a_great_war_nurseThe WFA has, very generously, been given permission to present over 130 fascinating and original images from the Photographic Album of a Nurse in the Great War.

The finder, Bob Cleary,  writes in his original posting on http://www.toysoldierschat.com:

Here is an interesting find I made a number of decades ago. I pulled an old photo album from a cardboard box at a local flea market and discovered what appeared to be a complete photo journal of a WWI English nurse. The pictures were dated from 1915 through 1918 and were in good shape. I paid the $10 asking price and promptly threw it in my closet and forgot about it.

Now that the Internet has arrived I will share my find with the world ..... . Individually, the pictures are fine but taken as a set, the album presents the perspective of a single participant of the Great War. She does a good job of identifying the various people she has photographed but only refers to herself as "me". Of course, why label pictures of herself? She probably expected no one else to ever find this book.

Oh well; this may be a mystery that will never be solved.

You can view the whole album as a slide show, below. When you start the slides running, use the expand icon to view them full screen.


Sue Light has made a very welcome contribution to the background to the photo album, as follows:

First, just something that I already have that add to the shots of 18 General Hospital, Camiers. I've attached a snippet from a contemporary map which shows the position of No.18 General, and the other hospitals which were there. The hospital was taken over by the US Army in July 1917. Then there are three photos that I took a couple of years ago when I was there. The chimneys on Bob's photos are of the cement works, which was there then, and is still there today. Immediately north of the hospital complex, and what appears on his images is La Boulonnaise cement works, and farther north was the Courron cement works. One of the present day images is looking north-east over the rough ground which was the hospital site, and the other is the view directly north from Camiers sidings towards the cement works. They both show the position of both in relation to one another. It needs rather a leap of the imagination to put that hospital back in the photo.

Copy of Camiers Map 1

camiers sidings i

camiers sidings f


War Diary Extracts

The National Archives: WO95/3991

05.08.19 Departure of Matron-in-Chief, France
On August 5th the Matron-in-Chief, BEF left France, from which date I took over the duties of Principal Matron of France and Flanders.
On the evening of the fourth, Dame Maud McCarthy GBE, RRC, dined with the DMS General Gerrard CB, and the officers of his staff, who were giving a farewell dinner in her honour. The following guest were present: Colonel Barefoot DDMS, L of C, Colonel Statham the DDMS Boulogne and Etaples, Colonel Gordon the ADMS Calais, and also the A/Principal Matrons of the Areas, Miss L. E. Mackay QAIMNS, Miss Allen QAIMNS and Miss Rowe QAIMNS; also Miss Congleton QAIMNS, Matron 32 Stationary Hospital; Miss G. Wilton Smith and myself. In the centre of the dinner table was placed a gorgeous basket of choice hot-house flowers which was afterwards presented to Dame Maud, and the DMS made a very appropriate and gratifying speech in which he expressed so much appreciation of her noble work and character and regrets at her leaving France, in which we all concurred so heartily.
On the afternoon of the 5th, Dame Maud left by the afternoon boat for England. I went with the DMS in his car to see her off, and Miss G. Wilton Smith and Miss Barbier CHR went with her in her own car. There was a large crowd waiting on the Quay when she arrived. Among those present were a Representative from GOC, General Asser being absent from Boulogne; the DMS and his staff; Brigadier General Wilberforce CB CMG the Base Commandant; Colonel Barefoot DDMS L of C; Colonel Statham DDMS Boulogne and Etaples; Colonel Gordon the ADMS Calais; and many other officers; Major Liouville, who represented the French Medical Service and Monsieur M. Rigaud, Secretary to the Sous-Prefecture who represented the French civil population, came in place of Monsieur M. Buloz who was absent from Boulogne. These two men thanked her on behalf of the Military and Civil Authorities for all the goodness and courtesy they had always received at her hands. The Matrons and the Nursing Staff from all the near Units who could be spared from duty and who were anxious to show a last mark of respect to their retiring chief were present.
She shook hands with everyone and was wonderful to the last, in the way she carried through a most difficult and trying farewell. Her cabin was a perfect bower of most beautiful flowers sent from the staff of the different Hospitals. One of her own staff, Miss Hill VAD, was able to cross with her as she was going home on demobilisation. As the ship moved off the Matron-in-Chief, Miss Hill and Major Tate RAMC of the DMS staff, who was proceeding to England on transfer, escorted Dame Maud to the bridge and remained with her. They all waved from the bridge and we all waved and cheered our loudest and sang "For she's a jolly good fellow" as the ship sailed out of the harbour. I think we shall never forget that sight and shall always like to remember the courageous and plucky way in which our chief carried our flag flying to the very last moment into her civilian life, where we wish her all happiness and success and where she will still command the love and respect of us all.

The National Archives: WO95/3991

Major Lord Greville came to the Office with reference to the three day trips which he was arranging for the benefit of Nurses and VAD members from both Calais and Boulogne Bases on three successive days, parties to consist of 14 members with a Conducting Officer in attendance, and I arranged that a senior Member of the Service should be in charge of each party. These trips were to begin on 20th instant, and the parties from Calais would finish the trip at Boulogne, and the Boulogne parties at Calais. The programme drawn up is as follows:-
1st day: Leave for Blendeques. Sleep at Blendeques. 2nd day: Arras, Vimy Ridge, Lens, La Bassee, Gezaincourt. Sleep at Gezaincourt. 3rd day: Somme Battlefield, Bapaume, Albert. Sleep at (Boulogne) or (Calais). The Principal Matrons of the Areas were issued with full instructions regarding these trips, and the names of the Members selected were also notified.

Pilgrimage to Lourdes: The Roman Catholic Chaplain from GHQ Colonel Rawlinson, rang up to say that he had made arrangements with the Etaples Padre for Nurses to proceed on an 8 days' tour to Lourdes, leaving Etaples on 29th. I let him know that I knew nothing about it, and made an appointment to visit him at his Headquarters the next day after discussing the matter with the DGMS should it meet with his approval.
With Miss Wright VAD to GHQ where I saw Colonel Rawlinson, Principal Roman Catholic Chaplain, with reference to the Pilgrimage to Lourdes, and said that until something was settled officially on the subject no further arrangements should be made. He told me that Col. Wroughton, Adjutant General's Office, had told him there would be no difficulty in the matter. Father Coyle, a Jesuit Priest at Etaples, would be in charge of the party, and arrangements had been made with the railway authorities for accommodation to be provided, and they would go direct from Etaples by train, via Paris. The fare would be 30 francs each way from Paris, and their expenses at Lourdes would be 8 francs a day.
From there I went on to GHQ and saw Colonel Price Jones who informed me that he had heard of the matter but had nothing on paper, and he advised me to put up the request with as little delay as possible.
From there to Etaples. Saw the DDMS Colonel Barefoot, who had not realised the necessity of this trip being on thoroughly official lines before any orders could be given. I also found that he was arranging privately for trips to the Forward Areas for Nurses in parties of 14 one day and 24 the next, without any definite instructions on the subject, and he undertook to delay the starting of these trips until proper instructions had been circulated by the Acting Principal Matron as had already been done at Boulogne.
The 3 day trips to Forward Areas from both Bases completed. Each day (22nd, 23rd, 24th) the Conducting Officer and the Sister in charge of the party called at the office to say that all had gone well and that the members had had a very interesting and instructive time. The Matron in charge of each party was writing to Major Lord Greville thanking him, and as well I wrote on behalf of everybody to thank him for arranging the trips, and for the great privilege each Member of the party realised had been given in having the opportunity of visiting the Front Areas under such pleasant and interesting conditions.
Miss Ridley, Principal Matron Canadians, accompanied by Miss Campbell and Miss Isaacs, Matrons CAMC, left for a tour of inspection in the Forward Areas, intending to visit all Canadian Units right up to Cologne, and returning via Brussels.


The VADs: an Introduction and Background

Although there were VADs with the British Red Cross Society in France from early in the war, they were first attached to British military hospitals overseas (under War Office control) from May 1915.  For overseas service women had to be between twenty-three and forty-two years of age, and there were many mature and married women among them.  The women who joined Detachments were a mixture - a wide range of ages and with different sorts of life skills, but as a group they were very much defined by being middle or upper middle-class -  the daughters of local gentry, landowners, army officers, clergy, and professional men, and also a good sprinkling of women with an aristocratic background.   The majority were women who had never had any paid employment, and of those who eventually went on to wartime service more than three-quarters had either never worked outside the home, or had done work which qualified them for payment of a minor nature.

Before applying for overseas service VADs had to complete a probationary period and then work for at least six months in a home hospital, so by the time they arrived in France they had a reasonable background in hospital work.  They signed a contract for six months at a time, or if they were sure they wanted to stay, they could sign a contract for as long as their services were required for which they received extra pay. At the end of thirteen months' unbroken and satisfactory service, nurses in military hospitals received a scarlet ‘efficiency' stripe worn on the upper arm, and a second stripe one year after the first.  Later in the war, many of these experienced VADs with two scarlet stripes were promoted to ‘Assistant Nurse,' and placed on a higher pay scale.

So the women in these photos were likely to be middle-class, well-educated, and socially adept.  Although they were unlikely to have had any previous nurse training, it seems likely that any initial barriers between them and the trained nurses were, in most cases, broken down by the multitude of other things that the two groups had in common.  These images certainly seem to show genuine friendship and relaxed attitude between the two groups.  It is often said that British military nurses were so tightly controlled by their seniors that they were allowed no fraternization with members of the opposite sex - no talking, walking, playing; no fun and definitely no romance.  These images certainly seem to contradict that.  Thank goodness!


The Trained Nurses

The trained nurses pictured are from across the military nursing services; the ‘regular' Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, the QAIMNS Reserve, and the Territorial Force Nursing Service.  In the images they are the ones wearing shoulder capes or ‘tippets.' Some have common surnames and there is no easy way to identify them.  Most will have service records at The National Archives, and in time it may be possible to find them by going through all relevant files and looking for women who were working at the hospitals pictured at the right time.  Three have fairly uncommon names, and their identities are confirmed by their service records.

Amelia Ayre
Born in Liverpool on 12 July 1875.  On application to QAIMNS in 1905 she gives her father's occupation as ‘Builder, deceased,' and due to the high standards of entry to the service at that time, it can be assumed that the family were fairly well-to-do.  She was educated at Cambridge House School, Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool, and she trained as a nurse at Manchester Royal Infirmary between September 1901 and September 1904. 
She was appointed a Staff Nurse in QAIMNS on 1 July 1905 and promoted Sister 19 July 1911.
She served at a variety of stations at home and abroad, and following the outbreak of war arrived in France on 18 August 1914.  She suffered influenza and pneumonia in 1918, and following that her health was not good, but she continued serving until June 1920 when she was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, thought to originate two years previously.  The photos of her in the album were taken during the period that she was suffering from TB, but before she was formally diagnosed.  She was on sick leave for the following three years, undergoing Sanatorium treatment in Wales, before returning to work in June 1923.  She retired in August 1925 after twenty years in the service.  She received the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) in addition to her service medals, and was mentioned in despatches 24/12/17.
Amelia Ayre died in December 1951 at the age of seventy-six years.

Maria Bradburne
Maria Bradburne was born in Middlewich, Cheshire in 1884 and trained as a nurse at Chesterfield Union Infirmary between 1903 and 1906. She enrolled in the Territorial Force Nursing Service during the pre-war period, and was mobilised on 14 August 1914.  All her confidential reports describe her in glowing terms and one written during her time at the Isolation Hospital, Calais reads:

Staff Nurse Bradburne has served under me from 15.9.19. to 15.12.19., two months of this time on night duty. Her professional ability is good.  She is a careful conscientious nurse.  Very tactful and gentle in the care of patients and in her manner to everyone.  Good tempered, punctual, obeys rules and has an influence for good.  Staff Nurse Bradburne has performed her duties as Charge Sister on night-duty very satisfactorily.

This report is signed by her Matron, Amelia Ayre, and does help to date very exactly the images that she appears in. 
Maria Bradburne was awarded the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) on 3 June 1916, in addition to her service medals.

Gertrude Madley
Gertrude Madley was born in Wales in 1893, living most of her life in Llanelli.  Her details show what changes were taking place in recruitment to the military nursing services by the middle of the war.  When QAIMNS was formed in 1902 applicants had to be well-educated, of high social status, and trained in one of a small, select group of prestigious hospitals.  As the war progressed and increasing numbers of nurses were needed for military hospitals, the net had to be cast wider to find staff nurses and nursing sisters for QAIMNS Reserve.
The 1911 census shows Gertrude Madley as an eighteen year old, living with her family in Llanelli.  Her father's occupation was given as ‘tinplate rollerman' and she herself was working as a factory hand.  She trained as a nurse at Swansea General Hospital between 1913 and 1916, before joining QAIMNS Reserve in September 1916.  At just twenty-three years of age, she was one of the youngest nurses to serve with the Reserve during the war, the age limit of twenty-five having been lowered for the duration of the war as the shortage of nurses was so great.  She served in Malta before going to France in 1918, and was finally demobilised in May 1920.  Her report from No.35 General Hospital, dated 30 April 1920 reads:

Staff Nurse Madley served with this unit from 15.6.19 to the present date leaving on demobilisation.  Her general professional ability, power of administration and initiative is quite up to the standard of her rank.  Good tempered, tactful, always obliging and helpful. Devoted to her patients.  Her influence generally is all for good.  Nurse Madley has had charge of a surgical ward and has fulfilled her duties of Sister in a most satisfactory manner.

Ethel Mary Poole
Ethel Poole was born at Ironbridge, Shropshire, on Boxing Day 1890.  Her parents separated when she was young and for some time she lived with her uncle, Henry Lloyd, in Burslem. She eventually travelled to Australia to live with her father who was employed as a flour merchant, before returning to England in 1910 to train as a nurse.  She spent the first two years at Crewe Isolation Hospital where she gained a certificate in fever nursing, and then continued with a further three year general nurse training at Marylebone Infirmary, London, qualifying in 1915. Ethel Poole joined QAIMNS Reserve in May 1915 and worked at Aldershot before going to France in November 1916. She worked in a number of different hospitals and casualty clearing stations, and then in November 1918 joined No 35 General Hospital, Calais - with her long experience in fever nursing, an isolation hospital was the ideal posting.  She was demobilized in September 1920 after more than five years wartime service with QAIMNS Reserve, and returned to live in Melbourne, Australia. Her final confidential report from the unit stated:

Sister E. M. Poole has worked with the unit from 7.11.18. until present date 13.9.20. leaving on demobilization. Her general professional ability, administrative capacity and power of initiative are very good. Training of orderlies excellent. Even-tempered, tactful, most reliable and self-reliant. Her work has been admirable and her influence generally of the best. She is well suited to fill a post of responsibility.


The VADs

These photos were taken over several years, though most seem to date from the last year of the war, the period after the Armistice, and into the second half of 1919.  The position of the names on the captions doesn't always agree with the placing of those included. This can be seen in some of the images that contain both trained and untrained nurses, and so it's likely that other images may follow the same pattern.  The nurses shown are referred to throughout by their surnames, with the exception of the ones marked ‘Self,' which is assumed to be the album owner, and those marked ‘I.M.K.'  As the latter is the only occurrence where initials have been used, there has been speculation that ‘I.M.K.' may be the photographer referring to herself by her initials in certain images instead of using ‘Self.'

As the initials ‘I.M.K.' are fairly uncommon, it seems likely that they refer to Ida Maud Kenshole, who is known to have worked as a VAD overseas, and has a medal index card at The National Archives.  She also has an entry in the ‘British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers 1914-1918.'  I can find one other woman with the same initials - Isabella Mitchell Kelly - but she was no longer working as a VAD in 1918, and as we know that many of these images were taken well after that date it leaves Ida Kenshole as the likely photographer and album owner.  Further research through the British Red Cross Society Archives will hopefully confirm this.  Some of the other VADs shown in the photographs have uncommon surnames and their full names have been traced through the ‘British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers 1914-1918.'  Although the identities are not confirmed, it seems very likely that the following women appear in the photos.  This group of VADs typifies the women who worked as untrained nurses in British military hospitals during the Great War.  Although VADs are often perceived as ‘young' this cross-section shows them as fairly mature, with the youngest of them twenty-eight years old in 1918, and most in their thirties. And comparing them to the trained nurses, what they lacked in professional nursing qualifications, they more than made up for in social status!

Ida Maud Kenshole
Ida Maud Kenshole was born in 1890 in Cardiff, Wales, the daughter of James and Mary Kenshole.  James Kenshole was a Gasworks Manager, and in 1901 the family were living in Merthyr Tydfil.  In 1911 Ida was a student at the British and Foreign Society Training School for Mistresses in Stockwell, south-west London.  She never married, and died in 1975 in Worcester, leaving £86,751, most of the money going to charity.

Katharine Mary Soames
Katharine Mary Soames was born in London in 1886, the daughter of Arthur Wellesley Soames, Liberal politician, Member of Parliament and architect. At the time of the 1911 census she was twenty-five years old and a ‘Science Student for Factory Inspectorship.'  Her home was in Park Crescent, London, an impressive house with a large domestic staff, and she is an example of a young woman who probably had no need to work, certainly not inspecting factories.  She is rather typical of the upper middle-class women who worked as VADs throughout the war in extreme and difficult conditions that they had never previously encountered.  After the war she worked in scientific research at The Lister Institute, London.

Georgina Halliday Gossage
Georgina Halliday Gossage (Goss) was born in Bridlington in 1882, the daughter of a bank clerk.  In 1911 she was twenty-nine years old and still living at home in Bridlington with her parents, and of ‘no occupation.'  Within a short time she was definitely going to be fully occupied!

Hilda Clarkson
Hilda Clarkson was born in Keighley, Yorkshire, in 1887, the daughter of James Clarkson, a solicitor, and she grew up at West Riddlesden Hall, Keighley.  She was employed by the War Office as a Special Military Probationer from 16 August 1915. SMPs served under very similar conditions to members of Voluntary Aid Detachments, but their contract was solely with the War Office, and they had no connection to the British Red Cross Society.  She served at No 5 London General Hospital (St. Thomas' Hospital) and following a period of service on the Hospital Ship ‘Britannic' she went to France in February 1917.  She received the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) and was mentioned in the despatches of Sir Douglas Haig.

Lilian Mary Exell
Born Thornbury, Gloucestershire, 1886, the daughter of Thomas Exell, a grocery and provision merchant, and his wife Maria.  In 1911 she was still living in Thornbury High Street, where her father had his business, and of ‘no occupation.'  Her horizons were set to expand.

Eva Maud Sawday
Born Edmonton 1882; married to Hubert Friston in 1926.

Alice Mary Spencer Pardoe
Born Pontypridd, Glamorgan, 1884; married to Edward McHugh 1930.


The Editor is extremely grateful to Sue Light for providing background location to the photo album.


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