Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Question of Equality?


Two Canadian Nurses [Imperial War Museum Q30392]

     Right at the start I have to say that I admire the work done by Canadian military nurses during the First World War - every pair of hands was sorely needed. My problem is with the way their working lives have been interpreted and reported in recent years, in particular the comparisons made between nurses of the Canadian Army Medical Corps and British nurses of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service. I've been aware for years that many Canadian reports, while understandably desperate to promote the virtues of their own nurses are, at the same time, lacking in knowledge of the British military nursing services that they seem so keen to misrepresent. This week I was sent a link to this recent article:

Women in North Bay's Great War

Although it’s brief and contains no references or sources, it repeats a frequently-out-of-the-mouths-of-Canadians passage:

In July 1917, Marian applied for (and was granted) a transfer to the Canadian Army Military Corp, as a lieutenant. Most Canadian nurses applied for transfer since, in the Canadian Army, the nurses were given the rank, pay and privileges of an officer.

Rank, pay and privileges of an officer.’ These are the things often held up as elevating the Canadian nurse above the British during the Great War, but they fail to accurately reflect the situation as it existed at the time. Canadian military nurses had been active for a many decades prior to the Great War, but only in tiny numbers - a few here, a few there. In 1914 there were just five regular members of the Canadian Army Nursing Corps. That must be compared with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, formed and firmly established in the mid-19th century and which in 1914 had 300 regular members serving throughout the world in permanent, pensionable posts and who formed an elite nursing service of mature well-educated, well-trained women working under contract to the War Office. From the earliest days they had officer status even if they lacked military rank. Few British 'gentlewomen' of the time would have welcomed military rank - they knew their place and didn't yearn to be soldiers. Their place was assured, and everybody respected that.  The Library and Archive of Canada states that:

… only the Canadian nurses were under the direct control of the army and held a military rank. In comparison, the British nursing services were affiliated with the army, but not integrated into it. The higher status accorded to the nursing profession in Canada than in Great Britain may explain, at least in part, this breach of tradition by the Canadian military authorities. Most Canadian nurses with diplomas had gone to high school, and in Canada, training in a nursing school was seen as a sign of prestige.[1]

What does ‘affiliated with the army, but not integrated into it’ mean? During the Great War more than 22,000 British trained nurses served under contract to the War Office. In what way did the military rank afforded Canadian nurses make their position different from their British counterparts? And the reference to the 'higher status' of nurses in Canada is also puzzling - a turn of phrase that might be difficult to prove. The same website goes on to explain that:

... their [Canadian Nurses] authority as officers was limited to the functions that they executed in the hospitals. They had no decision making power at the military level, unlike medical officers. In addition, although they were lieutenants, they were known simply as "nursing sisters," a title reminiscent of the religious vocation with which caregiving tasks were often associated. [1]

That sounds remarkably similar to every other trained military nurse, and of course, it was. Whatever the Canadians thought was the correct title for their nurses, the fact remains that their status, work, responsibility and accountability was identical to their counterparts in the British, Australian, South African and New Zealand nursing services, all of whom were considered to have officer status. Even the Canadian Gazette made a distinction when announcing appointments - the male officers given as ‘To be Captain’ or ‘To be Lieutenant’ while the women were ‘To be Nursing Sisters.’

     There were differences.  Canadian nurses received higher pay; as a group they were younger than their British colleagues and their length of service was often short, many serving one-year contracts before returning to Canada. Canadian sources suggest that the average age for their own members was twenty-four and I assume this was their age on enlistment. The British were a good deal older and a random sample of 500 nurses from my own database give an average age in 1916 of thirty-four years. So the British were a considerably older group and most would have been trained longer as nurses and acquired a far greater depth of experience. I have rarely read any personal account or memoir by a British nurse which suggests any ill-feeling or tension existing between them and the Canadian nursing sisters, and it might be something which was perceived only by the latter, but it has worked its way into Canadian history:

More tense, it seems, were the relations between Canadian and foreign* nurses, particularly the British ones. These tensions were due to the more advantageous conditions that Canadian nurses enjoyed. Their higher salaries, more distinctive uniforms, and apparent popularity with the officers seem to have inspired jealousy among their foreign colleagues. However, the greatest source of frustration with regard to the Canadian nurses had to do with their military rank. Indeed, their officer status gave them greater freedom of movement and a higher level of prestige, two elements that their foreign counterparts did not enjoy. The rules of the Canadian and British armies required that officers, female or male, communicate only with their peers unless they were in civilian clothing, so the British military nurses, without a military rank, could not spend time with their own officers or with those of the CAF if they were in uniform. On the other hand, the Canadian military nurses could spend time only with other officers because of their rank as lieutenants. It is thus understandable that the British nurses perceived the arrival of the Canadians with some apprehension. What is more, the Canadians' rapidly acquired reputation for compassion, gentleness, and hospitality made them formidable rivals. [1]

*Foreign here appears to refer not only to the British but also to the other Dominion nurses from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and a strange and inappropriate word to use in this context.

The paragraph above is truly confused waffle.  Who does the writer think the British nursing sisters' peers were? They had always had officer status from the earliest days. I often wonder how it was that so many British nurses married officers if they were barred from all contact – but yet another myth of course.

     It’s only right that Canada should be proud of its nurses and their work in the Great War, but there's no place for sloppy and incorrect reporting relating to British and other ‘foreign’ nurses. Canadian accounts should take care not to denigrate and demean British nurses who were easily the equal of their own and in most cases were more experienced and with a longer period of war service. Do your research Canada – find out about the history of the nursing services you seem so happy to belittle, and provide some solid and reputable sources.  Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service was long-established, elite and confident in itself. It’s members were educated, well-trained women with a wealth of experience both in nursing and life in general.

Lucy Liptrot, a QAIMNS Reserve Staff Nurse


     The last word must go to Mabel Clint a Canadian nurse who served France during the First World War and who in my opinion got it exactly right:

Next to us in the fields was an English Stationary Hospital, and as Harold Begbie had some months before criticized our uniform very severely, and gratuitously assumed we would not be worth much professionally, I'm afraid the English Sisters looked upon us at first with some prejudice. Discipline and routine were carried out by them exactly the same as in the barrack military hospitals, and it did seem that some of the "Regulars", trained with a certain rigidity, perhaps failed to allow for front-line conditions, the immense mental strain, and the fact that the Territorials, and afterwards "Kitchener's Army" were different material, and not accustomed to strict regulation of their actions. If ever the "human touch" was needed, it was in the Great War. We allowed our patients more liberty, but our wards looked less orderly. We often heard men comparing systems, and sometimes had several guests at tea-time crawling under the ropes, because our Sisters were accustomed to supplement the rations with fruit, eggs, or other extras. For steady, efficient service however, sacrifice of personal comfort, ability to work without recreation, the English personnel could not be surpassed. Many of their Matrons, as someone said were "Personalities" in their own right. They had a great deal of authority, and the Sisters also completely controlled their wards, subject only to the Medical Officer. We had the military rank, and they the real, established position. Personally, I met many at home and abroad, and fraternized with them equally as with Dominion Sisters, and I think they remember us with kindness. [2]

     A clear and astute summing up and yes, you may have had the military rank Canada, but ‘the real, established position’ was ours.  There were undoubtedly differences between individual nurses but all the allied nations provided the same high-class nursing service over the course of a long and difficult war. We must celebrate the art of nursing and all that was done during the hardest of times without looking for problems which were really very unimportant.

***

For a fuller article on the women who made up Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service see:


[1]  Library and Archives Canada: Caregiving on the Front: The Experience of Canadian Military Nurses during World War 1.

[2]  Our Bit: Memories of War Service, Mabel B. Clint



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