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Why Did QA Army Nurses Wear Grey Dresses and Berets QARANC Uniforms
Answer to the question why did QA army nurses have a grey uniform and wore grey ward dresses and a grey beret as part of the QARANC Uniform:
Members of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) wore grey as part of their uniform. Female non commissioned officers and junior ranks wore grey ward dresses. Female Nursing Officers wore a grey ward dress with a scarlet cape and white starched veil with the QARANC insignia in red at the base. Male and female QA's wore a grey beret.
A more modern and practical uniform is now worn by members of the QAs in UK hospitals with the Corps colours red, white, blue and grey.
The grey ward dress with red cape for nursing officers was first introduced by the second civilian Superintendent of Female Nurses for the Royal Victoria Military Hospital Netley Jane Deeble in 1869.
But why grey?
Living History Today has an interesting article about the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in which they write that the reason grey was chosen dates back to Florence Nightingale and her time in the Crimea:
She also chose the demure shade of mid grey of the nurses’ dresses as it was a colour that was restrained and calm. She had proven during her time in the Crimea that wounded soldiers responded far better to a gentle and professional female carer than to the rough and ready, and often makeshift conditions that had formerly prevailed in the Army.
The article goes on to explain that Queen Alexandra decided that her nurses should retain Florence Nightingale’s choice of grey in their dress.
Qaranc.co.uk were pleased to hear from former Registered Nurse and an ex member of the RAMC Robb Jenkins who helped by giving a possible answer to the question why members of the QAs wore grey:
I was interested to see the appeal for information as to the origin of the grey uniform. A possible explanation may be similar to the reason why the Confederate Army uniform was grey. This was because grey dye was the cheapest to obtain. No doubt the constraints imposed by the War Office at the time of inception made the cheapest option the only option.
Officers of the QARANC wear scarlet and we will also research the history and origins of this. If you are able to help then please do Contact Us.
It is possible to buy Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) uniforms, ward dresses, No. 2 dress and berets from online auction website Ebay where some private sellers and shops have many such QA items for sale.
I have published a book which tells the story of The Grey Lady Ghost of the Cambridge Military Hospital which reveals her origins in the QAIMNS and where she meets a QA veteran of Afghanistan. She still walks her wards and tells her story by taking Scott Grey, a QARANC nurse, to the battlefields of World War One and beyond. This is the first in the series of Grey and Scarlet Novels by CG Buswell. Read the first chapter for free.
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Army Nursing Service Uniform
The Army Nursing Service uniform was introduced in 1888. The female only nurses wore a muslin cap, bonnet and veil. The nurses dress was a grey serge colour and had white linen cuffs and a white linen collar. Winter dresses were much heavier to give more warmth whilst the summer nursing dress was lighter so the members of the ANS could cope in the heat of countries like India.
Princess Christian Army Nursing Reserve Sister Uniform
By the time of the Boer War in 1899 to 1902 uniform had to change to adapt to extreme heat so that nurses to cope with tending to the wounded. For example the Princess Christian Army Nursing Reserve Sister uniform was a long white starched dress which reached down the nurses shoes. The dress had long sleeves with starched cuffs and a starched collar. The white dress soon got dirty with the blood of the wounded and the dust blown off the ground, but the skin of each nurse was protected by the sun and the white helped to reflect the heat. Rather than wearing traditional nurses hats or caps the nurses of the Boer war wore straw boater type hats. A nurse in a clean uniform and hat could be mistaken for a typical English lady on a day out at the river and must have bought added comfort and happy memories to the troops a long way from home
Lice had been rife in battlefields of the Boer War and World War One and nurses continued to wear starched aprons or pinafores because it was thought that the starch would stop the lice crawling from the patient to the nurse.
The Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) ward dress uniform was much like that of modern day QARANC nursing sisters. They wore the long hat starched veil, the red cape with the QAIMNS cape badge on the right side with any ribbon awards on the left and a much longer grey dress with long sleeves. Scarlett cuffs with a white bottom were worn at the wrists.
The photo of QAIMNS uniform above is of Nursing Sister Sheila Cranch who served during the Second World War. See more of her photographs and read her memories on the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service for India page.
The short QA scarlet cape had an embroidered Alexandra rose on the back and this fell between the shoulder blades of the Sister. It was stiff to the touch and rumour had it that this was so that it would be uncomfortable should the Sister fall asleep whilst on night duty and the pink Alexandra rose would wake her up! cited in the book The Roses of No Man's Land by Lyn MacDonald.
Second World War QA Vi Cox has another explanation for why she and fellow Nursing Sisters wore the short red cape with their ward dresses. It was thought that it would be less distracting for the soldiers and patients as their bosoms would then be covered up!
This theory is also mentioned in Surviving Tenko: The Story of Margot Turner where Penny Starns says:
Officially called tippets, the red capes were originally designed to hide the female sexuality from the ordinary ‘Tommy’ because army officers believed that a nurse’s modesty needed protection from sexually deprived soldiers. With Margot’s natural air of authority, however, it is unlikely that she needed such protection.
This theory is also cited in Medical Services in the First World War by Susan Cohen which describes the WWI capes of the TFNS designed by Florence Nightingale to “conceal the female bosom from the gaze of the licentious soldiery”!
QAIMNS Walking Out Uniform
When off duty and out on social occasions members of the QAIMNS wore a beautiful walking out dress with tight scarlet collar. The QA cape medal was worn on the right side with ribbons on the left. The walking out uniform outfit was completed with a boater type scarlet hat with scarlet, grey and white ribbon tied neatly at the front in a bow.
Below is a photo of Sister Holdgate wearing the walking out uniform of the QAIMNS during the First World War. Read more about Nursing Sister Holdgate on the British Military Hospital Egypt BMH Alexandria page.
This photo, from the collection of www.joyceswar.com shows the tropical walking out uniform worn in Cairo during World War Two. Note the two scarlet stripes on the sleeves denoting Nursing Sister.
There is another photo of the QAIMNS walking out uniform in the book Sub Cruce Candida: A Celebration of One Hundred Years of Army Nursing.
Original QAIMNS uniforms were supplied by Shoolbreds in Tottenham Court Road until they went into liquidation in 1931. Thereafter the QA officers purchased their uniforms from Harrods cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott.
The QA waking out uniform of scarlet and grey was in short supply by the end of 1942 because of clothes rationing in Britain. The Board of Trade recommended that Khaki uniform be worn by QAs to overcome rationing problems. Queen Mary and The Nursing Board disliked the idea though agreed because of the necessity for change.
Scarlet and Grey Lanyard
The introduction of khaki uniform saw the introduction of the scarlet and grey lanyard to help preserve the special identity of the QAs (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).
The 50th anniversary ceremonial parade of the QAs saw the introduction of the QA grey uniform rather than the WRAC uniform with scarlet and grey lanyard (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).
The Jubilee Souvenir Programme can be read on the QA Nurses Training Centre page.
The QARANC lanyard is made up of two cords, one of scarlet and one of grey. It is a mandatory item of dress. Junior ranks will have their QA lanyard supplied from the Quarter Master (QM) department. QA Officers are required to purchase the QARANC lanyard. It is also available from the AMS Museum.
The QARANC lanyard is worn on the right shoulder, under the epaulette. The scarlet cord must be outermost, nearest to the arm with no loops hanging. Male members of the QARANC should fasten the loose end into the right breast pocket. The QARANC lanyard should be worn so that the upper end passes down through the lower loop. Female members of the QA's should wear a loop pattern lanyard around the right shoulder. This can then be modified under local arrangements.
The QARANC lanyard should be worn with No 2, 4, 6 or 14 dress. When the QA lanyard is worn in shirt sleeve order with a shirt that has a breast pocket then male pattern standard is to be worn. More information can be found in the Dress Regulations.
Grey Peaked Cap
The introduction of the QA grey peaked cap in January 1943 replaced the brimmed hats (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).
The makers of the Officers uniform hats, caps, the No. 1 dress hat and the service dress hat for the QARANC are Herbert Johnson whose website can be viewed at www.herbert-johnson.co.uk
If you sell QARANC uniforms and berets and have a shop or online store and would like it listed here for free then please contact me with information, your website and a photo.
Return To The QARANC Merchandise Index Page.
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 December 1949 edition of Soldier Magazine ran a feature about the new No 1 QARANC uniform which was designed by Norman Hartnell, the Queen’s dressmaker. It was to replace the service dress for walking out and ceremonial duties. The War Office revealed them alongside the new Women’s Royal Army Corps uniforms. The QA uniforms became grey with scarlet shoulder pipings whilst the WRAC became bottle green. The designs were the same for both services, though officers wore barathea cloth whilst other ranks had serge. The new cap was described as a three decker hat, fitting close at the back and with a black japanned peak.
The article described the uniform as “the jacket has three Hussar style cross cut seams across the front (to flatter the larger figure, according to one theory) and is cut away on the front like those of Scot’s regiments. The pockets are flapless (one result, fewer buttons). The four gored skirt is a little longer than at present and hangs 15 inches from the ground. It has a centre seam in front to resemble a pleat.
The new beret was designed by Captain Edward Molyneux.
Rayon stockings of nocturne shade (transparent misty grey) were to be worn and other accessories were light grey shirt with grey ties, black leather shoes and gloves. The cloth belt was replaced by a scarlet rayon sash for junior ranks and a
His Royal Highness the King approved the new uniforms and they were also seen by the Queen, Queen Mary, the Princess Royal and Princess Elizabeth. (with thanks to Terry Hissey)
A new walking out dress (No. 3 dress) was introduced in 1954. This light weight clothing was made for those of the QARANC and WRAC working in warmer climates. It was white pique for women ordinary ranks and white sharkskin for officers. The peaked cap was worn and shoes were also white. (From Soldier Magazine June 1954).
The Grey Lady Ghost of the Cambridge Military Hospital Novel - a Book by CG Buswell
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