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Ambulance Flotilla

Review of the book Ambulance Flotilla which collates the wonderful collection of photographs from Acting Matron Kate Read QAIMNSR ARRC who nursed in France during the Great War

Ambulance Flotilla: British hospital barges on the River Seine 1915 compiles the collection of photos, official documentation, postcards and a letter home from Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve Sister and Acting Matron Kate Read Associate Royal Red Cross. It has been lovingly edited by her granddaughter Anne Penny and is the finest example of images from this era where patients were transported through France by Hospital Barges. By publishing this book she has made accessing these historic photos from the Great War so much easier and has given readers a valuable insight into life on-board from the nurse's perspective.

ambulance flottilla barge world war one
Sister Cooke and Sister Draper with patients.

Kate Read

Sister Kate Read QAIMNSR

Anne has collated information to recount the story of one round trip by No. 1 Ambulance Flotilla on the River Seine made during June 1915. Not an easy task given that only one letter home exists. However Anne has extracted information from Acting Matron's Read's own notes on postcards and on the back of her photos. The journey takes the reader from Le Havre through Rouen to pick up the wounded near Paris, and finally back downriver to the boats where their 'Blighty Tickets' pinned to their chest would grant them transport home on hospital ships. This flotilla consisted of six grey barges joined together and pulled by a tug. They were requisitioned by the War Office from France and Belgium and were previously used to transport cargo such as coal. The Royal Engineers transformed them into workable hospitals wards with an operating theatre and rooms for the staff to rest and sleep during these long journeys. This transported 150 patients. The numerous photos demonstrate clearly the ward lay outs, beds, gramophone, coal stoves, laundry baskets, etc as well as areas like the kitchen.

inside no5 barge gramophone ramc orderly qaimnsr sister

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PTSD assistance dog Lynne book

My PTSD assistance dog, Lynne, and I have written a book about how she helps me with my military Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, and depression. I talk about my time in the QAs and the coping strategies I now use to be in my best health.

Along the way, I have had help from various military charities, such as Help for Heroes and The Not Forgotten Association and royalties from this book will go to them and other charities like Bravehound, who paired me with my four-legged best friend.

I talk openly about the death of my son by suicide and the help I got from psychotherapy and counselling and grief charities like The Compassionate Friends.

The author, Damien Lewis, said of Lynne:

"A powerful account of what one dog means to one man on his road to recovery. Both heart-warming and life-affirming. Bravo Chris and Lynne. Bravo Bravehound."


Buy the Paperback.

QARANC Poppy Pin Badge Royal British Legion RBL
This beautiful QARANC Poppy Pin Badge is available from the Royal British Legion Poppy Shop.

For those searching military records, for information on a former nurse of the QAIMNS, QARANC, Royal Red Cross, VAD and other nursing organisations or other military Corps and Regiments, please try Genes Reunited where you can search for ancestors from military records, census, birth, marriages and death certificates as well as over 673 million family trees. At GenesReunited it is free to build your family tree online and is one of the quickest and easiest ways to discover your family history and accessing army service records.

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Another genealogy website which gives you access to military records and allows you to build a family tree is Find My Past which has a free trial.

Diary extracts from Matron In Chief Maud McCarthy help explain working life:

Visited the new water ambulance…It is well thought out and has been expensively equipped, but the beds are too close together and I am sure there will be much difficulty in nursing seriously ill or wounded men. I think the beds will have to be reduced or the smaller bed substituted for those at present supplied.

It is worth the price of the book alone just to view some super pictures of Acting Matron Read in her uniforms, most of which demonstrate her wearing the red cuffs of that title. Group photos also depict the uniforms of other QAs, as well as Royal Army Medical Corps doctors and orderlies as well as Sisters of the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS). Other RAMC photos worth mentioning are of them carrying patients on stretchers over the gangplank and onto the deck and transferring them below stairs and onto their beds.

QAIMNSR Nursing Sister Wearing ARRC

Something I have never seen before in my research over the years and which delighted me in reading Ambulance Flotilla was seeing a QA walking the central gangway, a nerve wracking journey, which joined each barges and allowed staff access to the other wards, stores, etc. Acting Matron Read makes it look effortless!

There was time in these long journeys for staff and patients to take in the French countryside. For the patients this was usually confined to being helped onto deck. Most had head or chest injuries and were transported by this means to help reduce further injury. But for the QAs this could often mean a rare outing and a chance to unwind. Here's an extract from Kate's letter home describing a picnic:

…we all walked along a hot dusty road to Lillebonne (about 5 miles) carried our lunch and bought drink when we got there. You should have seen some of us walking through the village street carrying syphon in one hand and a bottle of white wine in the other! We had our lunch amongst the remains of an old Roman theatre.

The book shows a delightful group of QAs dressed in their capes, veils and long grey dresses in the overgrown field. Other recreational photos whilst wearing the Grey and Scarlet uniforms include taking afternoon tea. More extracts from the letter home describes the night sisters getting potatoes from locals.

Afternoon tea on deck ambulance flotilla barge WWI

More photos depict the various ports and locks that the flotilla navigated as well as various day to day activities such as the raised awnings to offer protection from the rain or sunshine and an RAMC orderly operating a spin-dryer to dry the washing. Kate's letter reads:

The heat down below has been terrific, but we have been able to leave a number of the patients on deck all through the storms under the awnings, and also leave several hatchways off.

I would urge anyone with an interest in how wounded soldiers were evacuated through France or with an interest in military nursing history to buy this book to see more fine examples of photos and to read Kate's full letter home along with French newspaper clippings which give further insight into life on-board. Those with an interest in civilian nursing history will equally find this book fascinating when they read about her nurse training at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary from 1902 to 1905. It includes a copy of Kate's Certificate from the Infirmary's School of Nursing with transcription of how she achieved it. Later chapters describe her life working at the Royal Free Hospital in London as a Casualty Sister and her first involvement with the military when she volunteered for the Princess Christian's Army Nursing Reserve and includes appointment certificate to the PCANR and then transfer to the QAIMNSR.

I love that the book ends on a happy note. Kate writes a letter to the Matron-in-Chief, Miss E.H.Becher a month after leaving the Services to get wed. She requests permission to marry her fiancée, a Chaplain, whilst wearing her uniform. Permission is granted in a touching letter thanking her for her service. Copies of these are included beside a charming photo of Kate with her husband, both in their Frist World War Uniforms.

Read sample chapters, see more photos and buy a copy at

The Kate Read collection is held at the Army Medical Services Museum in Ash Vale, a stunning 167pictures.

More Book Reviews

New post apocalyptic military survival thriller

Former Royal Air Force Regiment Gunner Jason Harper witnesses a foreign jet fly over his Aberdeenshire home. It is spilling a strange yellow smoke. Minutes later, his wife, Pippa, telephones him, shouting that she needs him. They then get cut off. He sets straight out, unprepared for the nightmare that unfolds during his journey. Everyone seems to want to kill him.

Along the way, he pairs up with fellow survivor Imogen. But she enjoys killing the living dead far too much. Will she kill Jason in her blood thirst? Or will she hinder his journey through this zombie filled dystopian landscape to find his pregnant wife?

The Fence is the first in this series of post-apocalyptic military survival thrillers from the torturous mind of former British army nurse, now horror and science fiction novel writer, C.G. Buswell.

Download Now.

Buy the Paperback.

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.

Free Book Operation wrath

Free Book.
The death of the Brotherhood will be avenged.
RAF gunner Jason Harper and a team of Special Air Service operators are enraged after the death of their brothers by a terrorist drone strike. They fly into south-eastern Yemen on a Black-op mission to gather intelligence and avenge the death of their comrades.
Can they infiltrate the Al-Queda insurgents' camp, stay undetected, and call down their own drone missile strike and get home safely?
Will they all survive to fight another day?
Operation Wrath is a free, fast-paced adventure prequel to the non-stop action The Fence series by military veteran author C.G. Buswell.
Download for free on any device and read today.

This website is not affiliated or endorsed by The Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) or the Ministry of Defence.

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