Nurses for Crimea

In March 1854 England and France declared war on Russia. By September the Allied armies had landed in the Crimea. Sidney Herbert who was Secretary at War, was responsible for the sick and wounded, and he wrote to Florence regarding her taking a party of nurses to the hospitals of the British Army. (Letter from Sidney Herbert) The Crimean war was different from any other, in the fact that, with the modern methods of reporting, people at home were able to follow the progress of the campaign, with a time gap of only a few days. It was the era of the railway, communications and the newly invented electric telegraph. (The telegraph had been invented but lines not laid. The British military laid a line from the Crimea across the Black Sea to the Eastern shore where the war started.) The War Correspondent came into their own, not only reporting on strategy or tactics, but mingled with the troops, both officers and men, in camp and trench. ‘The Times’ manager Mowbray Morris contacted his correspondent in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, to cover the British and French siege of Sebastopol. ‘The Times’ editor John Delane was given the job of finding reporters to go the front. Delane himself went to the Crimea and witnessed the British Armies’ problems in person. It was William Howard Russell who Delane assigned to accompany the British Army to Malta, then on to the Eastern shore of Russia and finally to the Crimea and Sebastopol. He was seen by many as the greatest war correspondent. His dispatches brought home the horror of the war to the British public, and his criticisms of the state of the Army were instrumental in its reorganisation and modernisation.

Thomas Chenery, wrote an article, which was published on 12th October, 1854:

…it is with feelings of surprise and anger that the public will learn that no sufficient medical preparations have been made for the proper care of the wounded. Not only are there not sufficient surgeons – that, it might be urged, was unavoidable – not only are there no dressers and nurses – that might be a defect of system for which no one is to blame ` but what will be said when it is known that there is not even linen to make bandages for the wounded- The greatest commiseration prevails for the suffering of the unhappy inmates of Scutari, and every family is giving sheets and old garments to supply their want. But, why could not this clearly foreseen event have been supplied“It rests with the Government to make enquiries into the conduct of those who must have so greatly neglected their duty`…

The next day, 13th October, 1834 ‘The Times’ ran another dispatch from Chenery:

…The worn-out pensioners who were brought out as an ambulance corps are totally useless, and not only are surgeons not to be had, but there are no dressers or nurses to carry out the surgeon’s directions and to attend on the sick during intervals between his visits. Here the French are greatly our superiors. Their medical arrangements are extremely good, their surgeons more numerous, and they have also the help of the Sisters of Charity, who have accompanied the expedition in incredible numbers. These devoted women are excellent nurses…

It was around this time that ‘The Times’ ran a leading article appealing for donations to help the situation. A cheque for £200 was received on the same day by Sir Robert Peel, son of the former Prime Minister. The Fund quickly grew.  John McDonalds was to be the Administrator of the Fund.

Sidney Herbert who was Secretary at War, was responsible for the sick and wounded, and he wrote to Florence regarding her taking a party of nurses to the hospitals of the British Army. (Letter from Sidney Herbert) Mary Stanley, Mrs Bracebridge, Lady Cannings and Lady Cranworth were to interview the applicants at the Herberts London home 49 Belgrave Square. The women who were to go with Florence consisted of fourteen professional nurses, the remaining were members of religious institutions making the number of up to thirty eight. The religious institutions proving nurses were the convent in Bermondsey, their superior was the Rev Mother Bermondsey who was to become a very close friend of Florence. Also the Sellonites (Miss Sellon’s Anglican sisterhood) they had had experience of cholera during an epidemic in the slums of Plymouth and Devonport. Nuns also came from St John’s House, and from Norwood. Other religious authorities were approached, but they refused to be controlled by Florence and not by their religious order. It was a strange party of 38 women who all had different views on nursing, the nurses to look after the body, the religious sisters and nuns their souls. On October 21st, 1854, the party left London to travel to Constantinople and to begin their service in the Crimea. Miss Nightingale was chaperoned by her Uncle Samuel Smith as far as Marseilles.


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