Was your ancestor a nurse in the First World War? If so there are some excellent records now available to give you some detailed information about their service and training.

One thing to be aware of is that anyone could call themselves a nurse on the census it doesn’t mean that they were qualified so you may not find your ancestor in any of the official records, but if you know for sure that they served in the First World War then it’s worth searching these records to see if you can find details of your ancestor.

If you are looking for a trained nurse one of the first places to check is the catalogue at the National Archives to see if she is included in class WO399, you can search this on their website. This has all the surviving files of women who served with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service shortened to QAIMNS. If you are lucky enough to find your ancestor here you can download the record at a cost of £3:50. You may get several pages or hundreds! Unfortunately not all the records are there, some files were removed in the 1930’s if it was felt they were not particularly relevant.

  • some were also destroyed if they had no outstanding claim for pension
  • or they were over 55 at the time of the weeding process and unlikely to serve again
  • or had died
  • or were known to have married
  • or to have moved permanently overseas.

Any women who went on to serve with the military nursing during the Second World War still have their files with the Ministry of Defence. Other records for nurses available here are nurses who served in the Territorial Force Nursing Service and also a few untrained women who worked as assistant nurses.

Find My Past has recently put some information on their website about nurses who served in various branches of the military however these are transcriptions, they haven’t scanned the actual records. You can search these for free at Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society Help Desk on the Ground Floor Manchester Central Library.

These records include:

  • nurses who joined the Army Nursing Service between 1881 and 1902
  • members of the regular branch of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military
  • nurses who joined the Army Nursing Service between 1881 and 1902
  • members of the regular branch of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military
  • Nursing Service who joined between 1903 and 1926
  • nurses who went to France with the British Expeditionary Force in late 1939 and early 1940 (might be why a nursing ancestor didn’t appear on the 1939 register!)
  • nurses who served with the Scottish Women’s Hospital during the Great War
  • Royal Hospital Chelsea nurses: these are the records of nurses who were employed to look after the Chelsea Pensioners between 1856 and 1910

Details of what is included for all these records can be found at the bottom of the search page for Military Nurses 1856 to 1994. To find this record set go to ‘search’ and scroll down to A to Z of records and then put Military Nurses in the search box. Another important source for nursing ancestors is The Queen’s Roll (Queen’s Nursing Institute), these records are held at the Wellcome (yes it is spelt like that!) Library in London under SA/QNI. This roll covers the period 1891 to 1969. It consists of a two page entry (in most cases) for every Queen’s Nurse; it provides an excellent amount of detail about each individual;

  • Number on roll name and biographical detail
  • Hospital training
  • District training
  • Where serving
  • Cause of leaving
  • Other qualifications and remarks

Ancestry has records for the Queen’s Rolls from 1891to 1931. You can search these by going to the Card Catalogue and in the keyword section type Queen’s nursing and the record will come up. The full title is: UK and Ireland Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll of Nurses 1891 to 1931.

If your ancestor was a trained nurse it’s always worth searching the archives of the Royal College of Nursing Archives. They have digitised various nursing journal for the period 1888 to1956. Some nurses were also qualified as midwives, you can search the midwife roll on Ancestry (free at the help desk at Central library), the years covered are 1904 to 1959.

Training records

The Queen’s Roll will usually tell you which hospital your forbearer trained at. You can see if any records exist for the institute by searching the hospital Record database at the National Archives

Formation of Voluntary Aid Detachments

On 16th August 1909 the Red Cross and the order of St John of Jerusalem began to organise voluntary Aid in England and Wales (VADs). These groups were made up of men and women in every county to carry out transport duties and staff rest stations and hospitals. There were 6000 volunteers registered by 1910 with 202 detachments. VADS had to be between 23 and 38. Women under 23 were rarely registered with the Red Cross. The service records of many who served are held at the British Red Cross Society Archives in London. You can search the British Red Cross Register of Overseas volunteers for 1914 to 1918 on Find My Past.

Another great resource to look at is the British Newspaper Archives, nurses were well known in their community and if you’re very lucky you could find a photograph! The newspaper archive can also be searched for free on Find My Past at the library. A search of the Manchester newspapers using ‘military nurse’ brought up this article from the Manchester Evening News 1st June 1918:

FINE FAMILY RECORD

Miss E. A. Williams, staff nurse of the Queen Alexander Imperial Military Nursing Service reserve, of Nelson Street, Oxford Road, Manchester, was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatch on May 27th for distinguished service. Miss Williams, who was trained at Edinburgh City Hospital and the Royal Infirmary there, went out to France in October, 1915 is the daughter of Mr Samuel Williams who has three sons now serving with the colours, while a fourth has been killed.

I searched the Military Nurses records on The National Archives and found one for Edith Annie Williams which could be her.

There were many more interesting articles about awards injuries and deaths. Many nurses were decorated for their bravery and it wasn’t only nurses; Lady Dorothie Fielding was the first woman to be awarded the Military Medal for her bravery as well as the French Croix de Guerre and the Belgian Order of Leopold. She volunteered for the Munro Motor Ambulance Corps spending nearly four years on the Western Front driving ambulances.

One website that is a must if you are researching a nurse is Scarlet Finders. This website has a wealth of information on all aspects of nursing and can point you in the right direction for your research.

Blog written by The Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society.

Nurses and soldiers, military hospital, WWI