Kath Shawcross, Borough Archivist & Local Studies Manager takes a look at Staff Nurse Edith Thorogood, one of the many nurses photographed by David Knights-Whittome.
Last year as part of the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1 the Local Studies & Archives Service produced an exhibition looking at the role played by local inhabitants, at home and on the front. From a surname index to the Knights-Whittome glass plates we already knew that the collection contained images of both WW1 soldiers and nurses, which we were able to make use of for the exhibition.
Edith Thorogood was one such nurse. Using censuses and the archives of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), held at The National Archives, I was able to piece together Edith’s early life and nursing career.
Born 24 June 1869 in Downe, Kent, the daughter of Joseph and Susan Thorogood, Edith was educated in Epping. She went on to train in nursing at St Olave’s Infirmary, Rotherhithe 1895-1898. After completing her training, Edith worked as a Staff Nurse at the Royal Derbyshire Nursing Institution, then the Queen Victoria Nursing Institute in Wolverhampton and finally the Royal Sussex County Hospital Private Nursing Institution.
In the meantime her family moved to Sutton around 1900 and by 1911 were living at 6 Hunsdon Villas, Carshalton Road, Sutton. Both her brothers, Horace and Francis, were journalists.
On the 17 December 1914 Edith signed up to the QAIMNS Reserve and departed for France on 31 March 1915. She appears to have remained in France (unfortunately there are no details of where she served) until 14 October 1917 when she returned to England to continue in the QAIMNS. A letter dated 2 October 1918 written by the Matron of the King George V Hospital, Dublin provides the clue to her next posting – “her work and conduct has been entirely satisfactory in every respect.”
Upon returning to England from Dublin Edith took up a post at the Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup where she remained until July 1919 when she asked to resign her appointment so that she could return home to Sutton and take care of her invalid mother.
We don’t know of Edith’s movements after the war except that she retired to Portslade in Sussex and died 27 December 1953, age 84.
Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS)
In March 1902, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) was established by Royal Warrant, and was named after Queen Alexandra, who became its President. It replaced the Army Nursing Service, which had been established in 1881.
The majority of military nurses in WW1 served in QAIMNS. Known as QAs, they tended to the wounded in field hospitals, aboard ambulance trains, hospital ships and barges and in casualty clearing stations. It was during WW1 that the triage system of assessing casualties was developed.
Originally women applying to QAIMNS had to be single, over the age of 25 and of high social status. With so many casualties these restrictions had to be removed leading to married women and those from lower classes joining for the first time. By the end of 1914 there were over 2,200 regular and reserve QAs and by the end of the war over 10,000 trained nurses in QAIMNS.