Although a formal military nursing service did not exist in the army prior to the late 19th century, nursing care was provided to the army during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and the English Civil War and Interregnum (1642-1660) when Parliament employed nurses at the three military hospitals in London. During the 18th century, Matrons and nurses worked in military hospitals but the training and level of care was not of a high standard, this was not unique to military hospitals but typical of healthcare at the time.
The widespread reportage of conditions in army hospitals during the Crimean War generated a public alarm and subsequent demand for nurses to go to the Crimea and tend to the sick soldiers. Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War, wrote to Florence Nightingale asking her if she would organise a party of nurses to take to the Crimea and superintend the nursing in Scutari. Florence Nightingale was a fantastic administrator and dedicated nurse and her work in the Crimea is still remembered today. She dramatically improved conditions within the hospital at Scutari, where the majority of soldiers had been dying from disease rather than battle injuries. Her efforts in elevating the status of nursing continued after the war and she wrote copiously setting standards of care and advice on hospital administration. Further information can be found on the Florence Nightingale Museum website at www.florence-nightingale.co.uk.
The Army Nursing Service was formed in 1881 and nurses accompanied the army on campaign in Egypt and the Sudan. In 1887 Princess Christian, Queen Victoria’s daughter, gave her name to the Army Nursing Service Reserve and the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service Reserve served with the British Army during the Anglo-Boer War. The force that went to South Africa was the largest ever sent abroad and nurses were desperately needed.
On 27th March 1902 Queen Alexandra became the President of the newly formed Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). Queen Alexandra was a Danish princess before she married King Edward VII and because of that she chose the cross of the Order of Dannebrog as the basis of the badge of the QAIMNS. The motto, Sub Cruce Candida, (Under the White Cross), was adopted by the Corps.
At the outbreak of war in 1914 there were just under 300 nurses in the QAIMNS, by the end of the war this had risen to 10,404 (including reservists). The nurses were well trained but the increasing mechanisation of war brought some horrific new injuries, including wounds caused by shrapnel, land mines, mortars, grenades, tanks, flame throwers and gas attacks. Army nurses served in Flanders, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Middle East and aboard hospital ships. Almost 200 army nurses died on active service and in 1916, when the Military Medal was instituted as an award for bravery, some of the first awards went to military nurses.
With the outbreak of World War Two, nurses once again found themselves serving all over the world, including Norway, Iceland, Greece, Ceylon and South Africa. The changing working conditions and wartime shortages led to changes in uniform. Khaki slacks and battledress blouses replaced the grey and scarlet ward dress and rank insignia was adopted to signify the officer status of the nurses. In the Far East the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore led to many army nurses being captured by the Japanese and enduring the terrible hardships and deprivations of the Far East prisoner-of-war camps.
At the end of the war the Army Medical Services underwent further reorganisation and on 1st February 1949 the QAIMNS became Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC). In July 1950 the first non-commissioned ranks were admitted to the Corps and in 1954 the first nurses to undertake State Registered Nurse training within the Corps successfully passed their examinations. However, the QARANC was still an all-female organisation as male nurses were members of the RAMC and it was not until April 1992 that male nurses transferred to the QARANC and female non-nursing trades transferred from the QARANC to the RAMC and RADC. (Male nurses had briefly been admitted in 1904 and wore a bronze version of the QAIMNS cape badge).
In October 1967 the QARANC Depot and Training Establishment had a purpose built home built at the Royal Pavilion in Aldershot, where it remained until its transfer to Keogh Barracks, Mytchett, in 1996.
With the expansion of the Corps, following World War Two, QAs served in the Far East, Germany, Jamaica, Bermuda, West and East Africa and the Middle East. QAs were stationed in Hong Kong in 1950 to treat casualties from the Korean War and also served in Malaya, Singapore and Borneo during the 1950s and 1960s. QAs landed at the Falkland Islands shortly after the war in 1982 to care for the sick and wounded, although the lack of accommodation meant nurses had to remain on board ship for two months. Large numbers of QAs have served in Iraq (1990-1991), Kuwait and Bosnia, and are also currently serving in Afghanistan, and Iraq.