Friday, 12 August 2016

War hospital women

This week, Louise concludes her series of blogs on the role of women in medicine in our region during the First World War. Her last blog looked at women serving on foreign battlefields, but she has discovered that a posting in one of Edinburgh’s military hospitals brought experiences mentally (and sometimes physically!) far from home too:

For the nursing staff of Scottish military hospitals during the First World War, there were many rude awakenings. For professional, hospital-trained nurses, the influx of casualties must have been a shock, along with the injuries that came as a result of mechanised warfare on a mass scale. Some hospitals specialised in the horrific injuries that trench warfare brought, such as Edenhall Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers (sited at Pinkieburn, Musselburgh from early 1918). Edenhall developed and made mobility aids onsite - you can see some at the front of this photo:

Patients and staff at Edenhall, c. 1917,(Acc 12/054)
For volunteer nurses drafted in for wartime needs (Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses trained by the Red Cross in basic skills – VADs), the comparisons with life before the war must have been even more stark. Not only did most women enter the working world for the first time and lived away from the family home, but they were also exposed to the male-dominated life of the ward, with bodies, blood and bone becoming commonplace sights for them.

But serving in a Scottish military hospital did not necessarily mean seeing out the war on the home front. Having gained experience in caring for soldiers at home, nurses, doctors and orderlies from hospitals around Edinburgh were called to serve abroad. For staff at the 2nd General Hospital, Craigleith, this sometimes meant serving in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in North Africa. Here are Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) nurses and Royal Army Medical Corps members taking time away from duty at the pyramids in Egypt in a photograph sent back to be published in the hospital magazine, the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle:

Craigleith staff in Egypt, 1916 (GD1/82/12)
TFNS nurses were professionally training nursing staff, who volunteered to care for the wartime territorial forces (that is, those who volunteered to fight rather than professional soldiers). I think that that these particular nurses are TFNS nurses (rather than VADs) on account of their uniforms. There’s more on military nursing uniforms on the excellent Scarlet Finders site, here

Camels in Egypt were not just for fun. In 1916, a Scottish medic serving in the military hospitals sent the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle this article:

Article heading, 1917 (GD28/6)
The author mentions the very important transport roles that camels played in military life, and the need for regular rest from the punishing life of a working animal:

“They are being used in thousands as transport to carry food, ammunition etc…Within five minutes walk of my home… there is an enormous rest camp where they get treatment, food and rest…. In the Camp there is a dipping tank like those used in Scotland for dipping sheep…”

The end of the war did not bring respite for the hardworking nurses of the 2nd General Hospital, Craigleith, who were to have one last adventure – sailing from Leith to Danzig to bring back sick and wounded prisoners of war. Again from the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle, we learn that a nursing sister and three staff nurses spent a total of eight weeks on board their ship, the Western Australia, during December 1918 and January 1919:

Article illustration and caption, 1919 (GD28/6)
They witnessed the relief at war’s end, and saw the results of its horrific effects, as this quotation shows – which must have been quite a shock for these middle-class women, even if they were hardened by their military hospital experiences:

“Next day we see Russian prisoners being transferred from barges to ships with Waffenstillstand and Armistice painted on them. We see the Russians scraping the decks and winches with their knives for fat, and eating it.”  Staff-Nurse E D Robertson

The article also mentions events that would shape the world to come. For example, Nurse Robertson reports that different attempts to evacuate British former prisoners of war from Germany were hampered by the start of the 1918 November Revolution (which would eventually lead to the Weimar Republic).

One of the strongest things that you see in the Craigleith Hospital Chronicle is how life must have changed for women as a result of their wartime experiences. We often think of auxiliaries in terms of the Second World War, but this poem shows that women played a crucial support role from 1914 to 1918 for the Army (WAACs), Navy (Wrens) and Women’s Royal Air Force (Penguins  - because they did not fly!):

Craigleith Hospital Chronicle poem, 1918 (GD28/6)
And this advertisement for insurance for the ‘income earning woman’ simply would not have existed before the war:

Craigleith Hospital Chronicle advertisement, 1918 (GD28/6)
The lighthearted humour in the Chronicle also reveals more than it may have originally intended. Times were changing for women just as they were coming into the workplace in great numbers out of the necessity of warfare. This cartoon, although undoubtedly in poor taste, hints at this change, as well as displaying not a little bit of apprehension at a world that looked to be turning upside down. It reads:

"PTE. MURPHY (who is to be kept without food for 24 hours), as Nurse passes him: 'Shure, Nurse, dear, I hope they don't think I'm a Suffragette.' "

Craigleith Hospital Chronicle cartoon, 1918 (GD28/6)ption

No comments:

Post a Comment