During World War One, 90,000 volunteers worked at home and abroad, providing vital aid to naval and military forces, and caring for sick and wounded sailors and soldiers. Before the advent of training, nursing was often casual and low paid. Florence Nightingale, regarded as the founder of modern nursing profession, created the first school designed primarily to train nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Her highly publicized exposure of the abysmal care afforded sick and wounded soldiers energized reformers.
In this guide we will explain how you can look for records of British Army Nurses. The majority of these records are at The National Archives, the Ministry of Defence and the Red Cross.
It’s worth noting that before the 1850s, British Army medical services were organised by regiment and consisted of male nurses only.
Online Records for British Army Nurses
The Army Nursing Service was established in 1881, but no significant records of it have survived. In 1902 the Service was reorganised and became Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), later renamed the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC). The majority of military nurses in the First and Second World Wars worked in these services.
Nursing Service Records (1902 to 1922)
You can search and download for nurses who served in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAINMS), the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) QAIMNS(R) and the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) from The National Archives (Paid).
These are over 15,000 First World War service records for nurses in series WO 399. The majority of these records cover the First World War period only, with a few available records for nurses who served before 1914 after the war. There are no records after 1939.
The records include information about where a nurse trained (in particular before the war), references relating to their suitability as military nurses, hospitals, field ambulances, casualty clearing stations or other medical units they served in, what their superiors thought of them (these are confidential reports) and when they left the services.
The majority of the records are based on pre-printed Army forms, completed in ink or pencil later. Not on army forms are the references and personal letters from the specific individual to the War Office or army nursing authorities.
Campaign Medal Records (1914 to 1920)
The National Archives’ website (Paid) allows you to search and download the index cards to First World War campaign medals awarded to nurses. To look for these records you need to use the keywords ‘Nurse’, ‘Voluntary Aid Detachment’ or ‘Queen Alexandra’s’ in your search, and provide a surname.
These records are index cards created by the Army Medal Office close to the end of the First World War and record the medals that men and women who served in the First World War were entitled to claim. There are over 5 million cards, altough most of them are for soldiers in the British Army.
Campaign Medals (1793 to 1949)
Ancestry (Paid) allows you to search by name online in Campaign medal and award rolls using Ancestry.co.uk. To do so, you will need to know the campaign and the relevant nursing service.
This records database contains lists of more than 2.3 million officers, enlisted personnel and other individuals entitled to medals and awards commemorating their service in campaigns and battles for the British Army between 1793 and 1949. Originally compiled by the War Office, they are housed at the National Archives of the UK in Kew, Surrey.
The rolls include medals awarded for British campaigns in Europe, India, Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, West and Central Africa, China and the Middle East. The collection does not include WWI or WWII medal and award rolls.
These records do not usually contain biographical information.
British Army Casualty Lists (1939 to 1945)
The term ‘casualty’ covers anyone in the British Army who was killed, wounded, missing, or was a prisoner of war.
On Findmypast.co.uk (Paid) you can search the daily British Army casualty lists, which cover British Army officers and other ranks as well as nurses. These records, compiled by the War Office and held by The National Archives, state the individuals’ rank, service number, date of becoming a casualty and type of casualty.
Each record will display both a transcript and an original image.
Records Available at The National Archives
Recipients of the Royal Red Cross (1883 to 1994)
At The National Archives you can consult the registers of the recipients of the Royal Red Cross decoration in record series WO 145 to find a person who received this award.
In November 1915, the Royal Red Cross was expanded to two classes: First Class, or Member (RRC); and Second Class, or Associate (ARRC). The decoration was specifically extended to the Nursing Services of the Royal Air Force in 1920 and to men in 1977.
These records are subject to 30 year closure.
Service Records from the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (1939 to 1945)
The GOV.UK website lets you request a summary of a service record from the Ministry of Defence. You can apply for service records of deceased service personnel, Home Guard service records, and RAF casualty files among others.
A short guide to finding out how to get a copy of military service records is available. An administrative fee applies.
Voluntary Aid Detachment Records (1914 to 1920 and 1939 to 1945)
Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) were non-military organisations created in 1909 and based on the Japanese voluntary aid system. Members were trained by the St John Ambulance Brigade and served alongside all branches of the armed forces.