My aunt, Alice Maclean, came from Gairloch, a tiny village on the west coast of Scotland, Wester Ross. She trained in a London hospital and then joined the Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service when the 1st World War broke out.
When she was the military hospital in Devonport she started a photograph album, which she continued to add to when she served in Salonika, in Greece (she was there about 2 years), and Fensa, in Italy. She also made it to Cairo – there’s a photograph, and she nursed in Netley Hospital, in the south of England.
There were field hospitals as near as possible to where men were fighting on the Front – but they were limited. So a lot of the soldiers, when they were wounded in France or elsewhere, were sent back to Britain for further treatment.
Because of the increase in demand for medical treatment a lot of schools and large country houses were commandeered as hospitals.
Sometimes the soldiers came home with injuries which weren’t directly linked to the fighting but to poor living conditions. Quite often they succumbed to footrot, because they’d been in their wet boots for a long time in the trenches. They were also susceptible to gangrene, which was really nasty, and often they lost their toes, or a foot or a leg.
There were also issues around mental health. There were a lot of problems with what they called ‘shell shock’; it was hard for those people coming back, and people weren’t always very sympathetic to them either, which was quite sad.
I’ve got a feeling my aunt was quite an adventurer. I think she probably enjoyed some aspects of the War. But she never spoke about it, and I was too young to ask. She didn’t enjoy the sadness of the injuries of the soldiers. But I think she would have appreciated the companionship of the other sisters and all the medical staff and patients. There is a photograph of staff playing tennis in Salonika in her album.
They lived in tents, sometimes in huts. They were reasonably well fed and they were able to get washed and so on, but not as you would if you were nursing in Britain. So they had to try to be very particular and do their best, though I don’t quite know how they managed with their uniforms.
After the War my aunt – along with every nurse who served – was sent a certificate from Queen Alexandra, President of her Imperial Nursing Service.
I feel very proud of her and I just wish she would have told me more about her life, but she was very quiet and never spoke about things like that. I’ve just got the photographs, medals and the certificate.
I went in to nursing, trained in Edinburgh, and I joined the QAs (now known as the Queen Alexandra Military Nursing Corps). Sadly Aunty Alice didn’t know I followed in her footsteps because she died not long before I joined. I was extremely fond of my Aunt.