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Dame Maud McCarthy

Biography of Dame Maud McCarthy QAIMNS GBE RRC

Maud McCarthy was a member of the Army Nursing Reserve and served at the Boer War. When the ANS became the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Services in 1902 she became a member of this newly formed QAIMNS and saw active service in World War One.

Emma Maud McCarthy was born in Sydney, New South Wales in Australia on the 22 September 1859. Her father, William Frederick McCarthy, was a lawyer and her mother, Emma Mary a Beckett. Emma Maud was their eldest child and she went by her middle name of Maud. She was educated at Springfield College in Sydney and the University of Sydney where she passed the senior examination with honours. William McCarthy died in 1881 and she helped her mother to raise her brothers and sisters.

In 1891 Maud McCarthy emigrated to England and began nurse training on the 10 October at London Hospital in Whitechapel. After successfully completing her training she was promoted to Nursing Sister in 1894.

Boer War

During the Second Boer War Maud McCarthy was one of six Nursing Sisters who were chosen from the nurses at the London Hospital by Princess Alexandra to go to the South African War to tend to the wounded soldiers. Amongst them was Miss Katy Beaufoy. Maud McCarthy resigned on Christmas Day from her post at the London Hospital and went to the Boer War as a Military Nursing Sister. She served with great distinction from 1899 until 1902 and was awarded the Royal Red Cross, the Queen's Medal and the King's Medal. Upon her return to England in 1902 Queen Alexandra awarded Maud McCarthy a special decoration.

Maud McCarthy QAIMNS

Maud McCarthy helped in the formation of the new Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Services and at its conception was promoted to Matron. She served as Matron at many of the new British Military Hospitals such as the Cambridge Military Hospital, the Royal Victoria Military Hospital Netley and the Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital Millbank

In 1910 Maud McCarthy was appointed the principal matron at the War Office. She held this role until the outbreak of World War One when she was mobilised to France as the Chief Matron.

The war diaries of nurses who served in the Great War can be read in Women in the War Zone: Hospital Service in the First World War and many write about their experiences of meeting her. For example one VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) describes innocently having tea with a male Major and he had to jump out of the window to avoid being seen by the Matron in Chief Miss MaCarthy only for her to offer him coffee through the window!

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First World War

Maud McCarthy arrived in France on the 12 August 1914. She was a popular nurse and officer. She had great tact and diplomacy and was well liked by fellow QAs and Medical Officers. These natural assets served her well during the First World War when in 1914 she was in overall charge of nursing and nurses of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) as the Matron in Chief of the BEF France and Flanders and the Matron of the 1st General Hospital Abbeville in France. She had to acquire valuable resources that were in short supply and secure safe transportation for many wounded soldiers back to Britain for more specialist care and recuperation. Maud McCarthy was responsible for recruiting more nurses and nursing orderlies to be posted throughout hospitals, hospital ships, barges and trains throughout France.

There is a photo of Dame Maud McCarthy in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott. Dame McCarthy is saying goodbye to Sir Douglas Haig upon his departure from France at Boulogne.

Isobel Barbier

Though Dame Maud McCarthy was able to speak French she chose a personal assistant who was bilingual in French and English to help with administration. This was Isobel Barbier a member of the QAIMNS(R) who remained with Dame McCarthy all through the war and after the war ended she remained in post for a further three months at the War Office 1919. Isobel Barbier was later awarded the Royal red Cross medal (RRC) and became a Member of the British Empire (MBE). Isobel Barbier later became a member of the Order of St Dominic by the name of Sister Mary Jordan.

Dame Maud McCarthy and Miss Isobel Barbier had the use of a military car and kept the same driver for many years. She held her driver in high esteem because of his valuable service and presented him with an inscribed watch which he cherishes so much that he would not wear it but gave it pride of place under a glass case in his parlour (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).

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At great personal risk Maud McCarthy visited each casualty clearing station to visit her QAs and VADs. She talked with each nurse to see how she could help improve conditions for the staff and the patients. She also made notes about the injuries and deaths of the soldiers which she included in her reports to the Director General of the Army Medical Services.

To demonstrate her increased role over the duration of WWI she started with 516 nurses and nursing sisters under her charge in 1914 and in 1918 this number rose to well over 6000. During this time she was the only member of the British Expeditionary Force to stay in an original post and only had several months off from March to 10 August 1917 due to appendicitis. During this time her duties were undertaken first by Acting matron in Chief BEF Miss E.H. Hordley until the 19 April and then the Principal Matron of Malta, Miss Ann Beadsmore Smith (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).

Maud McCarthy's war work and commitment was recognised when she was appointed the Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire making her a Dame in 1918. She also received a bar to her Royal Red Cross medal and was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal, the Belgian Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth and the French Legion d'honneur and Medaille des Epidemies.

Dame Maud McCarthy was held in such high esteem by her colleagues and peers and was seen off from France on the 5 August 1919 by representatives from the French government and the Medical Services.

Throughout the First World War Dame Maud McCarthy kept her own records and thoughts in a journal and this is held at the Army Medical Service Museum at Keogh Barracks, Ash Vale, Aldershot in England. Extracts can be read in the book Sub Cruce Candida: A Celebration of One Hundred Years of Army Nursing.

Paintings of Dame Maud McCarthy

In 1917 an oil portrait of Maud McCarthy was commissioned by the Royal Exchange. This was painted by the artist Francis Owen Salisbury who was known as Frank, It is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in room 30. A photograph of the picture can be viewed at

There is also a pastel portrait painting of Dame Maud McCarthy at the Imperial War Museum in London. The painter was Austin Spare. Their website homepage is but I cannot find an image of the painting on their website to give the exact url.

On the 28 June 1922 Dame Maud McCarthy was promoted to the Matron in Chief of the TFNS (Territorial Force Nursing Service) and TANS (Territorial Army Nursing Service).

Dame Maud McCarthy retired from the army in 1925. She never married.

On the 1 April 1949 Dame Emma Maud McCarthy (GBE, RRC) died at her home in Chelsea, London. She was aged 89 years.

In June 2014 a Blue Plaque at 47 Markham Square London was unveiled at her former home.

The Nurses General Dame Maud McCarthy Exhibition Oxford House London

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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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