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NURSING DURING THE CRIMEAN WAR

Anti-Catholicism can show itself in two forms:

1. Allegations of bad things done by Catholics.
2. Hiding good things done by Catholics.

The second form is not so easy to detect as the first. The material below provides an example.

Chapter 1. The Year of the Nurse

[This chapter is a reprint of an article in: The Workshop, This is a magazine published by St. Joseph's parish, 10 Willowbank Road CH 42 7JY. U.K.].

Various international groups declared 2010 to be: 'The Year of The Nurse'. The year marks the centenary of the death of Florence Nightingale. The story of 'FN', as her friend's called her, is known because of her nursing in the Crimean war.

However, there were other nurses and hospitals involved in the war. As these are rarely mentioned, this article will aim to make their work better known.

In October 1854, The Times reported that the wounded and sick of our Catholic allies Sardinia and France were being treated in efficient hospitals run by well trained nursing nuns. It asked why nothing similar was being provided for our men? The government and nation were greatly embarrassed. Nursing in Britain was not seen as a respectable occupation, so trained nurses were few.

Fortunately, the Catholic revival was taking place and the Sisters of Mercy nursing order had been formed. Five Sisters from Bermondsey set out for the war zone on October 17th but the government instructed them to wait in Paris.

A government committee, under Mary Stanley, was gathering a party of 5 Catholic care nuns, eight Anglo-Catholic (C of E) nursing nuns and 38 hired nurses and Ladies. FN was appointed as their leader and they left to join those waiting in Paris. The whole party reached Scutari in Turkey on November 4th, where they established two hospitals.

On December 17th Mary Stanley arrived with 15 Sisters of Mercy nuns and 31 hired nurses and Ladies. FN said she could not control such a large number and demanded they return home.

The army Generals intervened and asked Stanley to use her party to open two hospitals (General and Lower) at Koulali, five miles from Scutari. Stanley appointed Mother Bridgeman, Superior of the nuns, to share the running of these hospitals.

Scutari and Koulali were 300 miles across the Black Sea from the fighting near Balaclava in the Crimea. So in October 1855 the army asked Bridgeman to move her nuns to the Crimea. She did this and established the Balaclava Barracks and Field hospitals on the 14th.

FN claimed she had the right to supervise these Crimean hospitals, but the army preferred to work with Bridgeman. With the help of the War Office, the generals found a technical way to exclude FN from having any influence in the Crimea.

Following the armistice of 29th February 1856, the hospitals gradually emptied. On March 16th the War Office granted FN authority in the Crimea and she arrived there nine days later. On March 28th, Bridgeman entrusted the remaining few patients to FN before sailing home on April 12th.

Working conditions in the hospitals had been terrible and few of the hired nurses and Ladies had stayed long. So the nuns, being the most experienced and disciplined groups came to form the hard core of the staff in all six hospitals. From 14th October 1855 - 25th March 1856 the Sisters of Mercy were in sole charge of the hospitals in the Crimea.

Two Sisters from the Order's Liverpool convent died from cholera and typhus and were buried in the Crimea. A memorial to them stands in the grounds of the Old Swan convent, Liverpool. The others returned to their work in the diseased inner cities.
To understand why the official history of this period omits to mention such a large part of the Crimean nursing story, we need to be aware of the sensitive political and religious situation at that time. But that is another story.

Chapter 2. The Background

A large book would be required to examine in depth the reasons why the official history of this period omits over half the story of nursing during the Crimean War. All we can do here is to provide something of the background at the time.

For generations the British had been taught how they lived in a progressive, Protestant country compared to people living in poor, uneducated, superstitious Catholic ones.

So, when newspapers compared Britain's nursing provision with Catholic countries, there was national embarrassment.
If it became widely realised how much the Government had found it necessary to rely on hated and feared Roman Catholic nuns, the embarrassment would have become politically sensitive.

Civil rights had been granted to Catholics in 1828, but it was against strong opposition and so some restrictions still existed. As an example, the Bermondsey nuns going to the Crimea were not allowed to publicly dress as nuns till they arrived in France.
14th October 1855 - 25th March 1856, Catholic nuns had been placed in sole charge of the hospitals in the Crimea, there would have if it had became widely known that for the six months from been a threat of political and civil unrest.

An indication of this danger occurred in Portsmouth on the 8th May 1856. Twelve nuns, including Mother Bridgeman, arrived home on a troop ship. The officer commanding the regiment asked the Sisters to share their triumph by walking at the head of the regiment from the ship to the railway station a short distance away. The crowd began to hoot and pelt the Sisters until the soldiers lifted their rifles. [EB 272].

It is worth remembering that these were part of the party of 15 nursing nuns who had gone out with Bridgeman in the second party. Two had died and been buried in the Crimea and another was mortally ill and died the following year.

In the government's view It was 'politically convenient' if the nuns quietly returned to their work in the diseased infested cities of Ireland and England, while the authorities directed every eye and ear to the Scutari hospital and FN, its heroine.

Chapter 3 - Personalities

Margaret (Fanny) Taylor had been a member of the Anglican Sellonites until she opened a 'ragged school' in London. She went out to Scutari as one of the 'Ladies' in the second party and assisted FN for some time before transferring to Koulali.

Taylor authored 16 books and in:
Eastern Hospitals and English Nursing, she described how she and FN used a lantern to see the sick when paying night visits to the wards [EB 87]. This led to FN being later idolized as: 'The Lady with the Lamp'.

She became a Catholic at Koulali and later founded a new religious Order: The Poor Servants of the Mother of God.

Mary Stanley, who had recruited and organised the parties going to the war zone, later became a Catholic and was very active in charitable work. St. John and St. Elizabeth hospital in London has a bed dedicated to her memory.

Mary Seacole was a self-taught, coloured, nurse from Jamaica who independently went to the Crimea to provide care and nursing. Recently Mary's exploits have become known due to her autobiography being reprinted in 1984. She is buried in the Catholic section of Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

Chapter 4 Notes

Mother Bridgeman's nuns came mainly from Ireland and they obtained better conditions of service from the War Office than had the Bermondsey nuns. For example: they remained under the authority of Bridgeman when not nursing, they were permitted to publically travel in England dressed as nuns and FN would not be permitted to open and read the private letters of Sisters [EB 68-72].


Nursing Notes. During her long period of work in the cities, Mother Bridgeman had developed a detailed system of nursing practice. She used it at Koulali [EB 137-140].

Evelyn Bolster writes: Her [FN's] attitude to the Koulali system was one of vigorous opposition: but the superiority of the system is attested to by the fact that she began to revise her own methods to such an extent that the scheme for military nursing she submitted to the War Office after her Crimean experiences, was in many ways identical with that introduced by Mother Bridgeman."[EB 140].

CIHIC Comment: If Bolster's statement is checked and shown to be correct, the position of Bridgeman and the poor parts of Irish cities would loom large in any unbiased history of the origin of nursing practice in modern times.

In Turkey. When FN was made superintendent of the nurses being sent out to the war zone, the War Office used the term: 'in Turkey', which included the Scutari area. The Crimea, was part of Russia not Turkey. This enabled the Army Generals, with the agreement of the War Office, to excluded FN from holding any nursing authority in the Crimea until after the armistice.

Catholic reactions: While the Government had political problems, its complete ignoring of the heroic services of the nursing Sisters, did not go unnoticed within the Catholic Community.

Margaret Taylor, (who had made known the night visits with FN) was now editor of her magazine: The Lamp. She wrote:

"it behoved the aristocracy of Victorian England to erect a monument which would prove to future generations that Anglicanism in the space of three hundred years had produced one truly great and charitable daughter."

Cardinal Wiseman in his Lenten Pastoral 1856 wrote:

"The charity which springs up suddenly in the world and reflects credit on itself, the world will take care to requite, to honour by loud praise, to exalt by exclusive applause, to commemorate by lasting monuments" but the charity which, " long nourished in the secret of the cloister, had been for years exercised amidst the infected and plague-stricken lanes of English and Irish cities, was denied even the passing tribute of one generous word from those whose mouths were open to private charity."

Bank of England Bank Note.

From February 1975 till May 1994 a £10 Note was circulated with a drawing of Florence Nightingale and a separate portrayal of a ward at Scutari.

Catholic and Anglican nursing nuns formed a third of the staff and were the most permanent throughout the war. They were permitted to wear their distinctive habits. Apart from FN, the head covering of four nurses may be viewed working in the ward. Yet not one is distinguished as a nun.

In 1854 the camera was in its infancy so the public had to rely on paintings and etchings to portray events abroad. Artists limited themselves to depicting the lay nurses at Scutari. This may have been viewed as justifiable at the time so as not to antagonise the anti-Catholic public at home.

When, over a century later, the Bank of England issued their £10 Note, the scene depicted was based on an old etching, not reality. 6, 493 million of these notes were printed and, if reality had been portrayed, think of the good publicity there would have been for the Catholic Community.

It is very unlikely the nuns were deliberately omitted no one would have thought about it. But if members of the Salvation Army, Indians wearing sarees, Muslims in hijabs, or coloured people, had been involved would they have been forgotten?
This is an example of how anti-Catholic prejudice from the past intrudes into the present day. It is so ingrained in our culture that it is often unnoticed.

Chapter 5. Books, Articles and Reviews.

BOOK: The Sisters Of Mercy In The Crimean War By Evelyn Bolster. Published in the U.S.A. by Mercia Press. 1964. This provides a good detailed account of the events based on Mother Bridgeman's diary. Where CIHIC has referenced page it has been indicated within square brackets -e.g. [EB 140].

BOOK: The Crimean Journal of the Sisters of Mercy 1854 - 1856. Maria Laddy (Editor). This is based on diaries left by three of the Sisters who were there. Published by Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2004.

ARTICLE: Sister Mary Joseph Cooke - Another voice from the Crimean war by Mary Ellen Doone. The Nursing Historical Review. Volume 3, 1995, Published by the American Association for the History of Nursing, Inc. Back copies may be purchased or borrowed through Library System.

BOOK: The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole. Autobiography 1857. Reprinted 1984.

--End-

Version: 4th April 2010


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