REPORT ON NURSES' CLUBS IN FRANCE
CROWN COPYRIGHT: WO222/2134
1. Mrs Robertson Eustace's Club
On March 18th, 1915, Mrs. Robertson Eustace opened a club for Military Nursing Sisters at No. 4, Rue Cozin, Boulogne. This club was started quite privately (D.G.M.S.' sanction having first been obtained) and the funds for maintaining it were provided solely by Mrs. Robertson Eustace. It was specially intended for the Military Nursing Service, and no subscriptions or payments of any kind were allowed. Mrs. Eustace furnished reading, writing, tea and rest rooms in a pretty and attractive way; she also arranged a Lending Library and a bath-room where hot baths could be obtained at any time. In July 1916, she obtained the landlord’s permission to build extra bedrooms, and later she was able to increase this accommodation to 12 beds, and was thus able to receive Sisters passing through Boulogne, to and from leave etc. For those staying the night a nominal charge of 4 francs was made, towards the Club expenses.
In March 1917, after 2 years work, Mrs Robertson Eustace reported that the Club had 1957 members, that over 11,000 teas had been served, and over 3,707 baths, whilst 819 sisters and VADs had slept at the Club.
In January 1918, after a Conference held at G.H.Q. regarding Voluntary Institutions, it was decided that all workers in France must be affiliated to some recognised Society or Institution, so in April 1918, Mrs Robertson Eustace’s Club became nominally attached to the Scottish Churches Huts, remaining however independent as regards funds.
The Club did excellent work all through 1918, when large numbers of Nurses were coming and going, and the comfortable accommodation for those sleeping there was much appreciated.
While demobilization was in progress, large numbers of Nurses passing through Boulogne took full advantage of the reading, writing ,and rest rooms.
In June 1919, Mrs. Robertson Eustace decided to close her Club, as the numbers of Nurses in the Boulogne area had greatly decreased, and private affairs also required her return to England.
The valuable work accomplished by Mrs Eustace was officially recognised in January 1919, when she was awarded the C.B.E. The Club in the Rue Cazin was the first institution of its kind in Boulogne, and it filled a very great need. It was fully appreciated by large numbers of Nurses stationed in Boulogne, and was the greatest boon to Sisters on Ambulance Trains and others passing through, who were able to have baths, rest and refreshment, which they otherwise would not have been able to do.
2. H.R.H. PRINCESS VICTORIA’S REST CLUBS FOR NURSING SISTERS
In October 1914, a small Club for Nurses was started in Wimereux by Lady Ponsonby and the Hon. Mrs Cyril Ward to meet the requirements of the two or three Hospitals which had opened up there. As the work rapidly increased, and it was found how much the club was needed by the Sisters, it was decided in January 1915, to form a Committee with a view to enlarging the scheme, and establishing Rest Clubs for Nurses in other hospital centres. H.R.H. Princess Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland undertook the duties of President and Lady Algernon Gordon Lennox, assisted by the Hon. Ivy Gordon Lennox, was nominated as H.R. Highness’ representative in France. Later, she was officially styled "Director in France of H.R.H. Princess Victoria’s Rest Clubs for Nurses." The Committee took over the club at Wimereux and Mrs Watson was appointed Lady Superintendent. This club continued at a small house in the Rue Carnot until the summer of 1918, when it was found that an extension for the accommodation was needed, as there were now over 700 Nurses in the area. The club was therefore moved to Villa Charmante, a large villa a short distance away with a nice garden.
This club is remaining open with the Clearing Up Army as long as required, to meet the needs of the Nurses in the remaining Wimereux Hospitals. Mrs Watson and her daughter have worked untiringly, and have made the club a great success.
In the New Years’ Honours Gazette of January 1919, Mrs. Watson received the O.B.E.
In April 1915, A Princess Victoria’s Rest Club was opened at Camiers in a hut in the Hospitals camp. Miss Safford was the Lady Superintendent. This club did good work until it finally closed down in April 1919, when the number of Nurses left in Camiers did not warrant it’s continuance.
Miss Safford was awarded the O.B.E. in January 1919.
In June 1915, a third Princes Victoria’s Rest Club was opened at Etaples, in a hut in the Hospitals camp, near 26, General Hospital. The first Lady Superintendent of this Club was Mrs Latham, a VAD who came out independent of the B.R.C.S. Owing to her failure to understand military discipline and to her desire to introduce new regulations, with regard to smoking, entertaining of officers, etc., there was some difficulty. The matter was referred by Lady Algernon to H.R. Highness who stated that she entirely concurred with the view held by the Matron-in-Chief (viz. that neither smoking nor entertaining officers could be permitted at these clubs). In June 1915, Mrs Latham was replaced by two B.R.C.S. VADs, with Mrs Hill in charge. Special arrangements were made whereby these two ladies were attached to the Sisters’ mess of a neighbouring hospital, a privilege much appreciated by them.
This Club had a continuously large membership, as it was conveniently situated right in the middle of the hospitals and proved a great boon to the large numbers of Nurses at Etaples, where there were few shops and no other places where they could rest, have the latest papers and magazines, and obtain light refreshments.
In the air-raid of the night 19-20 May, 1918, when the Etaples Hospitals suffered so heavily, the Nurses’ Club was damaged by a bomb. The only article left standing upright in the Round room was Princess Victoria’s portrait. Fortunately neither of the workers were injured. The damage was however repaired and the club continued working. It is at the time of writing (June 1919) about to close.
In April 1915, a Nurses’ Club was opened at Rouen at the Villa Bon Acceuil under Lady Ponsonby, with Mrs Taylor Whitehead in charge. Although the Club itself was a charming villa, the situation, half way between the camps and the town, was not good and this and other causes led to its being closed.
In November 1916, H.R.H. Princess Victoria opened a club in the town at 17 Rue Thiers, with Miss Walters in charge. This club proved an immense success, and was largely used by Sisters shopping in the town, and others passing through off trains etc. The Rouen Club was closed in March 1919.
Calais was one of the Bases at which a club was most badly needed, on account of its being a terminus at which Ambulance Trains were garaged for some considerable time, and there were no conveniences of any kind for the Sisters, if they were detained for a matter of 24 hours. [For longer periods they reported for temporary duty to the Acting Principal Matron]. In September 1915, arrangements were made for baths to be obtained by Nursing Staff from Ambulance Trains, at the house of Mme Caulier, 16, Chemin des Regniers, Pont du Len. She was a most obliging French woman, and willing to assist the Sisters in every way. However, there was not the comfort and luxury of a club, so that when in May 1917, one of H.R. Highness’ opened at Calais, it was truly appreciated, and particularly so by the Ambulance Train and Barge Sisters.
The club opened at 32 Avenue de la Gare with Miss Hulme as Lady Superintendent.
During 1917 and 1918, Calais was subjected to many air raids, and some very severe ones, but the club remained open.
In April 1919, after the departure of the Canadian Sisters from Calais, and the considerable decrease in British Nursing Staff, the club was closed down.
Miss Hulme was awarded the O.B.E. in January 1919.
In June 1917, a Princess Victoria’s Club was opened at Abbeville, at 40, Rue de Lillers, in a charming old house with a nice garden. At the opening tea, to which all the Matrons, O.C.’s and representatives of the Nursing staff in the area were invited, Lady Algernon read a telegram from Princess Victoria, wishing the Club every success. The rooms were most attractively furnished, a special feature of this club being the large tiled tea-room with small blue-stained tables, and a collection of gay, artistic posters on the walls. The bath-room also proved a great attraction. Here, as in all H.R.H. Clubs, Sisters from trains and barges were welcomed as honorary members.
By August 1917, the membership had become large that an application was made for authority to employ a third V.A.D. member, and this was sanctioned. In November 1917, Mrs Saunders, who up till then had been Lady Superintendent, was obliged to return to England and her place was taken by Miss Harvey.
At the end of March 1918, when owing to the military situation, the Nursing Staff in Abbeville were considerably reduced, the Club was closed under instructions from D.M.S. L. of C. It remained closed through the summer, owing partly to the bad air-raids, but re-opened in September, in the same house.
Arrangements were made for the two V.A.D.’s running it to sleep at the Nurses’ Home, where there was a bomb-proof dug-out in case of air-raids.
On November 21st, during her visit to France, H.R.H. Princess Mary lunched at the Abbeville Club, the dinner being cooked and served entirely by V.A.D.’s.
This Club remained open until May 1919, when with the departure of the South African General Hospital, and No. 3, Australian General Hospital, and the reduction in British Nursing Staff, it was no longer needed.
g) St Omer
In June 1917, the Lady Algernon Gordon Lennox applied for sanction to open a Rest Club at St Omer, as, in addition to Nurses coming and going to C.C.S.’s, and from Ambulance Trains and Barges, there were over 300 Nurses stationed in the area. Sanction was given, and the Club opened in July 1917, in a house at 22, Rue de Wisscocq, with 2 V.A.D.’s to run it, Miss Barber being in charge. In September, 1917, application was made for a third V.A.D. to be employed and this was granted.
This Club was specially appreciated by the large number of travelling Sisters who were passing through St Omer on their way to front areas and who often remained there several days in reserve until they received orders.
In April, 1918, the Club was suddenly closed, by the A.D.M.S.’ instructions, on account of the continuous air-raids, and the military situation in general, and the personnel were sent to Boulogne.
In September, 1918, it was proposed that the Club should re-open on October 1st, but it was finally decided not to open it, owing to the uncertain condition of affairs, and the constant movements of Units in the 2nd Army.
Miss Barber received the O.B.E. in January 1919.
h) Le Treport
Approval was obtained in July 1917, to open a Princess Victoria’s Rest Club at Le Treport, but the necessary arrangements could not be completed until October 30th, when an opening tea was held in the new Club, to which all O.C.’s and Matrons were invited. Miss Field was the Lady Superintendent in Charge. The house was situated on the sea front and in addition to the comforts of all the previous clubs, there was a dressing-room set apart for members wishing to bathe and this was much appreciated. The whole Club, situated as it was, was a truly delightful ‘Rest Home’ for tired people, and was widely made use of.
This Club closed in March, 1919.
As the work of the Paris Club was of a somewhat different character to the other Clubs, a special short report was written at the time it closed, and a copy is attached.
In August 1917, it was found that, owing to the large increase of Nursing Staff in the area, another Club was badly needed in Boulogne. Authority was therefore obtained to open on of H.R.H. Princess Victoria’s Clubs. The house was taken, No 3 Rue Jules Lecomte, situated high on a terrace, overlooking the sea front, and there was a magnificent view over the sea from the rest rooms and tea rooms. The club quickly attained the popularity of all H.R.H.'s Clubs and had a continuously large membership, sometimes between 100 and 200 teas being served in one afternoon. There have been several changes in the staff of this club, Miss Fawkes held the post of Lady Superintendent for the greater part of the time.
It was closed in May 1919, by which time, most of the Hospitals in Boulogne had been demobilized or transferred.
In March 1918, soon after the opening of Trouville Hospital Centre, an application was received from the A/Principal Matron, on behalf of the Nursing staff, for the establishment of a Rest Club there. It was felt that this would be a great boon to the Nurses, of whom there were already nearly 400 in the area, as they were at a considerable distance from the town, and were unable to get tea or light refreshments on their half-days off. The Adjutant General’s approval was obtained, and a suitable house having been found at Deauville, the Club was opened on June 6th, with Miss Safford as Lady Superintendent.
By the end of the first month, it already had 237 members, and it was then that a proposal was made by Lady Algernon that Nurses off duty for 24 hours might be allowed to sleep at the Club, or, if permitted, to spend 2 or 3 days rest there, as the Club was near the sea. This proposal was gratefully accepted, and 3 beds were set aside at the Club for the use of visitors. Members of the Havre and Rouen areas, as well as from the Trouville area, were permitted to spend their ordinary leave there. Payments were arranged in the same way as for the Paris Club. Sisters from Havre area were also allowed to spend their days off at Trouville, and found this Club a great convenience.
In May 1919, the Club was closed, most of the Hospitals in the Trouville area having been demobilized.
In March 1918, the A/Principal Matron, Havre, made a request that a Club might be opened in the Havre area, as the need of a centre for rest and recreation was much felt. Authority for the opening was obtained in April, but owing to difficulty in finding a suitable house and various other causes, the Club was never opened.
m) General Remarks
With the exception of the Wimereux Club, H.R.H. Princess Victoria’s Rest Clubs were staffed by V.A.D. Members who came out under the auspices of the B.R.C.S., having been requisitioned for this special duty by H.R.H.’s representative. A maximum establishment of 20 V.A.D.’s was authorised for the staffing of all the Clubs in France, but as the work grew, this was increased to 30 and later to 45.
In January 1916, the question arose as to whether the Clubs should be placed under the Joint Committee, but it was the wish of H.R.H. Princess Victoria and the authorities in France that they should continue to be run as independent units under the D.G.M.S., and this was concurred in by the I.G.C. General Sir Frederic Clayton.
In October 1917, at the wish of Lady Algernon, it was arranged that the Principal Matron of the area should visit and inspect the Clubs once a month.
Rations, coal and coke were issued to each Club as required, on the repayment system, and they were also authorised to buy bread and flour from the Expeditionary Force Canteens. No general ruling for all clubs was given, but authority had to be obtained from the G.O.C., L. of C. for each Club as it opened.
An Orderly, usually a P.B. man was attached to each Club, until the general withdrawal of P.B. men, from these and similar duties, in the autumn of 1917, when local arrangements had to be made.
From the moment of opening, there was never a doubt of the popularity of these Clubs, and the tireless energy of the Lady Algernon Gordon Lennox who was responsible for their entire working, contributed enormously to their success. The artistic way in which they were furnished, the dainty way in which the food was served, and the ‘hominess’ of the whole place gave the Nurses just that change and rest from Hospital atmosphere which they so much needed. Some Clubs were more ambitious than others as regards social activities – at Etaples a Debating Society was formed; at Abbeville, lectures were given on subjects of general interest, and from the summer of 1917 onwards, all Clubs had an At Home day, when officers might be invited – a privilege much appreciated.
In February 1918, I wrote to Lady Algernon, on behalf of the Nursing Services in France, to express their deep gratitude to H.R.H. Princess Victoria for her kind thought in establishing these Clubs, and to tell her what a great boon they were proving. Lady Algernon was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in January 1919, in recognition of her valuable services as Director.
As demobilization proceeded, the Clubs were gradually closed down, and the only one now remaining open (June 1919) is the Etaples one which is about to close.
A house has already been found in Cologne, suitable for a Club for the Nurses in the Rhine Army, and they are all very much looking forward to its opening.
3. Miscellaneous Clubs
Besides the recognised Clubs in France already reported on, various other Clubs offered hospitality to Nurses from the Expeditionary Force.
In the autumn of 1917, a Club for American women workers was established in Paris at the Hotel Metropolitan, open to all members of the American Nursing Service in France.
"The Royal Club for Ladies from beyond the Seas", established in London, sent a notification in May 1918, that the Club, a non-residential one, would be glad to receive members of the Overseas Nursing Services on leave and this kind offer was circulated to all Bases.
The Victoria League (Edinburgh Branch) opened a Club in Edinburgh for Overseas Nurses in March 1918, open to all Nurses from Overseas Dominions, and this was fully taken advantage of by Nurses from France.
In 1918, the B.R.C.S. opened Clubs for V.A.D. members at Boulogne, Le Treport, Rouen, and Trouville, on very similar lines to Princess Victoria’s Rest Clubs. These Clubs were used most extensively by B.R.C.S. personnel (motor drivers, G.S. V.A.D. officials etc.) but were also open to V.A.D.’s working in military units.
In October, 1918, a Club for Women workers was started under the Y.W.C.A. in Havre. The membership was extended to members of the Nursing Service, and as this was the only Club in the area, this offer was gladly accepted and the Sisters took full advantage. The Club proved the greatest boon during the winter, especially to the travelling Sisters from the East, who were weary and tired of weeks of travelling, and who were very grateful for the comfort of the Club, and the kindliness of the workers there.
4. Queen Mary's Hostels
No report on Nurses’ Clubs would be complete, without speaking of Queen Mary’s Hostels for Nurses, which although not strictly speaking Clubs, have been of such inestimable benefit to members of the Nursing Service on leave from France. these Hostels, run by a Committee of whom H.M. the Queen is Patroness, Captain Harold Boulton Hon. Treasurer and Mrs Kerr Lawson Lady Superintendent, had been in existence since July 1915, in Tavistock Place, but it was not until after the opening of the new Hostel at 40, Bedford Place, in June 1916, that it began to be extensively used by Nurses on Leave from France. Prospectuses of the Hostel were then received and circulated, and Captain Boulton wrote that any Nurses from France would be most willingly welcomed at the Hostel at any time.
In November, 1916, Captain Boulton was sent to France by the Supply of Nurses Committee to collect facts regarding the Nursing Service with the B.E.F., reinforcements, leave, etc. He repeatedly said that they were only too delighted to welcome at Q.M. Hostel all Nurses from France who desired to spend their leave in London, or to stay the night there. Slips of introduction to the Superintendent of the Hostel, were in future, to be attached to all leave passes issued from this Office, and the numbers who took advantage of this hospitality grew so much that in September 1917, a second Hostel was opened at 52, Russell Square, reserved chiefly for Nurses from the United Kingdom, to relieve 40, Bedford Place. It was suggested to Captain Boulton that the numbers of daily introductions should perhaps be limited, but in reply he wired ‘Let them all come’ – a reply truly characteristic of his continual kindness to the Nursing Service in France.
In February 1918, a one-night Hostel was opened at 50 Warwick Square, near Victoria Station, with 20 beds for Nurses travelling through London who wished to stay one night only, thus leaving more vacant beds at 40 Bedford Place for guest anxious to spend their full leave in London.
The Green Cross Society kindly arranged for a car to be available at Victoria Station to meet and convey Nurses to the Hostel when required.
In March 1919, Mrs Kerr Lawson left the Hostel, and Miss Bankhead became Lady Superintendent. The Hostels are still proving invaluable to all members proceeding to England, both for leave and for demobilization, and many overseas Nurses are being welcomed as guests at 40, Bedford Place, pending repatriation to their own country.
No words can express the immense benefit that this kind hospitality has proved to all branches of the Nursing Service from France. When Hotel accommodation has been almost impossible to obtain and trains often arriving too late for them to proceed beyond London, one and all have been sure of a welcome at Queen Mary’s Hostel, or one of it’s Annexes as honorary guests absolutely free of all expense.
To Captain Boulton, to Mrs Kerr Lawson, and to all the staff who have worked so willingly for the comfort of the Nurses, the most sincere thanks are due.
E. M. McCarthy
British Troops in France and Flanders
28th June, 1919