.

1916

7th January:  Left Southampton 12 noon.  Boat Stations and life-belt parade 2 p.m.

8th January:  Complaints re Sgts Mess.  Reported to Ship’s Officials.

9th and 10th January:  At Sea.

11th January:  At Sea.  Communicated with Master re linen of R.A.M.C.

12th January:  Naples 7 a.m.  Left at 10.15 p.m.

13th January:  At Sea.

14th January:  Arrived Mudros 4.45 p.m.  Visited “Aragon”.  No ships ready to transfer patients.  S.E. breeze freshening.

15th January:  Strong breeze from S.E.  Ship moved to new anchorage 8 a.m.

16th January:  At Mudros.  Loading patients from Hospital Ships “Morea”,  “Panama”,  “Gloucester Castle”,  &  “Essequibo”.

17th January:  Loading continued.  Left Mudros at 4 p.m.

18th January:  At Sea.

19th January:  Naples 4.30 p.m.  Nominal Rolls sent to 3rd Echelon, Alexandria.  Cable to D.D.M.S. Southampton.

20th January:  Coaling and taking in water at Naples.

25th January:  Arrived Southampton.

9th February:  Left Southampton.  Anchored in Solent.

9th to 23rd February:  In Solent.  At 4 p.m. the Officers, Nursing Sisters and Detachment disembarked at Southampton.

24th February:  8.30 a.m.  Ship proceeded to Liverpool.

25th February:  Arrived Liverpool.

29th February:  Ship being no longer required I handed over charge.

F. J. Brown
Lieut. Colonel, R.A.M.C.
O. C. Troops, H.M.H.S. “MAURETANIA”

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Vera Brittain and the Old Dug-out


     I admit to not being a fan of Vera Brittain. Over the decades she has forged a prominent position both in biographies and items throughout various media, but I've never understood exactly why. She worked as a VAD during the First World War and wrote a considerable amount about her experiences, her life and her losses. Because of that, she has emerged as an icon among nurses during the Great War, eclipsing almost all others, trained or otherwise. She’s become a national model for the ‘war nurse’ despite her story being one shared by thousands of other women. Many worked for a far longer period during wartime; many were honoured in a number of ways with commendations and awards; thousands suffered the loss of loved ones due to enemy action; hundreds suffered more personal loss than did Vera Brittain. And of course, she was not a trained nurse, but an amateur – an inexperienced volunteer.

     However articulate, however smooth and emotive her writing, my relationship with her stuttered and came to a very rocky end when I got to a passage in ‘Testament of Youth’ in which she resorted to a spiteful and vindictive attack on one of the most honourable, brave and trustworthy members of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. On her way to Malta in 1916 on board the ill-fated hospital ship Britannic she described the Matron as ‘a sixty-year-old dug-out with a red cape and a row of South African medals.’ Later, recounting the tale of another nurse who had been on board the ship when it was torpedoed the following year, she wrote:

The old Matron, motionless as a rock, sat on the boat deck and counted the Sisters and nurses as they filed past her into the boats, refusing to leave until all were assembled. None of the women were lost … In one of the boats sat the Matron, looking towards the doomed Britannic while the rest of its occupants, with our friend among them, anxiously scanned the empty horizon. She saw the propeller cut a boat in half and fling its mutilated victims into the air, but, for the sake of the young women for whom she was responsible, she never uttered a sound nor moved a muscle of her grim old face. What a pity it is, I meditated as I listened, that outstanding heroism seems so often to be associated with such unmitigated limitations! How seldom it is that this type of courage goes with an imaginative heart, a sensitive, intelligent mind!


British nurses on board a hospital ship : Australian War Memorial

     The words of an arrogant, twenty-something young woman, failing to grasp much of life beyond her own narrow perspective were barely excusable in a diary entry of 1917, but unfortunate and telling that they were considered suitable in a book published by a mature woman in 1933. I suspect that she might have grown in years but not in outlook.

South Africa during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War

     So who was the ‘old dug-out’?  Elizabeth Ann Dowse was born in Bristol in 1855, and trained as a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where she worked for seven years between 1878 and 1885. She was chosen by H.R.H. The Princess of Wales as one of a group of nurses to serve in Egypt with the Nile Expedition that year, and on her return she joined the Army Nursing Service in 1886 where she remained for the next twenty-five years. She served in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War including being present at the Defence of Ladysmith, and also in Malta, Egypt, on board hospital ships and at various stations in the United Kingdom. She was compulsorily retired from Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service on reaching the age of fifty-five in 1910, but returned voluntarily to serve during the Great War, by then fifty-nine years of age. During the years between 1914 and 1919 her postings included hospitals in the UK, France, Italy, and of course on the Hospital Ship Britannic. She was one of only one hundred women ever to receive both the Royal Red Cross and a Bar to the award. Every note about her, every report on her work speaks in the highest terms of her meritorious and devoted services. She was hard-working, tactful, zealous, never lacking in energy; she showed self-reliance and common-sense of the highest order; she displayed the best influence over others, both nurses and male orderlies. A personal letter from the Matron-in-Chief at the time of her second retirement in 1919 said:

I am sure that you know that I am much more grateful than I can possibly express for all you have done for the last very strenuous five years. The loyalty and devotion to duty of the retired Matrons of the Q.A.I.M.N.S. who so readily returned to do their bit as soon as we were involved in this War will never be forgotten.

     There were, of course, thousands of other trained members of the British military nursing services, but few with such a long and impressive history as Elizabeth Ann Dowse. I cannot tell whether, as Vera Brittain inferred, she was unimaginative, unintelligent and insensitive, though I suspect she was none of those. What I am quite sure of is which of the two women I would trust in life, especially in a sticky situation, and which of the two I would choose to meet with and talk to today.

*****
Testament of Youth; Vera Brittain; first published by Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1933 and in many later editions

Thursday, 4 September 2014

From Small Acorns Mighty Oaks Grow

Gertrude Madley in France, 1919


     Gertrude Madley was born in Wales in December 1892, living most of her early life in Llanelli.  Her story shows the changes that were taking place in recruitment to the military nursing services by the middle of the war.  When Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service was formed in 1902 applicants had to be well-educated, of high social status, and trained in one of a small, select group of prestigious hospitals. As the war progressed and increasing numbers of nurses were needed for military hospitals, the net had to be cast wider to find large numbers of staff nurses and nursing sisters for QAIMNS Reserve.

     The 1911 census shows Gertrude Madley as an eighteen year old, living with her family in Llanelli.  Her father’s occupation was given as ‘tinplate rollerman’ and she herself was working as a factory hand in a tin plate factory.  She was not destined to remain as a factory worker and in 1913 she started a three year nurse training course at Swansea General and Eye Hospital before joining Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve as a Staff Nurse in September 1916.  At just twenty-three years of age she was one of the youngest nurses to serve with the Reserve during the Great War, the age limit of twenty-five having been lowered as the shortage of trained nurses was so great.  She initially served in Malta before going to France in 1918, and was finally demobilised in May 1920.  Her report from No.35 General hospital, dated 30 April 1920 reads:

Staff Nurse Madley served with this unit from 15.6.19 to the present date leaving on demobilisation.  Her general professional ability, power of administration and initiative is quite up to the standard of her rank.  Good tempered, tactful, always obliging and helpful. Devoted to her patients.  Her influence generally is all for good.  Nurse Madley has had charge of a surgical ward and has fulfilled her duties of Sister in a most satisfactory manner.

     Gertrude Madley never married and during the Second World War worked as a Chief Nurse with the American Red Cross at the Harvard Field Hospital Unit, Salisbury. An article written by her can be found here:

My Assignment as a Red Cross Nurse

     It seems almost impossible that this could be the same person as the shy young woman in the photo above, and after her demobilisation she must have spent many years in the USA between the wars. However, the General Nursing Council Register for 1942 confirms both her training in Swansea and her appointment with the American Red Cross, so certainly one and the same.  There are many other references to Gertrude Madley on the web and she appears to have become a prominent 'American' nurse of the time. She died in April 1990 at the age of ninety-seven.  What a great example of a young woman from a humble, working-class background who forged an independent and inspiring life as a professional nurse.