British Nurses in the Boer War

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British Nurses in the Boer War

Postby LaBelleEpoque » 13 May 2016 19:35

Hello all,

I was wondering if anyone had any information on British nurses and their role in the Boer War? This is a subject I'd like to explore a bit further. If anyone has any recommended reading too, that'd be great!

Thanks :D
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Re: British Nurses in the Boer War

Postby Redleg56 » 14 May 2016 00:37

Hi Ellen:

I don't have much information on nurses serving in South Africa, but I did find the following:

From "Mr. Kipling's Army, All the Queens Men" by Byron Farwell:

"In 1899, there were but fifty six nursing sisters and one lady superintendent in the entire army".

From "The Boer War" by Thomas Pakenham:

"Roberts himself had recognized as early as February (1900), that there was a serious outbreak of typhoid in the hospitals on the Modder, and that orderlies and nurses were even then unable to cope. However, he asked for a mere twenty extra nurses from England. Later he raised the figure to forty, then to fifty for the whole of South Africa. The reason: he found his PMO (Primary Medical Officer), Surgeon-General Wilson, "not very responsive or sympathetic" to the idea of lady nurses".

So it appears that even after the post Crimean War reforms, some senior officers still had an reservations with female nurses treating sick and wounded soldiers.

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Re: British Nurses in the Boer War

Postby RobD » 14 May 2016 09:57

You can do no better than to read
Healers, Helpers and Hospitals: A History of Military Medicine in the Anglo-Boer War
de Villiers, J. C. Published by Protea Boekhuis (2012)
ISBN 10: 186919277X ISBN 13: 9781869192778
Copies are on Abebooks for about £50 plus postage.
detail.vbgh-656-g900.1.front.186919277X.jpg (23.56 KiB) Viewed 788 times
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Re: British Nurses in the Boer War

Postby QSAMIKE » 15 May 2016 05:48


There is a published list of all nurses employed in SA.....

NOMINAL ROLL SOUTH AFRICAN WAR, 1899-1902: SERVICE RECORDS OF BRITISH AND COLONIAL WOMEN, A record of the service in South Africa of Military and Civilian Nurses, Laywomen and Civilians, by Sheila Grey, Uniprint, 1993 (First Edition), ISBN 0-473-01926-4

From: ... s?showall=

The authorised establishment of Sisters for a general hospital was one lady superintendent and eight sisters. This number was found to be insufficient, owing to the paucity of trained orderlies of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and the staff of Sisters was increased to an average of five for every hundred beds. This proportion was prescribed as the standard to be maintained. The Nursing Sisters were obtained from four sources—the Army Nursing Service, the Army Nursing Service Reserve, the Colonial Sisters, and those locally engaged in South Africa. The following tabular statement shows the approximate composition per cent, of the Nursing Service in South Africa in the months given :

Army Nursing Service / Army Nursing Service Reserve / Colonial / Locally Employed

June, 1900 9 57 1 32
May, 1901 6 71 4 19
May, 1902 8 74 4 14

In addition to the nurses employed in the hospitals in South Africa, a large number were employed on the sick transports and hospital ships.

During the war 337 nurses were engaged at Cape Town, of whom 216 were for duty in the homeward-bound transports, the remainder for duty in the hospitals on shore. Mention must also be made of the Nursing Sisters from the oversea colonies. They came from Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, while Canada also sent others in November, 1899, and February, 1900, and again in 1901. Most of these Sisters were originally sent free of expense to the Imperial Government, their services having been engaged either by their respective Governments or by private societies. Others came with recommendations from their colonies, and were engaged immediately on their arrival in South Africa. The Principal Medical Officer in South Africa placed on record his opinion that by far the most efficient of the nurses obtained from all outside sources were those who came from the staffs of the large hospitals in the British Islands.

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Re: British Nurses in the Boer War

Postby Bushman » 15 May 2016 07:58

Those interested in individuals might like to try this database ... e/Database
Lt Col Keiron Spires, a British Army Nurse is the authority and so far has identified well over 2000 nurses serving military needs as opposed to civil in South Africa. The are also medal rolls in the NA WO 100/229 however not all nurses are listed in this roll as some are tucked away in formations with which they served such as SAC or BSAP or in the Burgher camps roll.
The original view of the Army was that untrained male orderlies were far more suitable for service than female nurses. The Times in October 1899 crowed that 68 nurses and 4 nursing superintendents were on their way to South Africa. As their role was to supervise male orderlies and then only in established hospitals in major cities it was announced that there would be no requirement for more. Major casualties were to be evacuated to England. (This was the same military organisation that maintained that hygiene and innoculations were but a passing fad)
They reckoned without Queen Victoria. Both she and her redoubtable daughter Princess Christian (Helena) had a great personal interest in nursing and Princess Christian was head of the Princess Christian Army Nursing Service Reserve (PCANSR). This body had been formed over the prevarications of the war office in 1897 and HM and her daughter had no intention of allowing it to sit out the fight. ( Which part of this did you not understand War Minister?)
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Re: British Nurses in the Boer War

Postby Rural53 » 16 May 2016 01:08

Information on nurses from New Zealand can be found on the New Zealand Military Nursing website at
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Re: British Nurses in the Boer War

Postby Bushman » 18 May 2016 07:42

A brief account of Australian Nurses can be found at
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