Exploring Medal Rolls


Confirming the eligibility for campaign medals was the responsibility of individual units who recorded the details of serving personnel on a medal sheet, which was then forwarded to the War Office. Individual nurses might appear on more than one medal sheet, as each unit they served with might record them.

For military nurses these medal rolls provide a definitive source for their participation in any particular campaign, which is why they are such a valuable source of information for both family and nursing historians.

Medal rolls are likely to be very big files, either digital or on microfilm. They are not always presented in what seems to be a logical order, and you may have to trawl through the whole thing to find what you are looking for.

Extract from a Zulu War Medal Roll
The Zulu War

What you might find

Early medal sheets were handwritten in script, using ink on paper. Over time their condition may have deteriorated. Issues with transcribing the sheets include:

  • Legibility, there may be some difficulty in interpreting the various hand writing styles;
  • Fading, many inks fade badly leaving some names illegible or only partly legible;
  • Deterioration, a few of the sheets have deteriorated to the point where they are no longer viable as source materials.
  • Use of names - nurses were recorded using variations of names. Elizabeth, for example, may have been used in different documents in many forms. In addition, some nurses preferred to use a name other than their first given name.
  • Recording of status, varies from document to document so that the same nurse can be recorded as, civilian or military, regular or reserve. This could be due to the novel nature of this duty for military clerks and an unfamiliarity with the status of military nurses.
  • Information. The information recorded in the sheets varies from unit to unit. The surname and service are always present. Most sheets have initials whilst some give full or partial names.

Victorian Wars

The Zulu War: During the Zulu War there were a number of base hospitals including Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Ladysmith, Utrecht and Newcastle. Most of the sickness that occurred was from enteric fevers, something that was to be repeated in the Boer War1. Below is one of the pages from the medal roll for the campaign in South Africa2. It is one of the two occasions where nurses appeared on the medal rolls. You can see that they are annotated as being Nursing Staff of the Medical Department as there was no separate Nursing Department at this time. You will also see that there are some alterations to the document. Nursing Sisters have never been authorised to wear clasps that depict specific battles on their campaign medals as they were (and are still) regarded as non-combatant.

Extract from Zulu War Medal Roll
The National Archives: WO 100/61 p32 Medal roll for Egypt

 The nurses listed are:

  • Lady Superintendent Mrs JC. Deeble
  • Nurse Mary Leonard
  • Nurse Jane Gray
  • Nurse Harriet Williams
  • Nurse Anne Crisp
  • Nurse Margaret Selby
  • Nurse Alice Hawtley

The Egyptian Campaigns: During the Egyptian campaigns (1882-1888) there were eight Field Hospitals (nominally of 200 beds) and two Base Hospitals (nominally of 500 beds) Two Hospital Ships were stationed at Ismailia – the Carthage, and the Courland3. A total of 25 Army Nursing Service (ANS) nurses were sent out from England to support the medical care to the sick and wounded4. Below is one of the pages from the medal roll for the campaign in Egypt4, the only other medal roll that exists for this period.

Extract from the Medal Roll for Egypt
The National Archives: WO 100/61 p32 Medal roll for Egypt

From this page, plus pages 48 & 49, we can see that four nurses were allocated to the Hospital Ship Carthage (Superintendent Stewart, Sisters Fellowes, King and Solly). Four nurses were sent to the Base Hospital at Alexandria (Superintendent Jerrard, Sisters Walsh, Winterton and Young). Seven nurses served at the other Base Hospital in Ismailia (Superintendent Caulfield, Sisters Lloyd, Close, Selby, Crisp, Gray and Wallace). As you can see, some of these nurses also served in South Africa.

A Superintendent and four nurses were also based at each of the hospitals in Cyprus and Gozo3.


  1. Woolfryes, Surgeon-General J.A. (1879) Medical History of the War in Zululand, 1879. Army Medical Department Report. London: HMSO
  2. The National Archives: WO 100/47 p32 Medal roll for South Africa 1877-79
  3. Goodrich, C. F. (1883). Report of the British naval and military operations in Egypt, 1882. Washington: G.P.O.
  4. The National Archives: WO 100/61 p32 Medal roll for Egypt


The Boer War (1899-1902)

The Boer War was important for British military nursing as it was the first major conflict for Britain in which nurses in large numbers had been deployed, and at the end of the war a new nursing service was created, the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), which saw nurses becoming a formed component of the British Army. The war in 1899 was the second war to occur between the Boers and the British. The First Boer War occurred in 1881 and ended in a defeat of the British at Majuba Hill. The second conflict is often referred to as the Second South African War, the Second Anglo-Boer War, the Great Boer War, the War in South Africa and various other names. Modern histories frequently refer to it as the Anglo-Boer War, although traditionally the second conflict has become known as the Boer War. In Afrikaans it is known as Tweede Vryheidsoorlog or Tweede Boereoorlog. On this site the term Boer War will be used throughout.1 2 3 4 5

Sister Kate Luard

Sister Kate Luard has become well known because her family has published the letters she wrote during World War 1. This book Unknown Warriors has been updated and re-released recently. What many do not know, however, that she was an Army nurse during the Boer War, and so was one of the many Boer War nursing 'veterans' who helped to shape nursing in WW1. We know from the medal rolls that Sister Kate Luard served in South Africa with No. 7 General Hospital at Escort and Pretoria. The two relevant pages are here below.

Extract from Boer War Medal Roll
The National Archives (TNA) WO 100/353 p.4

 There is a date on this document - August 7th 1901. This does not relate to the service of any of the nurses named, but is the date on which the document was signed off by the Commanding Officer. The nurses listed could have been present at that time, or as indicated in the notes, may already have left the hospital.

You can also see that the medal rolls were marked and scored out by those back at the War Office responsible for sending out the medals. This frequently obscures details for those, like us, trying to read them many years later. This particular page also has a note stuck on it which obscures some of the title information. To determine if these nursing sisters were Army Nursing Service or Reservists we would need corroboration from other sources.

When looking through medal rolls do not be confused between pages in the pdf document and the page numbers allocated to each page of the medal roll. This page is actually page 54 of the document that was downloaded, but you can clearly see the page number 52 in the bottom left corner. It is this number that forms part of the reference for this page.

Extract from the Boer War Medal Roll
The National Archives (TNA) WO 100/353 p.4

You can see that by 1903 when this medal roll was completed the hospital designation had changed to 'The General Hospital, Pretoria'. This medal roll also does not state whether the nurses are Army Nursing Service or Reservists. The entry for Sister Kate Luard is annotated 'to England 16/5/02', so that helps to establish her return from South Africa, and as before we could then seek corroboration of this in either the shipping lists, or in the nursing journals of that date. Although these medal rolls do not contain much information, they are one of few official sources, and the most definitive for establishing a nurse's involvement in the Boer War.


  1. Conan Doyle, A (1900) The Great Boer War. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. Pakenham, T. (1979) The Boer War. Random House, New York.
  3. Carver, M. (2000) The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War. London: Pan
  4. Fremont-Barnes, G. (2003) The Boer War 1899-1902. Osprey: London.
  5. Low-Beer, D., Smallman-Raynor, M., & Cliff A. (2004) Disease and death in the South African War. Social History of Medicine. 17 (2): pp. 223-245