RECORD OF WORK OF QUEEN ALEXANDRA’S MILITARY NURSING SERVICE FOR INDIA
CROWN COPYRIGHT: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES WO222/2134
CROWN COPYRIGHT: THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES WO222/2134
Seventeen Sisters of Q.A.M.N.S. for India mobilized in India for service with the B.E.F. in France. They were attached as follows to 3 of the Medical Units which arrived in this country with the British Forces.
Rawal Pindi British General Hospital
Lady Superintendent P. F. Watt
Nursing Sister M. D. Knapp
Nursing Sister L. A. White
Nursing Sister E. Kelso
Nursing Sister A. Bird
Nursing Sister M. McLean
Nursing Sister R. G. Neville
Lahore British General Hospital
Senior Sister H. Rait
Nursing sister H. G. French
Nursing Sister L. M. F. Heale
Nursing Sister M. Wardell
Nursing Sister C. G. Johnson
Meerut British General Hospital (Converted in March 1915 to a Unit with British personnel)
Senior Sister C. L. Warrack
Nursing Sister M. E. T. Hornsby
Nursing Sister M. E. Tippets
Nursing Sister C. H. Anderson
They arrived at Marseilles on…(it is regretted it has been impossible to ascertain this date). [sic]
The Lahore British General Hospital opened at Marseilles, the Meerut at Orleans, and in January 1915, Lady Superintendent Watt and six Indian Sisters were sent from Marseilles to Wimereux for duty at the Rawal Pindi British General Hospital, which had been established there with Colonel Carr as Commanding Officer.
No instructions with regard to the position of the Indian Nursing Sisters had been received from the War Office, so that it was thought advisable, in order to avoid questioning of orders of other complications, to ask if the Lady Superintendent and Sisters of the Q.A.M.N.S. for India in the country were under the control of the Principal Matron , Q.A.I.M.N.S.
On January 13th, the Director General Medical Services replied in the affirmative [D.G.222, dated 13.1.16].
At the time of the opening of the Rawal Pindi, there were also being established:-
1. At Boulogne, the Meerut Indian Stationary Hospital
2. At Montreuil, the Lahore Indian General Hospital
3. At Hardelot, the Secunderabad Indian General Hospital
and the question arose of employing Sisters in these Indian Units for operating theatre work. It was submitted to the Director General, who approved of the measure, and it was then decided that 2 Indian Nursing Sisters should be sent to each Unit for this work only. Accordingly, on February 9th, 1915, orders were sent to Miss Hornsby and Miss Tippets (Had joined Rawal Pindi from Orleans) to join the Secunderabad – Miss Knapp and Miss McLean, the Meerut, and Miss Bird and Miss Neville the Lahore.
When this question of the Indian Sisters working in the Indian Units was under consideration, the Lady Superintendent asked that those remaining in Marseilles should be called up for this work, as some selected from her staff disliked Natives, and others were difficult to spare – one Sister was allowed to put in an application that she might be replaced by a Reserve – but it was not possible at the time to recall the Sisters from Marseilles, and the orders issued had to be complied with.
At Montreuil and Hardelot, the 2 Sisters had a small house of their own, situated near the Hospital, and a French maidservant. In Boulogne, they were accommodated in billets.
It has already been remarked, that generally speaking, the Sisters were very reluctant to do this particular work. This, it must be acknowledged, was due to their zeal, to the fact that the British Sections of their Units, and other Military Units were at that time very overworked, while they had very little to do, and that at no time was there sufficient work in the Indian Units to use to the full the powers of two energetic women. Nevertheless, it was of course not possible to detail one Sister only for this work, and they had to be attached permanently to the Unit, situated at great distances from out other Hospitals. From time to time, therefore, changes were made, and Sisters from the Theatres moved to the General Hospitals. Letters written by Commanding Officers amply testify to the needs of the Sisters in the Theatres of the Indian Units and the work they accomplished there. It was repeatedly stated that their help had proved invaluable, and that since their appointment the decrease in septic cases was marked.
In November 1915, the Indian Sisters were recalled from all the Theatres to rejoin the Rawal Pindi prior to leaving France for the Mediterranean. Two of them had, while in the country, a certain amount of sickness, and it was thought wise that they should not proceed with the first Unit to the East: Miss Bird (Mrs. Kennedy married to Capt. Kennedy, I.M.S. and permitted to return to duty) who had an operation for appendicitis, and Miss Warrack, who had been off duty during part of May, June and July, with erisypelas.
These two Sisters were, therefore, attached to the Lahore Indian General Hospital at Montreuil, and remained in the Theatre there until February 1916, when it was decided, that as there was so little wok for the Sisters there, and such urgent need for them in other Units, they should be withdrawn (D.G. 824/16), and in case of urgent necessity help should be sent from Etaples at very short notice.
The Rawal Pindi Hospital opened at Wimereux in two Hotels, the "Continental" and "La Plage", and owing to the innumerable small rooms, and consequent difficulty in management, Miss Rait was wired for from Marseilles to join the Rawal Pindi, as Miss Watt’s Assistant. The number of beds was 520, and later 570, and the Nursing Staff was made up to 39 with Reserve and Territorial Nurses, and later to 50, the numbers varying according to the pressure of work. The greater part of the Sisters were billeted with Miss Watts at the Hotel Mulier, not far distant from the Hospital buildings, and occupied entirely by them, and the remainder with Miss Rait in a "Pension" immediately opposite the "Mulier".
In March 1915, in order to meet the required expansion, another building, at some distance from the Hotel, was taken over, the "Chateau Mauricien", with many small rooms on three floors, and a total of 40 beds. Miss Rait was appointed in charge of this new division of the Rawal Pindi, with a staff of 8 Nurses, and when it was opened as an Officers’ division later, the Nursing staff was augmented to 12, partly by depleting the staff of the other 2 Hospitals. In April, as the work increased, and the Hospital at Marseilles was reduced to 20 beds only for British Troops and 5 for Officers, Miss Heale and Miss Johnson were instructed to leave Marseilles, and to report for duty at the Rawal Pindi.
In May 1915, the Lahore British General Hospital opened at Calais, with 520 beds. Miss Knapp was appointed as Matron, and Sisters McLean and Wardell as two of her staff.
In July 1915, No.25 General Hospital, with 1040 beds, was opened at Camiers, and Miss Rait was appointed as Matron.
On August 29th, Miss White, at the Rawal Pindi, received orders to proceed to Lillers as Sister in Charge of 18 Casualty Clearing Station, with a staff of four Nurses, and on September 25th Miss Mills received orders to proceed to S. Venant as Sister in Charge of the Meerut Casualty Clearing Station, also with a staff of 4 Nurses – in both cases drawn partly from the Rawal Pindi – thus increasing the work of the Sisters there. (The Nurses for Casualty Clearing Stations had always had to be supplied from Base Hospitals, and usually at times such as these, when there was hard fighting, and they could ill be spared.
In November 1915, instructions were received from the War Office that the Indian Sisters were to hold themselves in readiness for duty in the East. On the 7th November, wires were sent recalling all the Indian Sisters, except those at Calais, to join the Rawal Pindi. They were to be medically examined, and to be ready if required, at short notice, for the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. It was decided that, as they were to go in two parties, they were to proceed as follows:-
Miss Rait with
Miss Watt with
This arrangement enabled Miss Watt to settle up all the affairs of her hospital, and to render valuable help in handing over to the Harvard unit, who took over the buildings, and in welcoming the Sisters and arranging for their billets.
On November 25th, the first unit left for Marseilles, and the 2nd on December 13th. On March 26th 1916 the remaining five Sisters were urgently recalled for India (with the exception of Mrs. Kennedy, who was transferred sick to Dover on the Hospital Ship "Jan Breydel" on March 30th) and left for Marseilles on April 5th.
During their stay in France the Indian Nursing Sisters worked with great devotion and were fully appreciated by all who came into contact with them. For exceptional services rendered the following Sisters were mentioned in Sir John French’s Despatches, and awarded the Royal Red Cross:-
Lady Superintendent P. F. Watt mentioned in June 1915, and awarded the R.R.C.
Senior Sister H. Rait mentioned in January 1916, and awarded the R.R.C.
Senior Sister C. L. Warrack mentioned in June 1916 and awarded the R.R.C.
Nursing Sister M. G. Knapp mentioned in January 1916, and awarded the A.R.R.C.
The following letter written in May 1915 by a wounded Private admitted to the Rawal Pindi is perhaps worth quoting, as an appreciation of the work accomplished by the Indian Sisters and the Nurses working with them. As in many of our units, at that time, beds were crowded into halls, passages, and every possible corner. Six men lay all day on camp beds in the hall with little or no attention. When they left, one man handed this letter to the orderly at the door:-
Your devotion to a voluntary duty, your self-sacrifice and kind sympathy have not passed unnoticed by your patients. We cannot see how we deserve such kind attention. Nothing has convinced me more that we shall win this present war, than the splendid conduct of the Nurses in Ward A. I am sure all the out-going patients in Ward A concur in what I have said. Dear Sisters, we are soldiers gruff and hard; we cannot express our indebtedness to you all, but when we return to battle, we hope to show how we would protect such kind sisters from German "Kultur", as experienced by Belgium. Accept our thanks, with kind regards,
(Signed) Private Isaac Maciver*
E. M. McCarthy
Matron-in-Chief, British Troops in France and Flanders
[*This man can be traced. The medal index cards show just one man with that name. He was Private 1951 Isaac MacIver, Gordon Highlanders, later Captain Isaac MacIver, Seaforth Highlanders. He has a file at the National Archives – WO339/40000]