Object of the Month – March

As our new exhibition The Hospital in the Oatfield commemorating the role nurses played during the First World War opens tomorrow, it seems fitting that March’s object of the month is from the period.

Civilian, military and VAD nurses alike felt a sense of shared identity through wearing a uniform which marked them out as contributing to the war effort, whether at the Front or at home.


These uniform stripes, kindly loaned to us by Barts Health NHS Trust Archives, belonged to Catherine Elston. Nurse Elston was a truly remarkable woman; she trained at the London Hospital in the deprived East end of the city, where she held the position of Sister. Elston subsequently worked at Poplar Hospital, before taking up a position in Bordeaux, France, and eventually becoming the    Director of the training school there.

When war broke out in August 1914, Elston joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service as a reserve. She went on to serve on one of the many ambulance trains used to ferry wounded serviceman from the Front. In our exhibition The Hospital in the Oatfield you can see examples of letters and postcards Elston sent to her loved ones describing life on No1 Ambulance Train. Among the medals Elston was awarded to mark her work, was the Queen Elisabeth Medal, which recognised those who had given exceptional service to Belgium in relieving the suffering of its citizens during the First World War.


4 responses to “Object of the Month – March

  1. Catherine Elston tended to Old Emanuel Cecil Grundy as he lay dying from a bullet wound received in Bethune in October 1915. I have a selection of Catherine’s letters and the Grundy story which is also being broadcast as part of the BBC Radio London WW1 at Home series later this year.

  2. Catherine Elston was my Great Great Aunt (I knew her when I was a child and she an elderly lady). We always knew her as Great Aunt Kate. I inherited her papers including scrap books and paintings from her time in France before and during WWI and typescripts of her experience on an ambulance train transcripts of her diaries from her time as a trainee at Poplar and the London. I would be fascinated to share information if you were interested.

    • Hi Antony, how fascinating to hear about your family connection with Catherine Elston. I’d love to hear more about her live and experiences on the ambulance train – my email is holly@florence-nightingale.co.uk Please do get in touch!

    • Dear Antony, I have a number of Catherine’s letters sent to the Grundy family whose son Cecil Grundy she cared for in Bethune in November 1915. Cecil died of his wounds on 16 November 1915. I would like to be able to contact you if I can as I am writing a new book which is almost finished and Catherine’s letters are included in the book. I would love to be able to include a photo of Catherine in the book. My contact details can be found on my blog Emanuel School at War on the contact tab. I hope to hear from you. Kind regards, Daniel.

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