Friday, 28 August 2015

The Caring Profession

D/DLI 7/805/102 J.B.E. Simmons, a soldier of a Durham Light Infantry Home Service Battalion, guarding a prisoner in a hospital bed, two nurses, a German prisoner of war, and a Canadian soldier, Sergeant W. Wade, 1914-1918

Mention nurses during the First World War and most people would probably think of the Red Cross and St John’s Voluntary Aid Detachment - even if they might not know the full name.   VADs were volunteers who had typically had little or no previous medical training.  However, the VADs were just a part of the nursing services during the First World War, as we have been learning from the research that we’ve been doing. 

Last week I wrote about Cissy Spence and the “trying circumstances” under which she won the Military Medal.  Cissy was not a VAD but a “professional” nurse.  She worked in Darlington and Wolverhampton Hospitals before the war and was part of the Civil Hospital Reserve of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS).  The QAIMNS were founded in 1902 with the intention of providing regular nursing support to the Army.  It was soon realised this standing army of nurses was not attracting enough recruits so Civil Hospitals were encouraged to allow their nursing staff to be used by the War Office in time of need.  This meant that trained nurses were on standby and Cissy set foot in France on 8 August 1914, before the majority of male soldiers.

Also founded in 1902, the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS) provided similar support for the Navy.  While researching the Five Sisters Memorial in York Minister we came across the story of Louisa Charlotte Chamberlain, who family lived in Eastgate:

She served aboard the Hospital Ship China and was killed by a mine off Scarpa Flow along with a dental surgeon from County Durham, Herbert Myers Marshall:

Another area that I’ve been particularly interested in is the Scottish Women’s Hospitals.  Founded by Elsie Inglis, these hospitals employed women doctors as well as nurses to look after wounded soldiers.  They had strong links to the pre-war suffragist group the Women’s Union of Suffrage Societies and the Sunderland Press Secretary of the NUWSS posted a long account of the work they carried out in Serbia (Sunderland Echo, 20 March 1915).  I haven’t been able to track down any female doctors who worked for the SWH (yet!) but Durham at War does feature an orderly from Hartlepool that served with the organisation:

Red Cross database of VADs:

More information about the QAIMNS

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals

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