Nursing as part of the British Army
There are records of nurses caring for sick and wounded soldiers as far back as the English Civil War1. At this time sick and wounded soldiers were usually cared for by the local population, and often at the expense of the village or town. Parliamentarian forces had the ancient London hospitals (Bridewell, Christ’s, Bethlehem, St Thomas’s, St Bartholomew’s and Sutton’s Hospitals) to support ￼them. In these hospitals nurses cared for sick and wounded soldiers as they would any other patients admitted to their wards.
The first hospital built to support the military was in 1683 at Portsmouth after the campaign in Flanders in the reign of Charles II2. Although this hospital was for sick and wounded soldiers the staff were all civilians. Other than this small hospital the remaining soldiers were still left to be cared for by the civilian population.
During the Seven Years War (1756-1763) a hospital was set up in Portugal with Mrs Sullivan as Matron and a number of British nurses as staff3. During the Peninsular (1807-1814) and Napoleonic (1903-1815) Wars soldiers continued to be looked after by civilian populations. In addition, regiments allowed a number of the wives of soldiers (4-6 per company) to accompany the regiment on campaign. These women helped with cooking and in the upkeep of uniforms as well as providing some basic nursing care. They were not obliged to help the wounded but most did, and some were killed on the battlefields, including Waterloo.
By the time of the Crimean War (1853-1856) medical support was more organised but nursing care was left to orderlies who may have been trained, or who might have been drawn from the regiments taking part in the campaign4. The story of Nightingale has been well documented and requires no further expansion here other than to note two points: firstly, this was the first deployment of any sizeable body of nurses from the UK to support a military campaign overseas; and secondly, that Nightingale remains possibly the only nurse associated with military nursing to have been afforded a “heroic” status that overshadowed the contributions of her colleagues5. The nurses who went out to the Crimea were all civilians who came under the protection of the Army but were not part of it. The formation of the ANS in 1881 enabled the flexible deployment of nurses whilst retaining a chain of command and reporting.
Army Nursing Service
Princess Christian's Army Nursing Service (Reserve)
Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service
Territorial Force Nursing Service
Territorial Army Nursing Service
Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps
1. von Arni, EG. (2001) Justice to the maimed soldier: Nursing, Medical care and Welfare for Sick and Wounded Soldiers and their Families during the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, 1642-1660 Aldershot: Ashgate
2. von Arni, EG. (2006) Hospital Care and the British Standing Army, 1660-1714 Aldershot: Ashgate
3. Dobson, J. (1964) The Army Nursing Service in the Eighteenth Century. Annuls of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. 14(6): pp. 417-419
4. Taylor, E (2001) Wartime Nurse: One Hundred Years from the Crimea to Korea 1854-1954 London: Robert Hall
5. Rappaport, H. (2007) No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War. London: Aurum Press
Author: Lt Col (Retd) Dr Keiron Spires QVRM TD