History of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service.
These practices came to an end when Henry III issued a decree forbidding the profession of physician to the religious orders and thus opened the door to the barber-surgeons.
It was two famous Admirals, Hawkins and Drake, who in 1590 became aware of the plight of sick seamen and instigated a medical aid scheme whereby each parish gave a small weekly sum for the care of its invalid sailors. In 1604 the scheme became compulsory and all sailors had to contribute a small sum out of their pay.The system eventually foundered due to mismanagement and heavy debts.
Sir Thomas Spencer Wells Bt MD, inventor of the haemostatic forceps which are still in universal use, served in the Royal Navy between 1841 and 1856.When he first joined the Navy he was at Haslar for several weeks and his name is to be found in the Visitors' Book. When in later life he became a leader of surgery in London he used his influence to improve the conditions of service of the Naval Medical Officer.
In the wards the Sisters were addressed as Madam by both staff and patients and absurd precautions were taken to protect them from the discomfort of viewing any part of the patients' bodies other than the head, shoulders and feet. An important part of the Sisters' responsibility was the practical instruction of the newly formed Sick Berth Staff.
The Sisters originally wore a uniform of a navy-blue serge dress, white apron, small navy-blue serge shoulder capes and white frilled caps with strings. In the summer this was replaced by a white blouse and blue skirt.
In 1902 Her Majesty Queen Alexandra (pictured above) signified that it was her gracious pleasure to become President of the Nursing Staff, which was known thereafter as Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service.
Following suggestions made by Her Majesty, the uniform was modified in various ways. The dress and cape were made of navy-blue linen with scarlet cuffs surmounted by a white handkerchief cap with an embroidered Naval crown in one corner.
In 1910 the principal civilian hospitals agreed to supply nurses at short notice in the event of war and the nucleus QARNNS Reserve was formed. In 1914 these same hospitals supplied large numbers of their Nursing Staff to augment the regular Service at the outbreak of war. The Voluntary Aid Detachment of the British Red Cross and the St John Ambulance Brigade also produced many volunteers.
These women, known as 'The VADs', were already skilled in all varieties of nursing and other duties. The men were absorbed into the Sick Berth Attendant Branch. This large group of dedicated men and women served everywhere throughout the war. Between the wars they all returned to their normal duties, but again in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War, large numbers came forward from the civilian hospitals; some proceeding abroad without first serving in Naval Medical Establishments at home.
After the war in 1949, a Medical Branch of the Women's Royal Naval Service was formed and WRNS Sick Berth Attendants were trained. They were replaced in 1960 when a Naval Nurse section of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service came into being.
The remaining Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses were given the option of joining the newly formed QARNNS Auxiliary Branch, as Naval Nurse ratings, thus giving a two-tier QARNNS.
In recent years QARNNS personnel have been called in to fulfil a war-time role: in the Falklands in 1982, and in the Gulf War of 1991, when they served at sea in RFA Argus. They now serve regularly in Iraq and Afghanistan supporting land operations.
Today the QARNNS Patron is HRH Princess Alexandra - the great-granddaughter of its first President, Queen Alexandra. The Service has seen many changes throughout its history of medical care in the Royal Navy but the present combined forces of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service and the Medical Branch of the Royal Navy - men and women working side by side in base hospitals and sick quarters - will continue to meet the challenge in the future as they have in the past.
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