Focus On... Women in Uniform
 
* Nurses in the Crimea  
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Introduction
Nurses in the Crimea

1. Introduction

2. Profile

3. Sources

Nurses in the British Army
Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps
Scottish Women's Hospitals
Women's Royal Naval Service
Women in WWII
Links
Credits
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Detail from letter from Emily Slesson enquiring about going to the East to serve as a nurse. National Archives' Catalogue  ref: WO 25/264 Detail from a letter from Emily Slesson enquiring about joining Florence Nightingale as a nurse in the Crimea
View orginal and transcript of a letter from Emily Slesson enquiring about joining Florence Nightingale as a nurse in the Crimea. National Archives' Catalogue ref: WO 25/264. Opens in a new window - 43kSee more

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Prior to the 1850s each British Army regiment had its own medical officer. Male orderlies, with no formal medical training, were seconded from the regiment. During peacetime the problems of a localised system were not apparent, but the experience of the Crimean War (1854-1856) highlighted the difficulties caused by lack of equipment and supplies, poor communication, inexperienced staff and badly managed resources.

The “Crimean War” took place in the Crimea, Asia Minor, the Baltic, the White Sea and on Russia’s Pacific coast between the nations of Russia, Turkey, Great Britain, France and Piedmont-Sardinia. The Crimean War has been characterised as one of the worst managed wars in history, with deaths due to illness and malnutrition at four times the rate of those due to enemy action.

The Times war correspondent William H Russell brought the desperate conditions in the Crimea to the attention of the British public and popularised the call for women nurses to join the forces.

“Are there no devoted women amongst us, able and willing to go forth to minister to the sick and suffering soldiers of the East in the hospitals of Scutari? Are none of the daughters of England, at this extreme hour of need, ready for such a work of mercy?” (The Times, 15 and 22 September 1854)

Detail from Memorandum of Agreement describing the terms if employment as a nurse between Mary Ann Fabian and Florence Nightingale. National Archives Catalogue ref: WO 25/264. Link opens in a new window - 74k Detail from Memorandum of Agreement describing the terms if employment as a nurse between Mary Ann Fabian and Florence Nightingale.
View Memorandum of Agreement, original and transcript, describing the terms if employment as a nurse between Mary Ann Fabian and Florence Nightingale. National Archives Catalogue ref: WO 25/264. Opens in a new window - 74kSee more
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In response to the worsening situation in the region, Florence Nightingale was appointed as “Superintendent of the Female Nurses in the Hospitals in the East” by her friend Sidney Herbert, Secretary of War.

Nightingale arrived at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, a suburb on the Asian side of Constantinople, Turkey, on the eve of the Battle of Inkerman, November 4th 1854, with 38 nurses.

The conditions were appalling and Welsh nurse, Elizabeth Davis, reported that “The first that I touched was a case of frost bite. The toes of both the man's feet fell off with the bandages. The hand of another fell off at the wrist. It was a fortnight, or from that to six weeks, since the wounds of many of those men had been looked at and dressed.... One soldier had been wounded at Alma.... His wound had not been dressed for five weeks, and I took at least a quart of maggots from it. From many of the other patients I removed them in handfuls.” Source: Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan, (Longmans, 1961)

With an incredible amount of hard work the nurses in Nightingales' charge brought the Scutari hospital into better order and 46 more nurses had arrived in the Crimea by December.

Despite a rise in the number of nurses the workload was overwhelming. At one point less than 100 nurses had 10,000 men under their care.

By February 1855 the death rate was running 42% due to defects in the sanitation system resulting in outbreaks of cholera and typhus fever. The War Office ordered immediate reforms in the sanitary system and by June the rate fell to 2%.

Detail from the receipt from Vicountess Canning to M Fabian for four weeks wages for services as a nurse at Scutari. Link opens in a new window - 31k
Detail from the receipt from Vicountess Canning to M Fabian for four weeks wages for services as a nurse at Scutari
View the receipt from Vicountess Canning to M Fabian for four weeks wages for services as a nurse at Scutari. Opens in a new window - 31k  See more
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The war ended with the fall of Sevastopol in early 1856, a key strategic town that has been held by the Russians for over 11 months, and the signing of The Treaty of Paris.

All the documents shown on this page are from held at the National Archives.
National Archives' Catalogue reference: WO 25/264 National Archives' Catalogue - opens in a new window

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