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The history of the British Army Nurses from The Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing service through to the modern Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC)
Crimea War Nurses
The History of the modern day QARANC (Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps) can be traced back to the Crimea War. Florence Nightingale took 38 women to work as nurses and nursing attendants at Scutari Hospital from 1854 to 1856. She was recruited by the Secretary of State for War, Sidney Herbert, to lead the women in tending the wounds of the injured soldiers. He had identified the need for a nursing service because soldiers had little medical care and treatment and were dying from neglect as well as their horrific wounds. Florence Nightingale's title was Superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the English General Hospitals in Turkey.
Grey and Scarlet: letters from the war areas by army sisters on active service states that the wounded from the Crimea were brought to Chatham. Nurse accompanied them; thus Chatham was naturally the first hospital to have Sisters on its staff. During the next few years they began working in Military Hospitals in London, at Netley and at Woolwich.
The second UK military hospital The Royal Herbert was named after Sidney Herbert.
Florence Nightingale and her nurses revolutionised the care of sick and wounded officers and men of the British Army, preventing many deaths and enabling many to return to active duty.
After she left the Crimea Florence Nightingale was retained by the War Office as the General Superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the Military Hospitals of the Army. In 1860 Florence Nightingale then established the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St Thomas's Hospital, London. Several years later she wrote the handbook The Introduction of Female Nursing into Military Hospitals. She was retained by the War Office as a consultant on army welfare until 1872.
Military General Hospitals
Queen Victoria soon learnt about her work and in 1860 ordered a hospital be built to train Army nurses and surgeons be built. This was the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley. The hospital opened in 1863 and soon admitted and cared for military patients. From 1866 nurses were formally appointed to Military General Hospitals. The nursing personnel came under the direction of The Army Nursing Service (ANS) from 1881.
Grey and Scarlet: letters from the war areas by army sisters on active service cites that in 1883 Army Orders published that Nursing Sisters were to be employed in all Army Hospitals of 100 beds or more. These Military Hospitals were located in Aldershot, Gosport, Portsmouth, Devonport, Dover, Shorncliffe, Canterbury, the Curragh (Ireland), Malta and Gibraltar.
Boer and Egyptian Wars
Members of the new Army Nursing Service were sent to the First Boer War (often called Zulu War) from 1879 to 1881, later to the Egyptian Campaign in 1882 and the Sudan War of 1883 to 1884. During the Sudan War members of the Army Nursing Service nursed in hospital ships on the Nile as well as the Citadel in Cairo. It is thought that the first white women to go up the Nile were army nurses (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).
See the Cabinet Card page for an example of a photo from this era.
During the second Boer War, the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 the Army Nursing Service was mobilised to tend the wounded in tented field hospitals in areas like Chiveley, Frere, Natal, Pietermaritzburg and Wynburg. As this second Zulu War progressed local buildings were commandeered and converted into hospitals such as No 3 general Hospital at Kroonstad. Sisters of the Army Nursing Service also nursed aboard troop ambulance trains and hospital ships.
Conditions were harsh for the nurses and 23 Army Nursing Sisters died from diseases despite their hard work at maintaining hygiene and order. Women in the War Zone: Hospital Service in the First World War by Anne Powell cites that almost 2000 trained nurses served in the war.
The Drummer Boy continues the adventures of QARANC nurse, Scott Grey, who has the special gift of seeing military ghosts. In this novel he is haunted by the ghost of a Gordon Highlander Drummer Boy from the Battle of Waterloo. It is based on the legends of the Tidworth Military Hospital Drummer Boy.
Chapters take place in modern day Aberdeen, at the Noose & Monkey bar and restaurant as well as His Majesty’s Theatre and Garthdee. Other scenes take place at Tidworth and during the Napoleonic War where I describe battlefield medical care of this era.
Read the first three chapters for free on most devices.
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Nursing Sisters also served in Malta and Gibraltar in the newly opened military hospitals. At home nurses served at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, at the Brigade of Guards Hospital, London and within two years at each military hospital which had over 100 beds. Army Nurses also served at military hospitals in Shorncliffe, Canterbury, Devonport, Dover, Portsmouth and Gosport.
Princess Christian's Army Nursing Reserve
This section has moved to the Princess Christian's Army Nursing Reserve PCANR page.
Royal Red Cross Medal
Twenty years later since the building of Netley hospital Queen Victoria was still taking an interest in army nursing and nurses. She created a decoration to honour and reward their skills, dedication, bravery and exceptional services in military nursing. It was called the Royal Red Cross (RRC) and at the time was the first British military order just for women, until 1976. It is now awarded to men as well since they now form part of the QARANC rather then the Royal Army Medical Corps. There are no rank exemptions to being awarded the RRC or its other award the Associate Royal Red Cross Medal (ARRC).
The Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service
The War Office took a more active interest in army nurses because of how quickly and efficiently they were treating soldiers in the Second Boer War. These soldiers were returned to active duty quicker and the War Office saw the potential savings in manpower and costs.
On the 23 June 1898 the Royal Army Medical Corps was formed by Royal Warrant. The Director General of the Army Medical Services was Alfred Keogh (Keogh Barracks in Ashvale was named in his honour and is the HQ of the RAMC). In 1901 he placed army nursing sisters of the Army Nursing Services onto the war establishment of the Medical Services. The War Office officially formed The Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) on the 27 March 1902 under a Royal Warrant to replace the Army Nursing Service and the Indian Nursing Service. There were 39 nurses, 9 nursing sisters and four Superintendents in India at the time of the 22 July 1901 Report of the Royal Commission on the Care and Treatment of the Sick and Wounded during the South African Campaign cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).
Amongst the recommendations the Committee suggested that good nurses could be found amongst the wives of officers, the introduction of a Principal matron, the duties of the Matron in Chief and the recommendation that Queen Alexandria be asked to become the president of the new service which would then be called The Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service .
Members of the Committee included Surgeon General Hooper, the Secretary of State for War William St John Brodrick, the surgeon Sir Frederick Treves
So the QAIMNS was formed from the Army Nursing Service whilst the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service QAIMNS (I) was formed from the Indian Nursing Service.
The Royal Warrant was signed by King Edward VII and countersigned by William St John Brodrick the Secretary of State for War. In the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott there is a copy of the words of the Royal Warrant that formed the QAIMNS which reads as follows:
Whereas We deem it expedient to further provide for the nursing services of Our Army: Our Will and Pleasure is that an Imperial Military Nursing Services, to be designated the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and comprising Our Army Nursing Service, shall be established and the regulations contained in the Warrant of Our late Royal Mother, dated 26 October, 1900, shall be amended as follows...
The first President of the QAIMNS was Queen Alexandra who chose the motto and insignia of the service.
The insignia was a white cross taken from the Danish flag from where she came from the Order of Dannebrog. The motto was Sub-Crucia Candida which meant Under the White Cross. Queen Alexandra remained the President until her death in 1925. Queen Mary then became the President.
The QAIMNS expanded over the years and recruited many more nurses, so much so that in the First World War there were over 100,000 nurses in active service. These nurses served in countries such as East Africa, Egypt, France, India, Italy, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Salonika and Russia.
Read more about the QAIMNS and WWI in the QAIMNS First World War page.
Territorial Force Nursing Service
The QAIMNS Reserve and the Territorial Force Nursing Service (1907) was formed and they too served during the First World War with the Expeditionary Force.
In 1908 there were 3000 members of the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) and their role was to serve around Great Britain in the 23 Territorial Hospitals (TH) which were controlled by the War Office and under Army administration (cited in It's a Long Way to Tipperary: British and Irish Nurses in the Great War by Yvonne McEwen). When the First World War started each Territorial Hospital has a maximum bed capacity of 520 beds which were staffed by 91 nurses with a reserve of 30. Some had regular staff nurses from the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS) and its Reserve (QARNNSR).
In 1921 the Territorial Force was renamed to the Territorial Army (TA) and so the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) became the Territorial Army Nursing Service (TANS)
Voluntary Aid Detachment
The Voluntary Aid Detachment was formed in August 1909 with the function of providing nursing and medical assistance during a time of war. VADs would work as nursing assistants, ambulance drivers, letter writers for wounded soldiers and cooks in France, Belgium, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia and the UK in field hospitals, base hospitals, convalescent hospitals and in the wards of Military Hospitals. The VAD were under the control of the British Red Cross Society which had previously been known as the British National Aid Society. The Voluntary Aid Detachment were trained in first aid and nursing duties like bed bathing, hygiene and sanitation. There is more written about the Voluntary Aid Detachment on the QAIMNS page and on the Voluntary Aid Detachment page.
It's a Long Way to Tipperary: British and Irish Nurses in the Great War by Yvonne McEwen has a copy of the regulations that governed the employment of the Voluntary Aid Detachment within a Military Hospital and a list of the required clothing and equipment.
Queen Alexandra’s Military Families Nursing Service
The Queen Alexandra’s Military Families Nursing Service (QAMFNS) was established in 1921 (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott) though its members were then transferred to the QAIMNS in 1926. The QAMFNS cared for the wives and children of serving soldiers in special Military Family Hospitals. In the same year the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service for India were also transferred to the QAIMNS.
In 1926 QAIMNS nursing sisters were granted regular army officer rank though not an army commission or rank structure until 1941.
On the 31 May 1935 QAs were mobilised to Quetta in North West India to care for the thousands of injured people from an earthquake. A tented field hospital was set up and operations were performed and the injured nursed until they could be evacuated to local hospitals such as the Mayo hospital in Lahore. This was the first time members of the QAIMNS were involved with the air evacuation of casualties and indeed the first time in history that QAs were flown into an area to administer nursing care.
The book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott has a copy of a letter sent by QA Elsie Arnott to fellow QA Irene Duncan which describes her journey to Quetta and her nursing duties at the earthquake zone which was still having tremors.
Second World War
During the Second World War The Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service continued to look after the medical and nursing care of soldiers.
In 1941 nursing sisters were awarded badges of rank from Lieutenant through to Brigadier when an emergency commission was granted. Previously they all had officer status though had no distinction of rank and were not permitted to wear badges of rank. This was approved by Queen Mary on the 15 March and given approval by King George VI on the 30 April 1941 (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott). This change was largely due to the dedication of the new Matron in Chief Dame Katherine Jones who wanted her nurses to be seen as army personnel first and nurses second. The nurses continued to serve abroad in many countries which included in those who were prisoners of war in concentration camps in Malaya and Hong Kong. Read more about QA World War Two Nursing.
The Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps
On the 1 February 1949 the QAIMNS became a corps and were renamed The Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps because of the Women's Forces of the Crown Act.
The book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott notes that there was no drumhead service, parade or ceremony to mark the day that nurses officially became part of the British Army rather than attached to the army. Of note the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) became the Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC) on the same date. The book also cites the details on the Royal Warrant that was signed by King George VI and the Secretary of State for War, Emmanuel Shinwell.
A copy of the Royal Warrant can be seen on the QA Corps Warrant page.
Initially the Corps only had nursing officers in the regular service with supplementary staff from the Territorial Army (TA) and the Regular Army Reservists. The next year, in 1950, student nursing began. This saw the introduction of Other Ranks (OR's) servicewomen. The members of the Territorial Army Nursing Service (TANS) were integrated into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps and the TANS were disbanded. Other changes included renaming The Matrons-in-Chiefs to Director Army Nursing Services.
New Zealand Army Nursing Service Alliances
Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps Alliance
The following three photographs come from the collection of Sergeant Jean Miller whose photo is also at the top of this history page. Below each picture is the text she has written on the back:
Where's that blinkin' bucket? What a unit! Jean, Oct '50. Jean Miller is on the left with Kathy Gibley on the right.
That's toilet paper we got there. The months supply. Jean, Oct '50. Jean Miller front left, with arm on Kathy's shoulder.
Me and the gals take a few minutes rest in the middle of cleaning. Jean, Oct '50 Jean front, second from left, Kathy's hands on her shoulders.
It is thought that these photos were taken during induction training.
One year after the QARANC were formed members were mobilised to care for the injured and wounded troops of the United Nations that were protecting South Korea from a Communist invasion known as the Korean War. QAs served in field hospitals, at Commonwealth Hospitals and aboard hospital ships. Read more about the Korean War and the QARANC.
Queen’s Coronation Parade
Members of the QAs took part in the Queen’s Coronation Parade in 1953, led by Sister Margot Turner. An account is written about this event in the history of the QARANC in Surviving Tenko: The Story of Margot Turner where the parade ground course is described at 13 miles long with a route from Buckingham Palace, marching to Birdcage Walk, on to Constitution Hill and Hyde Park Corner, through the park grounds to Marble Arch, down Oxford Street and into Regent Street. Every Corps and Regiment of the British Army were represented at the Queen’s Coronation Parade.
Colonel-in-Chief of QARANC
Queen Mary remained the President of the newly formed QA's. The role was now named Colonel-in-Chief of QARANC. She remained the Colonel-in-Chief until her death in 1953. She was succeeded by Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret until her death in 2002. From July 2003 the third Colonel-in-Chief is Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex. HRH The Countess of Wessex is also the Patron of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps Association.
In October 1967 the QA Training Centre in Aldershot was officially opened. This replaced the Queen Alexandra Barracks which had been used as the QARANC Depot.
Male student nurses and trained nurses were soon introduced to the British Army to expand their status from medical orderlies or medics. They remained under the remit of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) until 1992 when they rebadged to QARANC.
Ministry of Defence Hospital Units
As part of the defence cuts and rationalisation of 1995 many of the military hospitals were closed which included the QEMH Woolwich. Military patients were then treated in Ministry of Defence Hospital Units throughout England. This included MDHU Frimley Park and MDHU Portsmouth.
New QARANC history was made at the turn of the Millennium when the first ward stewardess became an RSM. The same ward stewardess, now called Health Care Assistants, with extended roles to reflect modern military nursing needs, later became the first HCA to become a commissioned officer with the rank of Captain.
A new Director's Medal was introduced in the Millenium and this is presented to a regular member of the QARANC who has distinguished him or herself on operations or brought advancements in the field of Army Nursing.
Princess Muna of Jordan Garrison Church Service 100 Years Army Nursing
The National Memorial Arboretum was opened in 2007 and included a QARANC memorial. More can be read about the NMA and the QARANC memorial with photos on the QA Memorial page.
QARANC history and the recognition of military nurses was depicted in the Memorial Window at St Anne's Cathedral Belfast in September 2007 and dedicated in October 2009.
Forces War Records
Forces War Records are a genealogy site where you can find military records of over 6 million British Armed Forces personnel cross matched with over 4000 Regiments, Bases and Ships. This link includes a free search and a special discount of 40% off membership offer for visitors who use the discount code AF40 if they decide to become a member.
Search Now. A unique feature is their WW1 Soldiers Medical Records section.
If you would like to contribute to this page, suggest changes or inclusions to this website or would like to send me a photograph then please e-mail me.
Official QARANC webpage.
QA Association website.
In The Company of Nurses Book.
The Grey Lady Ghost of the Cambridge Military Hospital Novel - a Book by CG Buswell
The Drummer Boy Novel
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