"In 1914 there were about 300 nurses in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS). There were about 8,140 nurses in the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS), which was designated for home service (although some TFNS nurses did volunteer to serve overseas). By the end of 1914, 2,200 nurses had joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) to serve overseas, rising to over 12,000 by the end of the war.
In addition to these qualified nurses many women who were not nurses volunteered to help care for the sick and wounded. They were organised into Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) by the British Red Cross, and numbered 23,000 by the end of the war. There is often confusion about the role of the VADs with many people assuming that they were trained nurses.
It is not known what motivated individuals to join the Army as nurses. However it is known that there was a very active recruiting campaign to get women into the VADs, The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) and the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). Many nurses working in civilian hospitals at the start of the war were already in the reserves, either the TFNS or the QAIMNSR. Their colleagues would have witnessed their mobilisation. There is much written about the many women who came forward to help with nursing (but who were not trained nurses), and this was seen as one of the only ways in which women could serve their country and be part of ‘the war’. The trained nurses who joined the Army may have had similar feelings, as well as responding to the obvious need for nurses to care for sick and wounded soldiers. Unfortunately, very few wrote about their experiences"1.
Other nurses in the diary
Information from the Army Lists 1914 & 1917, and The National Archives WO 399
August 13th - August 31st 1914 (No. 2 General Hospital)
August 13th: We left A’shot at 9.15 for where - ? We know not, after waiting 2¼ hrs at the station sitting on our baggage. Cheers en route. Arrive S’hampton Water at 11.00 hrs. Major Blaine & Cpt. Robell most good to us & gave us unlimited tea & biscuits. We stayed in their little telephone office until 2.00am. The S.S. Corsican who was to have taken us on board held up by fog in Channel. At last 2.45am the “Comrie Castle” takes our 44 weary selves on board. Davis & I share a berth, awful row all night (at least what’s left of it!) stores coming on board.
August 14th: Up about 6am, having had about 2 hrs’ sleep. We go to Royal Hotel, S’hampton, for b’fast. Free train rides. Saw Cole at S’hampton with No 3 lot. Return to boat 4pm. We leave England 12 midnight escorted by 2 armoured cruisers & airship. Sleep again impossible, for awful row over our heads, hell let loose, cdn’t be worse! Some staff officers have to use some of our cabins, so we have to all bundle into ½ the cabins. 4 to my cabin, & 1 in lower berth & no porthole. It’s pouring with rain & we have not been allowed up on deck since we returned to boat at 4pm because the troops are up there. 2,000 on board & 900 horses. Sir D. Haigh & staff on board. The heat & smell below decks where we are too awful, the lavatories are unusable, unless you wish to be at once sick. I can only describe night as “black hole of Calcutta”. I got up about 3am, could not stand atmosphere of cabin any longer. Persuaded the orderly packman to start electric fan & made some tea. Am a little sea-sick entirely due to smells.
August 15th: We all b’fast about 6.30am. Still do not know what port we are making for. Thought our boat stopped off the Needles to pick up the sealed orders where go to about 1am. Sea quite calm but still racing. We reach Havre at last at 2.40. Troops disembark 1st then goods & horses. Capt. Turner tearing about Havre to find rooms at hotels for us. We cross quay to big shed to identify our baggage. We divide up into parties for 4 hotels. We are last party. 11 of us go to Central Hotel. Thank God off that awful boat after a 14½ hrs crossing. Dinner & bed. Never a bed so good as tonight’s.
August 16th: Chocolate & rolls in bed. Later we stroll round town & hear the awful news. No 2 is not to move up to Front but stay as base hosp. here. Too sickening. Hotel C. quite a decent 2nd class one.
August 17th: News too true. Hosp. being erected at Sanvic about 3 miles fr. Havre on the hill. Send mother a p.c. home. Stroll about town again & to bed. Mosquitoes here are too awful. Am simply eaten up. Today I bought some gauze to tie my head up in tonight & eucalyptus to bestrew my pillow with. The people are most interested in us, & most kind.
August 18th: We walked this mng to the harbour. Many war-ships about. Heard today, this is to be the big Fr. base hospital as well as Eng. Heard Gen. Frierson has died thro’ wire.* Heart attack. He & 2 other generals had motor accident. Also a “Tommie” died on a boat coming over fr. sunstroke. Several of us & Miss Richards taken off to Sanvic to the hosp. in prep. 12 of us still left here. We visited the Gen. Hosp. de Havre this afternoon. Saw about 38 Eng. soldiers in the wards. They were so glad to see us. The “sisters” seem v. kind to them, but wards look very dirty & unsmart. The Tommies tell us there are “friends” galore in their beds! First letter fr. home arrived today. I believe tomorrow the rest of us will be moving to Sanvic.
*I wonder if the Germans poisoned him. He knew too much about Germany. I wish they’d had a p.m.!
August 19th: Another uneventful day. We visited again the officers’ hosp. at the Orphinge Jeanne d’Arc (no patients in) where No 6 Gen. arrived last night. Saw S. Knowles & Miss Davis. No 6 is only resting here. We are jealous of it, if it goes nearer the Front than we. We went in the afternoon & visited the field hosp. at Sanvic. It was nice to see our old orderlies fr. the Camb. All look well & sunburnt. No particular news fr. the Front. Always the Germans are being repulsed. No details ever.
20th August: Still at Central Hotel, waiting! No 1 troops arrived this mng. No 6 still here. Saw a Daily Mirror of Aug. 18th today. Eng. knows at last where we are. I see we are all inoculated with 2nd dose this evng. I have a beastly cold. Expect I shall feel rotten tomorrow. Got 1st letter fr. home to-day. Sent an official p.c. to mother & Van.
August 21st: Still here. Hopton, Gardiner, Kinkead billeted out today. 6 of No 2 left here & Miss McC. No 1 & 6 still here. No 9, 8 & 10 arriving tonight. Many soldiers marched off last night. Today only R.A.M.C. & R.Es. seen about. It looks as if our Tommies moved on to the Front last night. Inoculation not affected me at all. A few of us were sick. Rained today. I stayed in for the mng. Went after déjeuner to Ecole Jeanne d’Arc. Dale walked back with me & we had tea at a café. They speak of moving No 2 people fr. Sanvic to the Yacht Club quarters. We hear today the Germans are in Brussels & I saw a Mirror of Aug. 17. I do miss Eng. papers. My cold is better & mosquito bites are subsiding.
August 22nd: 8, 9 & 10 hosp. arrived in early hours of this mng. Some of 10’s sisters here. I stayed in all mng to take telephone messages for Miss McC. after déjeuner. Hopton came for me & we went up to Sanvic & I visited my trunk. 1st time I’ve seen it since we left A’shot. Got 3rd letter fr. Min & Al. Also one fr. Mr Phillips. Wrote a letter to Min to post tomorrow.
August 23rd: The remaining members of No 2 & myself moved this evening to the Hôtel des Régates, a most palatial hotel overlooking the sea here. It’s a palace, but all the servants have gone to the war & as no visitors all chambermaids have been dismissed, so we are quartered here at 7 francs per day each & each to look after our own rooms. I have a glorious one with little balcony overlooking the sea. I went to sleep with the murmur of the tide coming in as a lullaby. The food is rather simple as we are paying so little (they get generally 15 fr. here). The officers’ hosp. has been moved to the Régates Club opposite here. 4 officers in at present, minor accidents. Thankful to say the mosquitoes are not bad up here. Posted my 1st letter home this mng. Went to the Eng. church in the mng. Many sisters, officers & Tommies there. A beautiful service. Coll. was for Prince of Wales’ fund. I saw Miss Watkins (fr. St Georges) after service. There is a report of a gt battle raging & they say in papers the Eng. & German Cavalry met last Sat. We may get wounded any time now.
August 24th: Work at last & plenty of it - I am posted to the Casino. This is to be one of the 4 receiving hosps here. (1) Palais du Régates for officers, (2) Casino for soldiers, (3) Gare Maritime for acute surgical & (4) Sanvic for sort of chronics. 9 other sisters & myself to Casino. S. Johnstone in charge. Having time, I & 2 orderlies spent the day scrubbing out & cleaning 10 of the artists’ dressing rooms as bedrooms for the sisters. Each a tiny cell-like place. Luckily a window to each & about room for a camp bed & 1 box. This is to be the real thing! No water on either 1st or 2nd floor where our rooms are but the ward lav. & washing basins on ground floor. 86 beds ready for the wounded whom we expect tomorrow. They say the war news is bad yesterday & today. The Germans are 41 miles over the Fr. frontier. Have taken Lunéville & proceeding NW where all the Fr. towns are unfortified. It looks as if they were making for Boulogne. This is my 2nd & last night at this grand Hôtel des Régates & I’ve had a hot bath. Heaven knows when I shall get the next. I am glad to be leaving this luxury & going to the dungeon cell. It is more fitting. Rec. letter fr. Coz. John today.
August 25th: We left hotel after breakfast & came for good to Casino. My kit bag not arrived, so after helping the others here get b’fast I started off for the Gare Maritime to see if my bag was there. A most awful place to get at. If it hadn’t been for the kindness of some well known Eng. man I don’t think I shld ever have got there. One of the bridges across quay was broken so we crossed in small boat & found my bag in the hosp. there. After gt difficulty my “friend” commandeered a fiacre to bring it to Casino & himself took me back & saw me into train home. He was a brick. Hope he’ll get his reward one day. We’ve grubbed up a kind of meal for lunch. Difficulty is no hot water for washing up things, but believe tomorrow our bag men (2) & our cook are to arrive. This afternoon we made up 40 more beds. No 8 gen. hosp. has been div. & we are taking these beds for them & I believe a matron fr. them. We have now 120 beds ready. Major Harrison, Messrs Somerville, Allen & Scott had tea with us. Scott is my old friend fr. St Georges. He tells me Messrs Varley, Dickson & ------ are all over here. He’s the only one tho’ with No 2. Mr Scott had tea with us. The beds are awfully low, about 1 ft fr. the ground. They will be killing work to make - more than the Crimea beds. The orderlies have been working like niggers these last 3 days, unloading & unpacking stuff. We heard a rumour today the Germans had landed in Scotland, but don’t believe it is true. War news seems much the same today. Still rather bad. Had 4th home letter to-day. Messrs Somerville & Allen to tea & supper.
August 26th: Had 5th letter fr. home. Letters also fr. Pat, Van & Cole. No wounded yet arrived. Cleaned up wards & tidied beds all mng. In aft. Holbech & I shopped. I bought a china cup & saucer, only 7½d. It’s no good, my soul loathes tea out of enamel mugs. I’m quite happy now. We also invested in some green & white American cloth to cover top of cupboards with. Our “batmen” (2) arrived this mng so we have not had to prep. meals & wash up, another thing I loathed. Heard tonight 10pm of a big Eng. victory. 50,000 German prisoners. I wonder if it is true. Nearly all women conductors on trains here. One told me because all their men were at “la guerre”. Messrs Allen & Somerville had tea with us. We had roses on our dinner table tonight, given by a Fr. lady. They were a treat. Very wet & windy all day.
August 27th: Great excitement this mng. We were told at 10am to get ready at once for wounded, as 2,000 Eng. casualties after the battle round Mons were coming in. At 1pm Miss Richards came & told us that none were coming here. They had all been taken to Rouen. We nearly wept! Visitors came round today & said we were far ahead of the Fr. Red X in being prep. for the wounded. They (Fr.) had 600 wounded in 2 days ago & hadn’t shirts to put them in. I & Twitchin went out & shopped in afternoon. I bought 2 plants for 1 fr. from a children’s stall in the flower market. They were v. polite & sweet kiddies. I must have a flower in my room. I made myself a serviette yesterday & bought a wooden ring to put it in for 1d. The others laughed at me. This & the china cup! I found out a cheap blanchisseuse for us all today. Laundry is dearer here than in Eng. No letters today alas. No lights tonight along the quay. Pourquoi? The searchlight plays every night fr. the shore. It seems to be more on the lookout for aeroplanes than anything else.
August 28th: At last! We got up this mng at 3.45am as word came that wounded were on their way to us. (P.S. I went to bed at 12pm.) They arrived about 5.30, 130 in all, tired out, hungry & wounded but v. brave & cheerful. Hardly sitting down until told to. We just sat them on anything & feed them Bovril & hot milk, & then tea, & I gave them our bread, the first they had had for 4 days! Then we sorted them out to the 6 wards. I was to take charge of Wards Nos 3, 4, 5 & 6, with 2 others to help me. Directly they had feed we gave them hosp. kits & towels etc. & sent all fit to wash in lavatories. They just thronged to the narrow passage too glad to see water. Most of them had been under fire since Sund. afternoon. Only biscuits as food fr. then till now. The incapable wounded we washed ourselves. Bullets & shell wounds in legs, arms, thighs, scalp etc. 1 comp. fract. leg (shell). Directly they were washed, the 1st thing they wanted was an Eng. paper. We had a very few about 3 days old. They wanted to see how the war was doing. The Tommie on the spot knows nothing, & gets told nothing. All told us how the Germans fired on white flag, hospitals & burnt whole villages, shooting the women & children & sometimes driving them in front to protect themselves. One Argyle & South. Highlander told me a shell had been fired at a hosp. & killed 40 Belgian nurses. They told us the 9th Lancers had been almost cut up. Only 30 men left of 3 squadrons. Also great losses in the R.A.M.C. It was too awful! Most of them directly after washing dropped dead off to sleep. One man showed me his big clasp knife, shattered right to splinters by a bullet. Such a brave set they all were, so grateful for all done for them, so quiet for food, no asking, just waiting their turn. Word came at 12 all possible were to be sent off in ambulances at once to hosp. ship for Eng. We got them up, feed them again with meat, veg., soup & biscuits and then heard all were to go. Some so sorry again to have to get up, & many wanting just to get patched up here & go back to front, but by 3pm we had sent everyone fed, washed, wound dressed, & rested off to Eng. Then we set to & tidied everything straight again for another batch who might arrive any moment. We were ready by 6.00, but as I write this at 11pm none came. Major David ? came to enquire for staff news. We were both delighted to see each other. He came back again a 2nd time, but I cd only chat for a few moments with him as I was so busy. He only came over fr. S’hampton yesterday. Everybody worked splendidly, all cheerful, no muddle. I had better go to bed now & get some sleep before being called up again. It seems the big battle fr. Sun. till Wed. was round Mons. The Germans have got round our extreme L. flank, & the whole time we were retreating slowly. Every Tommie told me they cd make no impression on them. As fast as 1 rank was shot down, another rank rose up. Their losses were 8 to 1 against ours, but their superiority in nos. simply obliged us to retreat. Our boys never had any help fr. French who were away on R. flank. In fact saw Fr. Artillery first last Wed. The Colonel told us today there was quite a chance we might all have to leave Havre, if the Germans keep moving on as fast as they are doing. They say the Russians are only 280 miles fr. Berlin now.
August 29th: We heard 400 wounded went off in hosp. ship yesterday. Another lot of wounded came in, in middle of last night. We were called at 4am but none came to us. All went to Sanvic. At midday today 5 wounded came to us. One man badly shot thro’ R. eye, another shot thro’ lung. They tell us the Gs cut off the hands of the R.A.M.C. so that they shall not be able to do any more dressings, & that they open the veins of the wounded to be sure they die. They say their only chance when wounded is to lie as if dead. If you move you are shot at once. We heard today of the reported deaths of Capt. Nimmo & Cpl Prince. War is too awful. The papers say today the Indian Army is coming to help us in France. We need them - our little army in that awful fighting fr. Sunday till Wed. round Mons had 300,000 Gs against them. The Tommies told me today the E. Kent, Middlesex & 19th Batt. R.F.9 wiped out & guns lost. Miss Denne has come as matron & 4 other sisters today. There is a report today the Gs have reached Amiens. No 7 & 8 hosp. have been sent back here fr. Rouen. Some (33) of the sisters of No 7 not got here. We do not know where they are. Sent 3rd letter home today. I spent most of day cleaning my wds & picking up what equipment I cd lay hands on & buy. I hope we shan’t be called up again tonight.
August 30th: Called this mng 3.30am with orders to dress & have all personal belongings packed at once to leave Havre immediately. Town not safe. Heard later a car of German officers went thro’ Havre at 2am. Not heard what became of them. Some say they were Belgians & not Germans. Orders came again 5am. Each sister may have to go away separately & hosp. broken up. Hosp. to be at once dismantled & packed up. We eat a scrambled b’fast & then after packing our own things, all hands start on the hosp. My nice wards that looked so like “home” - it breaks my heart to pull them all to pieces. Before 10 o’c the Casino was empty, all stores packed in boxes & just waiting for A.O.C. & A.S.C. to fetch. All the sisters worked like niggers. Colonel & Miss R. arrive 11pm. Astonished at all done so quickly. They tell us of great Eng. losses, & of awful atrocities the Gs have committed on our men. One R.A.M.C. had his nose & ears cut off & then his military button was cut off & stuck where his nose had been & then they laughed at him. Another Fr. woman gave the Germans the food they asked for. They put out their hand to shake hands with her. When she put hers out, they just cut it off with their sabre. It is savages, devils we are fighting, not a civilised nation! The Australian & Canadian Red X ambulance & motors arrived last night at Havre. An Australian car went by this mng. It looked a beauty. We run out & buy 2 bottles of wine & some bread for lunch & have a gay meal. We eat each meal wondering when & where we will get the next. They say we may be going to Cherbourg, Brest or perhaps home. I hope not that. Our poor wounded & so many, but they say the mortality among the casualties is too appalling. At 1.00pm the D.D.M.S. comes & says we have been too precipitate pulling down the hosp. & v. probably we shall need to put up 50 beds for wounded today. Really, the amount of unnecessary work we all have to do is awful. Major Harrison takes it v. quietly, (of course Messrs Somerville & Allen had had all the mng’s work) & asked for 1 hr’s notice & we will have 50 beds ready. Meanwhile no further orders for us. I am writing this on a “biscuit” on porch of Casino 3pm, mine & all other sisters’ boxes packed opposite us. We spent a lot of time waiting, one way & another!! I took snaps this mng, first I’ve taken. I really cdn’t leave the Casino without 1 picture of it. My 2 plants I’ve left for the custodian of the Casino, M. Josse. He is such a dear old thing. I snapped him with the orderlies this mng & I’ve promised to send him one. When, ah! A detachment of Fr. Cavalry went by this mng as we sisters were all out on the balcony. They all cheered & saluted us, & we waved back to them. They looked extremely cheerful & well. At 3pm orders came we are to stay here tonight. We are not going to undo our camp kit & have to pack it again at 3.30am probably, so we are all going to sleep on “biscuits” in the hall. We’ve just “grubbed” today on bully beef & biscuits so tonight we’ve decided to go to a little restaurant nearby where they give you a ripping dinner for 2 francs. There is no doubt “active service” is a very expensive game for us, as so often our rations are issued (on paper) but don’t reach us. The Channel is v. foggy this evng. 2 big boats have come in but cannot see what flag they are flying. 7pm the Col. just been to tell us 50 wounded coming in 1 hr to us. We just had to put up again all we had just taken down. Poor orderlies, they have done the worst of the heavy lifting. They must be more tired than our wretched selves. 10pm they’ve telephoned thro’ to say they are not coming after all. If it isn’t enough to make you say d--n. Anyhow, we are off to bed, but of course it will the usual game, called up 3.30am. The situation is much graver here, we’ve found out tonight, than anybody thinks. The Germans know that all the supplies for our forces in France are at Havre & much Fr. stores also. Their plan is to get to us somehow & cut off all supplies for our Army. If they cannot take us, they intend to shell us by aeroplanes & blow up town so it looks as if we might be in rather a tight little corner here now, with the glamour of suspended bombs over our heads by day or night! Perhaps we shall share the fate of the unfortunate 40 sisters in Belgium who were blown up. I don’t think I shall like that kind of an end at all. I’d much rather a nice clean shot thro’ the heart. The town is emptying rapidly. There was quite a panic here to-day. Nearly all the Eng. have gone & many of the Fr. people. We read in today’s D. Mail of the gallant stand of our boys at Toulai - heroes all. They died like Englishmen & the British Tommie. They want no finer epitaph. I heard the French General responsible for the blunder of the Fr. Artillery arriving 14 hrs late has been shot. The Navy is doing splendid work. 4 Germans sunk. Our ship’s alright, thank God.
August 31st: Not called up last night, thank goodness. I slept until 7.40! on my “biscuits”, really most comfie. My bottom “biscuit” slipped in the night but my own fault for being too lazy to tie it. It seems all the hosp. except No 2 are leaving Havre at once as town is not safe. The Eng. base is being (or rather has been) moved fr. here & all stores are being taken to where we do not yet know. We are to stay here as long as we can to go on looking after wounded until last moment. I’m so glad we are chosen for this honour. This mng a German spy was caught in the rest camp at Sanvic & shot at once, & 5 uhlans were caught in the town. They only sneered when discovered & said, “Havre is captured already”. I wrote 4th home letter to-day, wh. an Eng. lad crossing tonight is posting in Eng. so I was able to give them a little fuller news but of course I did not tell them how v. unsafe Havre is now for all of us so they shldn’t be anxious about me. Another Eng. lady has a friend in the 4th Huss. [Hussars] & he wrote to her saying he was sorry he cd not come to see her, but they were expecting Germans to reach them at any time, & he is 6 miles fr. Havre. I met Miss Reid today. She told me 8 officers & 140 R.A.M.C.s killed. No casualty list yet published. Had 6th letter fr. home today, written Aug. 26th, also letter fr. Van. Sent John B. & Van p.cs. today. Received Mail & Mirror fr. home today. Australian troops are here. They are taller than average Eng. Tommie, & wear caps like our Flying C. It’s such a blessing there are no mosquitoes in this part of Havre.