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.