World War II

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British Nurses gain military rank insignia

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From 30 May 1941 QAIMNS personnel were granted emergency commissions and wore rank insignia corresponding to their equivalent Army rank. From Wikipedia’s article on Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps

QAIMNS rank Equivalent Army rank (from 1941)
Staff Nurse
Sister Lieutenant
Senior Sister Captain
Matron Major
Principal Matron Lieutenant-Colonel
Chief Principal Matron Colonel
Matron-in-Chief Brigadier

which goes on to say, ”

the women’s forces were integrated into the armed forces. Initially, QARANC, along with the Women’s Royal Army Corps, adopted the old Auxiliary Territorial Service ranking system, with the Matron-in-Chief holding the rank of Senior Controller, but in 1950 both corps switched to ordinary Army ranks. Professional titles were still used on the wards.

But they weren’t really military personnel until, “In 1949, the QAIMNS became a corps in the British Army and was renamed Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps.”

Additional information is available from the QAIMNS official website:

World War Two Nursing and nurses were then known as the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). Each QA had an officer status with equivalent rank but no actual commission status. This changed in 1941 whens emergency commissions and rank structure were formulated to bring the QAs into line with the rest of the British Army. For the first time QAs wore rank badges and were able to be promoted and receive financial benefits along with ranks from Lieutenant through to Brigadier….

As the war progresses and QAs found themselves in dressing stations and field hospitals their impractical ward dresses and veils were temporarily no longer worn. Instead they wore more practical battle dress and khaki from around 1942. Many were forced to adapt their uniform or the uniform of men after being shipwrecked from troop carriers or hospital ships.

Personal hygiene for the QAs was equally as impractical at times of water shortage, lack of privacy and poor resources. This was particularly problematic for the QA nurses in France and in South Africa. In her book Desert Nurse: A World War II Memoir Betty C Parkin describes the difficulties of using a canvas bath and the joys of discovering a convent that allowed the nurses to use their baths….

The first use of Penicillin in a military hospital during World War Two was described by Brenda McBryde in Quiet Heroines: Nurses of the Second World War which was at the 98th British General Hospital (BGH) at Chateaudun on the Constantin Plateau.

Professor Alexander Fleming worked with army doctors in choosing suitable patients to trial his new antibiotic drug. The first use of penicillin by the military is described in Quiet Heroines: Nurses of the Second World War and was a soldier with gas gangrene in his wound. The bubbles could be felt under the tissues and this normally meant the patient would die despite the best efforts of the nurses and doctors. He was given penicillin and made a recovery. Other patients were given penicillin such as servicemen with wounds exposed down to the bone. These too survived and the mortality rate fell….

Concentration Camps Liberated by Allied Soldiers

When concentration camps were liberated by Allied soldiers there were many QA sisters on hand to care for the survivors of Nazi atrocities at concentration camps such as Belsen. Few were prepared for the horrors that they were to witness, emaciated people who had survived torturous conditions. Piles of bodies, torture pits, gallows, ovens, torture cells and whipping posts and gas chambers. The camps were infested and disease ridden. At Auschwitz two doctors and one QA who were treating the survivors caught typhus and sadly the QA sister died.

The survivors of German concentration camps were cared in specially set up British General Hospitals. Here nurses had to work hard to gain their trust whilst coping with multiple illnesses, neglect and diseases. Brenda McBryde talks about the challenges of caring for the survivors of Sandbostel, North Germany with the 86th BGH in her book A Nurse’s War.

Sisters In Arms: British Army Nurses Tell Their Story by Nicola Tyrer is an account of the QAs during the two World Wars. It includes first hand accounts of the Queen Alexandra nurses who were in the dressing stations, casualty clearing stations and field hospitals of Dunkirk, D Day, the fall of Singapore and many more locations where the QAIMNS served.

Written by ww2

August 24th, 2008 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Nurses