Medium: oil on canvas; Measurements: 83×59 ins; Cardiff Royal Infirmary Accession Number: PCF65; Acquisition: on long-term loan to Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps
This oil on canvas painting by Margaret Lindsay Williams was painted in 1916. It currently hangs in the Headquarters of the Army Medical Services in Camberley. It depicts Mametz Ward at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, during the Great War.
Local ex-servicemen and citizens of Cardiff raised more than £7,900 to commission the Mametz Ward painting in memory of the men of 16th Cardiff City Service Battalion, Welsh Regiment, who fought and died at Mametz Wood in July 1916. It was unveiled and dedicated in November 1924 by the widows of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hill Gaskell, Company Sergeant Major T John1.
When the painting was in the Cardiff Royal Infirmary there was also a memorial plaque, the whereabouts of which is unknown.
There are a number of interesting features in the painting as well as the nurses who are described below. On the windowsill on the right hand side of the painting the artist has painted a vase of Arum or Calla Lilies. These flowers have been used by artists to symbolise different things. The Christian Easter service uses the calla lily meaning as a symbol of ‘Resurrection’. The cone-like flowers are thought to symbolise trumpets heralding victory. Calla lilies also symbolise Christ’s passion on the cross. They are thought to be a symbol of Jesus’ Resurrection. Throughout history, calla lilies have been expressed in art and paintings with the Virgin Mary or with the Angel of Annunciation. This is because they symbolise purity, holiness and faith. Calla lilies are strong symbols of rebirth at spring, youth and innocence2.
The Territorial Force Nursing Service
As well as the wounded soldiers, the artist painted two of the medical staff (one military and one civilian) and two of the nursing staff. The nurses both have a ‘T’ on the lower border of their tippet which indicates they are members of the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS).
The Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) was established in 1908. This was part of the Haldane reforms, and was expected to provide nursing staff for the 23 territorial force general hospitals planned for the UK in the event of war3. Haldane’s reform of the army, based on a review of what took place in South Africa during the Boer War, involved the creation of a striking force, later renamed as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), comprising of six divisions and a cavalry division, supported by elements from the militia and yeomanry, and a Territorial Force, created from the Volunteers and residual elements of the militia and yeomanry, which could support and expand the striking force in war. When Haldane’s bill went through Parliament he was forced to amend it so that the Territorial Force was created for home use only. In the event a significant number of Territorial units served overseas including hospitals, as well as individual TFNS nurses4. In 1914 there were about 8,140 nurses in the TFNS5. When war broke out a substantial number of nurses who had served in the Boer War were part of the various army nursing services6.A number of hospitals had been identified before the war for use and operation by the Territorial Force. They were generally based at existing civilian hospitals and other large facilities. For example, the 1st Southern General Hospital was based on the Great Hall at the University of Birmingham. They did not exist as such prior to the war other than for training purposes, but were mobilised in August 1914. All were expanded during war time, not only on the primary sites but with the addition of Auxiliary Hospitals and annexes.
Principal Matron Miss EAM Wilson RRC
Miss Elizabeth Annie Montgomery Wilson RRC, was Principal Matron at the 3rd Western General Hospital, Cardiff, and is seen on the left of the painting with the medical officers. She trained at the Adelaide Hospital, Dublin7, and was Sister at the West Kent Hospital, Maidstone. After holding the position of Matron at the Tewkesbury Hospital and at Cromwell House, Highgate, she was appointed Lady Superintendent at King Edward VII’s Hospital, Cardiff (then the Cardiff Infirmary), a position she held for over twenty-two years8.
She saw active service in the Boer War, having joined Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service (Reserve) on June 16, 1900. She served at No. 10 General Hospital at Norvals Pont9, and at No. 6 General Hospital in Johannesburg10. When the Territorial Force Nursing Service was inaugurated, she was appointed Principal Matron for the 3rd Western General Hospital and its extensions, responsible for the organisation of the nurses for between 2,000 and 3,000 beds. The Cardiff Infirmary was the headquarters of the 3rd Western General Hospital, with extensions at Neath and Newport, and a number of smaller extensions and annexes, including Red Cross hospitals. As well as the Principal Matron there were TFNS Matrons at Neath and Newport. Miss Wilson was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 191611and her Boer War and RRC medal ribbons can just be seen on her tippet in the painting.
The difficult task of a Principal Matron was clearly articulated when Miss Wilson wrote to the the Principal Matron at the War Office on April 7th, 191812:
I shall be glad if you do not find it necessary to call on the trained members whose names I have sent you for service in France, as we are more than busy here: – convoys are coming every second day, and so many very ill who require careful nursing, and our staff is getting depleted as so many want to marry and leave for various personal reasons.
We are about to open another Hospital at Brigend, and I have not a trained staff to send there. I hoped that the nurse we transferred to Leeds would be replaced by a nurse from Leeds but the nurse leaves tomorrow and I have not heard of one coming.
A Sister: Miss Beatrice Huddlestone has just sent in her resignation, which I will send you tomorrow, and a nurse I mobilised cannot come as she must stay with her mother who is an invalid. This is the 2nd time I have mobilised this nurse and she cannot come and I think her name ought to be taken off the Roll. I will forward you particulars.
Nearly all our Orderlies have been taken and everything combined makes the work here extremely heavy. There are still a good many away on extended sick leave. I am explaining all this to you so that you will understand my difficulties. I have not yet explained all this to the Commanding Officer.
With reference to Miss Frances Newman, Sister T.F.N.S., there are many more senior Sisters who would like to go to France. Miss Fletcher, the Matron, has had this Sister only a short time and she has had promotion from Staff Nurse to the rank of Sister.
Miss K. M. Daniel, Sister T.F.N.S. who has worked well and loyally, since the beginning of the war, and who is anxious to go to France deserved her wishes to be gratified much more than Miss Newman, but you told me at one time, not to send up Miss Daniels name because she looked so delicate, but she has kept well, and worked well.
Miss Newman in signing her agreement has signed her name but put in writing for service overseas ‘France Only’. I think she ought to remain where she is and if we must send another Sister, one of the Sisters who came at the beginning of the War and who were ready when called up, ought to get the first chance of going, NOT Miss Newman.
I hope you will pardon this long letter but I wanted you to know that although I am more than anxious to help in every possible way, and will help in every way, there are many things to be taken into consideration, and it would never do to let our men suffer for want of good nursing in the 3rd Western General Hospital.
I am, Madam,
Your Obedient Servant,
E. A. M. Wilson
Note: I am writing to all my friends to try and get more nurses, and am hoping to succeed.
Nurses serving at the 3rd Western General Hospital during the Great War
The TFNS nurse on the right of the picture is a Sister because she has two scarlet rings on her sleeves. Who this particular Sister is, is not known, although there are some details about the other nurses serving in the 3rd Western General Hospital. In her letter, Miss Wilson mentions Miss K. M. Daniel who wanted to serve overseas. TFNS nurses were recruited for home service and could not be posted overseas. As the need for trained nurses overseas grew, TFNS nurses were asked to volunteer. Sister Katherine May Daniel had been working at Bedford House, Surgical Home, Cardiff before mobilisation, and had volunteered for service overseas, but was seen as too delicate. She remained in Cardiff until 1918. Her confidential report in May 1918 showed her to be “ … an experienced sister, very capable, administration good. Is generally well liked and has a good influence … devoted to her work”. She was medically reassessed and this time accepted for overseas duty in France, where she remained until she was demobilised. She remained in the TFNS until 192713.
Miss Wilson had also mentioned Miss Newman in her letter, who she wanted to stay in Cardiff. Sister Frances Ethel Newman was in private nursing, at the Westminster Hospital, London prior to being mobilised. She was based in the Cavalry Barracks Hospital, Newport once she joined the 3rd Western General Hospital. In 1918 Matron Fletcher reported that Miss Newman “ … is a thoroughly reliable Sister, has power of initiative and good influence. A little dour in manner, but capable and willing”. She did not go overseas and remained at Newport for the duration of the war. After she was demobilised she remained in the TFNS until 1927 when she married14
The Matron of the Cavalry Barracks section of the 3rd Western General Hospital was Miss Sarah Jane Fletcher, who was working as Temporary Matron at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, Wigan, before being mobilised. She joined the hospital as a Sister and was promoted to Matron on 18th August 191715.
The Matron of the Neath section was Miss Volta Anne Billing. She had been working as a Sister and then Matron at the County Hospital in York. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 191716. She volunteered for service overseas and served in Salonika, where she was Mentioned in Dispatches17.
In Miss Fletcher’s records are a list of other nurses in the TFNS who were demobilised at the end of the war:
- Miss Mary E. Conroy
- Miss Ellen Charters
- Miss Mary Eliza Davies
- Miss Gwen Davies
- Miss Sarah Jane Harries
- Miss Edith Howard
- Miss Milly Harding
- Miss Annie Jones
- Miss Hilda Lipacombe
- Miss Edith Lovell
- Miss Sophia Pratt
- Miss Catherine M. Parry
- Miss Ellen Walsh
- Miss Maria Jones Morris
- Miss Mabel Harriet Jones
- Miss Annie McIvor
- Miss Ethel Spruce
- Miss Mary Margaret Lewis
- Miss Minnie Surrage
- Miss Ellen Edge
- Miss Edith Ellison
- Miss G. Williams
- South Wales Branch Western Front Association
- Reiss, M. (2013) Lily. London: Reaktion Books
- War Office (19082) Standing Orders for the Territorial Forces Nursing Service. London: War Office
- Spiers, EM. (1980) Haldane’s reform of the regular army: scope for revision. British Journal of International Studies 6 (1) April 1980, pp.69-81
- Spires, KA & Bates, DC (2014) Beatrice Allsop, une infirmière sur le front occidental. Soins, no 786 – jun, 83-87
- Spires, KA (2013) Nurses in the Boer War (1899-1902) London South Bank University: Unpublished PhD Thesis
- War Office (1900) Nominal Roll of Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service (Reserve) as at 30th September
- The British Journal of Nursing, March 11 1916, p.225
- The National Archives: WO 100/229 QSA Medal Roll p63 created at No10 General Hospital, Norvals Pont; dated July 15, 1901
- The National Archives: WO 100/229 QSA Medal Roll p52 created at No6 General Hospital, Johannesburg; dated July 23, 1901
- London Gazette, 14 January, 1916. P. 617
- The National Archives: WO 399/ 10742
- The National Archives: WO 399/ 10742
- The National Archives: WO 399/ 13552
- The National Archives: WO 399/ 11271
- London Gazette, October 24, 1917 p. 10973
- London Gazette, January 30, 1919. P. 148