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International Nurse Day 2017

This week is International Nurses Day and to mark the occasion, this post looks at some of the military nurses we have found in the Deceased Online collections

Florence Nightingale (middle) in 1886 with her graduating class of nurses from St Thomas' outside Claydon House, Buckinghamshire
Friday 12 May 2017 is International Nurses Day. This celebration of nurses' contributions to our society has been marked every year since 1965 by the International Council of Nurses (ICN). In 1974 the Council agreed that the event should fall annually on 12 May - the birthday of the creator of formal modern nursing, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). Nightingale rose to prominence during the Crimean War of 1854-6 when she ran the Barrack Hospital in Scutari (in modern Turkey). Although Nightingale is buried in the rural churchyard of St Margaret of Antioch in East Wellow, Hampshire, many of her contemporaries can be found in urban cemeteries,
The only known photograph of Mary Seacole, taken for a carte de visite by Maull & Company in London (c. 1873)
Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was not formally a nurse, but a Jamaican businesswoman, who travelled, on her own initiative, to the Crimea. There she administered medical treatments to soldiers, alongside nourishing food and drink at her British Hotel. Eventually, Seacole settled in Soho in the heart of London. She is buried in the capital at St Mary's Catholic Cemetery next to Kensal Green. Sir William Howard Russell, war correspondent for The Times, wrote of her in 1857,

I trust that England will not forget one who nursed the sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.

Seacole's work was honoured on Thursday 30 June 2016, when a bronze statue of her was unveiled in the garden of St Thomas' Hospital, London - opposite the Houses of Parliament. This follows twelve years of campaigning by the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal. The Mary Seacole Trust is due to be launched next month in June 2017. 

Greenwich Cemetery's stunning memorial to lives lost in the First World War
One of the most striking memorials to the ward dead of 1914-1918 can be found in the south-east London cemetery of Greenwich. Many of those killed in the war have no known grave, but are remembered only by names engraved on screen walls likes that pictured above.

Sadly throughout the twentieth century, many women, including military nurses, were not been regarded as official war dead. Although this is now changing, there are still many nurses whose contributions to war and to humanity have not been publicly acknowledged. One such nurse is 20 year old Eleanor Dabner, who died 12 days before the end of the Great War, on 30 October 1918.

Dabner, whose burial record (shown above) can be found in the Deceased Online database, worked as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Nurse at Brook War Hospital in Shooter's Hill, Woolwich. Like many nurses, she has no known grave. As it has been proven that Nurse Dabner is buried at Greenwich, the Commonwealth War Grave Commission is now adding her name to the screen wall pictured above. 

The example of Nurse Eleanor Dabner illustrates exactly why International Nurses Day remains important. It has also taken over 150 years for Mary Seacole's contribution to the nation's armed forces to be publicly acknowledged. Many more nurses remain forgotten. 

If any of your ancestors were nurses or you have found the record of a nurses you feel should be celebrated in our collections, do please let us know in the Comments Box below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.


  1. My grandfather, Robert Smeaton, KOSB, was wounded at Ypres and was treated at Bevan Military hospital Folkstone, England. A nurse there gave him a photo of herself, I think it says Margaret Wheeler, Folkstone I would attach the photo but don't see where I can.

    1. Thanks, Maxine. This is very interesting. I would like to do a separate blog post on your grandfather and the photograph, if it's OK with you? Please would you email the photo to me at ejgenealogic

  2. I have two a great aunts born in Glasgow, Scotland. One served in WWI in Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve and was stationed in Malta, Salonica, and Beaufort War hospital in England. The other trained at Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh and primarily did private nursing in England and Scotland. They both emigrated to the states and continued nursing in the state of NY. I some pictures of them and images of records I have found through my online research and I am happy to share anything should you be interested. I

  3. Hi Sheila,
    Thank you for your comment.
    Your great aunts' experiences sound fascinating.
    If you are happy to write a guest blog post for us, and share your images, we would love that! Please email me at ejgenealogic
    Best wishes,

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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