Nurses Travel to Scutari

bagOn October 21st 1854, Miss Nightingale and her party of thirty-eight nurses, her housekeeper Mrs Clarke, and the Bracebridges left for Scutari. Among the Nightingale Papers there was a small oblong black notebook containing three letters which she took with her, from her mother who bestowed on her material blessing, she had so long sought in vain, Manning commended her to the Protection, Worship and Imitation of the Sacred Heart, and one from Richard Monckton Milnes ‘So you are going to the East’…’you can undertake that, when you could not undertake me.’ They were to travel via Boulogne, spending one night in Paris and four nights in Marseilles, Miss Nightingale’s Uncle Samuel Smith chaperoned her as far as Marseilles. In Marseilles Miss Nightingale was to purchase provisions and stores. Although she had been assured by Sidney Herbert and Dr Andrew Smith (Director of the Army Medical Service) that she would find everything she needed on arrival for the comfort of the sick and wounded.

On 27th October they set sail on the mail boat ‘Vectis’. The ship was uncomfortable and infested with cockroaches. The weather was appalling on the second day, and when the ‘Vectis’ reached Malta, Miss Nightingale felt so ill she could not go ashore. The weather remained bad, on November 4th Miss Nightingale and her party arrived at Constantinople. Conditions were much worse than she could have expected. The Barrack Hospital itself, was more like a prison, the fact that it was raining made everything more unbearable. The Barrack hospital had been built as a barracks, and had been lent to the British for the duration of the War. The central yard was a sea of refuse floating in mud, with rats everywhere. In the cellars about two hundred women many prostitutes, filthy, drunk, starving and dying of cholera. There were no beds, or other furniture. There were twenty chamber pots which had to serve the needs of a thousand men. When they were full, they were emptied into tubs in the wards. It was damp and insanitary, the woodwork was so rotten it could not even be scrubbed clean. There were not even tables for performing operations, and nothing to cook with. They had a daily allowance of one pint of water per person which had to be used for everything. The orderlies who were looking after the sick and wounded were worn out pensioners. Many men had been taken from the ranks to help in the wards. They were quite ignorant to any thing connected with a hospital, as they were liable to be recalled at any moment. There was no guarantee of having experienced men on the wards. For every nine-five patients there was only one surgeon, without a nurse to assist him.

Whose responsibility was to make sure that the needs of the Army were sufficient, so as they would not suffer’ The Purveyor’s Department with Mr Ward as Purveyor-in-Chief at Scutari, not a young man. The Commissariat and the Medical Department, with Dr Andrew Smith the Director General.

The Commissiat provided the daily rations for the men, and the food for the hospital, and fuel to cook it on. The Purveyor provided food for the men who were sick ‘invalid food’. Although the Purveyor’s supplies were bought and delivered by the Commissiat. Therefore the supplies were bought and delivered by the Commissiat. Therefore the Purveyor had no say in the cost or quality of the food. Even if a man was put on a special diet by a doctor, he still had to make a request to the Purveyor, and it was up to him if a man got it or not. With doctors having to write out requisitions for everything they needed, he soon found himself doing more and more paper work and less time tending to the sick.

Miss Nightingale was to find that she was not welcomed by the Doctors of the Army Medical Department at the Barrack Hospital. For her party of forty, only five small rooms and a kitchen had been provided. Miss Nightingale and Mrs Bracebridge were to share a room, as was Mr Bracebridge with the courier-interpreter, the cook and her assistant had to sleep in the kitchen. The remainder of her party had to be divided between three rooms. It was felt that this Society lady and her female nurse’s would achieve nothing. Many of the men’s wives had been employed as nurses and it had failed. Miss Nightingale had powerful friends and they knew it was against their interest to object to them being there.

Supplies for the Hospital were very short, although Miss Nightingale had the supplies she had purchased from Marseilles, and ‘The Times’ had offered to pay for anything that was needed. The Army officials refused to support the Army through civilian funds. Miss Nightingale and her nurses were not allowed onto the wards, but every day she allocated nurses to go to the General Hospital and the Barrack Hospital, and wait until a doctor requested their help, none was requested. She also set the women to work sorting linen, making pillows, stump rests and slings. There was a shortage of blankets and the men lay in dirty shirts. She found that many of the items of hospital clothing which had arrived, had not been issued. The women who were with Miss Nightingale felt that they had not left England to sort linen, and had accomplished nothing.

Miss Nightingale then turned her attention to the feeding and diet of the sick, many of who were starving. The stores she had bought from Marseilles included portable stoves. Even when she started cooking invalid food, she had to get a written order from a doctor before it could be given to them. Often a doctor could not be found.

The Army was moving on to take Sevastopol, and it was decided that Balaclava was the best line of attack. There was little resistance and Balaclava surrendered the next day. With Winter approaching Balaclava was not a good place to be as it would separate the army from its base by six miles. It was during the advance to Sevastopol that the charge of the Light Brigade took place. Of six hundred men who fought that day only three hundred returned. Their deaths probable caused by the jealous and conflicting pride of three men; Lord Raglan, Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan.

The battle of Inkerman was in November, and it gave the allies a taste of victory. Many British troops were killed six hundred and thirty-two in all, forty-three of these were officers. The wounded numbered one thousand, eight hundred and seventy-three, many of whom would die as nothing had been done to improve the conditions of the suffering.

Nurses allowed on the Wards ….




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