FRENCH FLAG NURSING CORPS
The French Flag Nursing Corps was established in 1914 to provide a band of certificated British nurses for service in French Military Hospitals, and was under the authority of the French War Office, which financed it in part until, having won the approval and confidence of the Service de Santé in France, the British Committee of the French Red Cross included the Corps as a Department of its work in April 1917, financing it as a gift to France
The Corps work through a Committee with Madame la Vicomtesse de la Panouse as President; Mrs. R. D. Murray as Chairman; Mrs. Bedford Fenwick, Treasurer; Miss I. Hutchinson, Secretary, and Doctors J. Dundas Grant and R. Murray Leslie as Medical Advisors. Miss Grace Ellison was Directrice in France from the formation of the Corps untilt he end of 1917, when her health broke down; Miss E. J. Haswell then became Matron of the Paris Office of the British Committee.
Some 250 thoroughly trained Sisters have been associated with the Corps during the four years of war, 40 of whom are now in their fourth or fifth year of service. During the past year the Sisters have been attached in Units to the various military ambulances, just behind the French lines, and have been most actively engaged, often under fire. Shelled out of one centre, they have retreated with shells bursting around, and again advanced with the troops as the chances of war necessitated their gallant services. Two members have received the Croix de Guerre, and many others the Medaille des Epidemies for work in contagious disease hospitals, and on numerous occasions Sisters have been mentioned in French despatches and have received the thanks of high military officials.
The Sisters have also worked at the base, and have had charge of the nursing at large military hospitals at Caen and Lisieux, also at a number of smaller hospitals, where their services won universal appreciation, and the medical officers could not sufficiently admire their skill and devotion to duty. Since the signing of the Armistice the Matron in France has been informed at the Ministry that the Service de Santé has found the F.F.N.C. the most satisfactory of all the nurses, English, French or American, and should any of them care to remain on after the Signing of Peace, they would be only too pleased to place them in their various formations. Several Units have already gone forward to Germany with the Army of Occupation to care for the sick and deal with accidents. Their admiration for the dauntless Poilu is apparently reciprocated by the patients, who are most grateful, and the nurses look forward with regret to the time when they will sever the association and return to England.
FRENCH FLAG NURSING CORPS, REPORT, 1916Intelligent observers of home life in France must have been struck with the lack of an organised system of trained nursing such as we are accustomed to find in Great Britain, America, and the countries of Northern Europe. Before the separation of the Roman Catholic Church from the French State, nursing was almost entirely in the hands of the nuns, who, although their knowledge of the science of nursing did not always come up to the twentieth-century requirements, were nevertheless beyond the adverse criticisms to which all pioneer women workers are subjected.
The nuns left France before nurses had been trained to replace them. It had been hoped then that nursing as a profession would have been taken up seriously as teaching has been taken up in France. Excellent nursing colleges, such as Dr. Anna Hamilton’s School at Bordeaux, were started, but, unfortunately, until the outbreak of war very few women of good family would entertain nursing except as a vocation, and they sought the protection of the Roman Catholic Church to protect them from criticism and a possible lack of respect. It was after the battle of the Marne. The wounded and sick and dying were being hurried into the cities, towns, and villages. Hospitals were being improvised wherever it was possible – in station waiting-rooms, halls, schoolhouses – and from all sides Red Cross workers came forward to give a helping hand.
At that moment Miss Grace Ellison happened to be in France, and saw for herself what so many nursing experts like Mrs. Bedford Fenwick had predicted – that French soldiers would be handicapped for want of skilled nursing. Even if the French peace estimate of the hospital requirements in time of war (1,000 hospitals) had been correct, France would have still been short of nurses. Judge then, what must be the case today, when 6,900 hospitals have been established, and France is defending over 500 miles of territory in France alone. The scenes which Miss Ellison has described on her journey of 55 hours from Paris to Bordeaux, when severely wounded men were kept waiting for hours on cold railway stations, were pathetically tragic. It was then she determined to turn her knowledge of France and the French to account, by procuring for the French wounded, not willing amateurs, but British trained nurses with enough experience to help in the organisation of temporary hospitals and of proved character, so as to overcome the difficulties of pioneer work.
The scheme was submitted to General Troussaint, head of the French Army Medical Corps, and at once was gratefully accepted. Miss Ellison then returned to England, and set about the task of procuring for the French Government 300 fully trained British nurses to work in the French military hospitals for the duration of the war. The organisation was taken in hand by the following Committee:
Chairman: Mrs. R. D. Murray
Hon. Treasurer: Mrs. Bedford Fenwick, Founder and Hon. President of the International Council of Nurses
Hon. Medical Advisors: J. Dundas Grant, Esq., M.A., M.D., F.R.C.S., and R. Murray Leslie, Esq., M.D., M.R.C.P.
the presidency having been ultimately accepted by Mme. La Vicomtesse de la Panouse, who is also President of the British Branch of the Croix Rouge Francaise.
In order that the nurses should be of lasting use to France, the Committee has been firm in its resolve to send to France only fully qualified nurses, who, before they are passed by the Committee, have their qualifications most carefully investigated by the Selection Sub-Committee, on which expert nursing knowledge has been invaluable in maintaining a high standard of professional efficiency. Mrs. Bedford Fenwick has kindly found space for weekly reports of the progress of the work in the British Journal of Nursing, of which she is Editor, which has generally conduced to the effective organization of the Corps.
The work began in October, 1914, in the Rouen region, where seven nurses worked under the direction of Sister E. J. Haswell, now Matron-in-Chief of the Corps. The Sisters, after giving valuable assistance to the nuns at Rouen, were called away to do more important work at Bordeaux, and before leaving received testimonials showing the great esteem in which they were held by doctors, nuns and patients. Early in January, 1915, the Ministry of War, anxious to test the value of skilled nursing, put one of the largest hospitals (Hôpital Militaire de Talence, près Bordeaux) in the Gironde region, at the disposal of the English nurses, and Miss Haswell became Matron, a post which she held till the end of September, when she was appointed by the Minister of War, at the request of Miss Ellison, Matron-in-Chief of the Corps. Miss Haswell was congratulated by the Minister of War on her excellent administration of the hospital, and her place was taken by Miss Edith Gregory, and later by Miss Stuart Nairne, both of whom have worked with great devotion.
The other hospitals where the F.F.N.C. nurses are working are temporary hospitals dotted along the firing line so near to the front that the nurses are not allowed to give the addresses of the towns in which they are stationed. These hospitals have few of the comforts or even what we in England should consider the necessities of life, but friends at home and several relief societies, including the British Branch of the Croix Rouge Francaise, Queen Mary’s War Hospital Supply Central Depot, the American Clearing House and the Tasmanian Red Cross have sent most valuable consignments of comforts and surgical and medical appliances for the use of the nurses. Unfortunately, the hospitals at Bergues, where the F.F.N.C. nurses did such splendid work, and which they changed from the pre-Florence Nightingale condition in which they found them to well-equipped hospitals, were closed after two serious bombardments. It was during these bombardments that the nurses distinguished themselves by carrying the wounded into cellars under fire. Other centres where our nurses have been working are Evreux, Lisieux, Caen, Cabourg, Besancon, Malo les Bains, Toul and Berck-Plage. In addition, they staffed two hospital barges which were started, as an experiment, to transport the seriously wounded along the canal from Adinkirque to Bourboug.
The work of the Sisters has not been easy. The whole situation was bristling with difficulties; there is the question of race, temperament, language, religion, and, above all, the nurses have to break down the old prejudice against professional nursing, and prove that skilled nursing is an honourable profession which should be exercised by ladies of the highest education and moral character. The excellent work done by the Sisters of the F.F.N.C. is the subject of many warm congratulations, and surgeons-in-charge and others speak very highly of the care and devotion with which they nurse their heroic French patients. All the Sisters are enthusiastic in their admiration of the French soldiers, whose bravery, powers of endurance, and patriotism are inexhaustible, and the many letters of gratitude they receive from them will remain with them precious souvenirs of their work in France. In the name and at the express command of the Minister of War, General Troussaint the recent head of the French Army Medical Service, referring to our work, says:
‘I should like to pay a sincere tribute to the devotion of the F.F.N.C. nurses. They have given our medical staff most valuable assistance. Their well-directed energy, their self-sacrifice have never wavered. I quote these lines from one of a large number of letters of appreciation sent in by our medical officers, in which our indebtedness to British nurses for their loyal co-operation is recognised, and I hope my letter may help you in the efforts you are making in England to obtain further support for your movement.’
And later, M. Justin Godart, writing of the nurses says:
‘The nurses of the French Flag Nursing Corps are considered by the doctors of our armies as assistants of the first class, and their presence in France, in a number the insufficiency of which we regret, is one of the most touching evidences of the sympathy of the English Nation towards our country.’
During 1915 the various members of the Committee visited the hospitals. Mrs. Fenwick writes of her visit to Evreux, Lisieux, Caen and Talence in her report to the Committee as follows:
‘The Committee will be greatly gratified to know that the result of the good work of the Sisters is everywhere apparent, and that their devotion has met with the warmest appreciation of the patients and medical officers. Their position has been extraordinarily difficult, but they have surmounted their difficulties wonderfully, and in all the hospitals where they are on duty, especially where they are in sole charge of the nursing, they have produced order, cleanliness, and comfort, the patients are evidently content, and hold them in great esteem, and the doctors point to results with pride. I only wish we had thousands to spend in extending this most humane work for suffering French soldiers – no men deserve it more – and our Corps is worthy of generous support. I thanked the nurses in the name of the Committee for their strenuous labour and its evident success.’
During the second year the work has progressed slowly and surely, every day the nurses being more and more appreciated. Responding to an appeal made for nurses in Canada, thirteen nurses, selected by the Canadian National Association of Trained Nurses, have joined the Corps, the whole of the expenses of their travelling and equipment being defrayed by Canadian people. The Committee desire especially to express their appreciation of the way in which Miss Ellison and Sister Haswell have acquitted themselves of the heavy responsibilities which have devolved upon them in the work of the Corps in France. They feel themselves particularly fortunate in having such a perfect combination as is formed by these two ladies. Miss Ellison’s tact and experience of French thought and life render her exceptionally capable in the difficult and often delicate negotiations involved in the administration of the Corps. The technical side of the work is in the ablest hands as regulated by Miss E. J. Haswell, whose skill, knowledge, and power to control are the outcome of a prolonged and continuous experience of nursing work in all its branches and all its grades. Such co-operation affords the utmost confidence that in every respect the work of the Corps in France is carried out in the most irreproachable manner.
THE FRENCH FLAG NURSING CORPS
Instructions for Nurses returning from France
Arrangements have been made for nurses passing through Paris on their way home to put up and take their meals at the Hotel Folkestone, 9 Rue de Castellane, at therate of 5 francs a day. The Hotel is within easy distance of the Gare St. Lazare, from which station passengers via Dieppe, leave Paris. On arrival nurses will do well to take their luggage directly to the Gare St. Lazare and put it in the consigne, taking only a hand-bag for the night to the hotel. This will be a great economy of cab fare, which is always a very expensive item.
Allowance for Meals.- The French Government allows the following prices for meals while travelling (those allowed to officers on active service):
Breakfast, 1.25; Lunch, 2.50; Dinner, 3 Francs.
These prices are amply sufficient if nurses will be careful to make prices beforehand and avoid expensive restaurants. They will not, however, enable nurses to take table d'hôte meals on the trains. These must be taken à la carte, and nurses must keep within the prices quoted above or pay the excess themselves.
Nurses must keep all bills - they are sent by Miss Ellison to the Ministry.
Tips for Porters.- 30, 40 or 50 centimes, according to the quantity of luggage, is ample. 25 centimes per person when there are several is a liberal allowance, and is more than French people themselves would give.
Tips for Cabs.- 25 centimes for an ordinary course; 30 to 40 centimes for a long course, over and above the amount marked on the taximeter. Luggage placed beside the driver costs 25 centimes for each box or parcel. As much as possible should, therefore, be put inside. Taxis with white flags are more expensive than those with red ones, and should be avoided.
Nurses who have done their full term of service are entitled to a feuille de route for the return journey to Dieppe, which must be procured from the Médecin Chef before leaving the Hospital. This ticket is only available on French soil. Early application must therefore be made to Miss Ellison at headquarters in Paris for a letter to the station master at Dieppe, which gives nurses the right to tickets at half price from Dieppe to London. The Corps cannot be responsible for refunding more than the half fare, so, as the posts are uncertain, at least a fortnight should be allowed for this transaction. Nurses leaving before their time is up have to pay the entire expense of their return journey themselves, excepting in cases of certified illness involving incapacity for work. They can, however, in most cases get half fare to Dieppe through the Médecin Chef, and for the rest of the journey a letter from headquarters which will enable them to travel for half price.
Those going to other work in France only have the right to a feuille de route to Paris and should arrange to have the rest of their expenses paid by the Society for whom they are going to work.