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Thursday, 11 May 2017

International Nurses' Day

‘With all those members of the [medical] profession there has been associated a mighty army of men and women workers, the rank and file of the RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps], nursing sisters, drivers of motor ambulances, women orderlies, cooks, scullions, organisers of this and of that to benefit the wounded, the members of the two societies – the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John: a hundred others whom one can find no space to mention’ 
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel FS Brereton, ‘The Great War and the RAMC’, 1919 

Today is International Nurses’ Day so we are going to highlight some of the nurses and Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) men on Durham at War. 

Photograph of nurses around a table in a garden, drinking tea, possibly outside a Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital (D/DLI 13/2/264)
D/DLI 13/2/264 Photograph of nurses around a table in a garden, drinking tea, possibly outside a Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital
Isabella Shearer Walker, who grew up in Jarrow and Sunderland, was a nurse prior to the war, and went on to be the commandant of the 18th Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital at Hebburn, from May 1915 to February 1919. As well as the St John’s War Badge, Isabella was presented with the Royal Red Cross by the King himself, in 1918. http://www.durhamatwar.org.uk/story/12765/

Edith Rowlandson, from Coundon, enrolled as a VAD nurse, a move that took her initially to Leeds, but eventually to Canada. She worked as a nursing sister at East Leeds Military Hospital. In December 1918, a Canadian soldier, Albert Edward Coates (whose family had moved to Leeds), was admitted to the hospital. In March 1919, he and Edith married, and sailed for Canada in August of the same year. http://www.durhamatwar.org.uk/story/12006/

Not all women worked in hospitals in Britain. There were many who went out to France and Flanders, and other theatres of war such as Egypt, not to mention at sea on hospital boats.

Alice Heaton, of Durham, was already working as a private nurse in Paris before the war. During the war, she volunteered to attend to the French Army sick and wounded, until her own health issues necessitated her return to England. In 1918, Alice was awarded the French medal, the Legion d’Honneur for her service. http://www.durhamatwar.org.uk/story/11588/
Watercolour illustration, by Robert Mauchlen, of a nurse tending to a wounded soldier in a hospital, c.1917 (D/DLI 7/920/11(11))
D/DLI 7/920/11(11) Watercolour illustration, by Robert Mauchlen, of a nurse tending to a wounded soldier in a hospital, c.1917
In his book, ‘The Great War and the RAMC’, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel FS Brereton, lauds the nursing services as integral to the work of the RAMC, ‘This has been a women’s war as much as a man’s. Women have laboured… assiduously and have been of equal value in the hundreds of hospitals which have harboured the men wrecked by the action of the enemy.’

The nursing orderlies of the RAMC were men, some with full nursing training, others not. Joseph Norwood, of South Moor, previously served two years as a territorial soldier with 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (DLI), but in October 1915, enlisted with the RAMC in Newcastle. He spent a year training in England before sailing to Greece in October 1916 as part of the Salonika Expeditionary Force. Unfortunately, his year and a half long service comes to a sad end. In May 1918, Joseph appears to have made a suicide attempt, and the following month was reported as dangerously ill with pneumonia and malaria. He died two days later on 13 June 1918. http://www.durhamatwar.org.uk/story/12880/

William Robert Chapman, born in Easington Lane, also had service with both the RAMC and the DLI. At the outbreak of war, he was a theological student in Manchester, but enlisted with the RAMC in Sheffield in September 1916, training to be a theatre nurse. He was sent to 3rd Stationary Hospital at Rouen, France, and was there when the Battle of the Somme began, around 75 miles east. William himself was evacuated to Britain in August 1916, suffering from trench fever, but returned to the front to work in field ambulances on the Somme. He was invited to apply to become an infantry officer, and in May 1917, was commissioned to 15 DLI, with who he served for the remainder of the war, also winning the Military Medal. http://www.durhamatwar.org.uk/story/11546/
William is of special note as the Imperial War Museum conducted an oral history interview with him in 1983, and this can be listened to on their website: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80007112

You can read about other aspects of nursing on an earlier blog post http://ww1countydurham.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/the-caring-profession.html

Scarlet Finders is an excellent resource for nursing in the First World War
http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/




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