Summer Holiday Library Update

Photo by Kent Pilcher on Unsplash

While summer has very definitely arrived in the last few weeks, we wanted to remind our users that the library and library staff are still here throughout this period to help with any study and information needs you have – whether in person or remotely.

For those staying close to St George’s, the library will be open every day over the summer – from 8am to 11pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 9pm at weekends. (24/7 opening will return on 3rd October.) And as always, library staff will be onsite to help between 8am and 6pm every weekday.

But no matter where you’re spending the summer, our online resources and other services can help you stay on top of your studies when you need to. Read our post below for a few suggestions.

1. Find e-books in Hunter

Forgot to borrow a book from the library before leaving St George’s for the summer? Don’t panic! With over 5000 e-books now in our collection, it’s increasingly likely that you’ll be able to find something relevant in Hunter that you can access from anywhere.

To find and access e-books in Hunter:

  1. Choose Books and more in the dropdown menu before searching.
  2. Select Online resources from the options on the left to narrow your search results to e-books only.
  3. All our e-books have a Full text available link – click here to see access options.

You’ll need your St George’s username and password to access online resources, including e-books. To reset a forgotten or expired password, see below.

Reset your St George’s password…

…using this link. Please note, you’ll need to have registered an alternate email address to use the link. If you haven’t done this previously, email to set one up.

If you’ve registered an alternate address but still can’t reset your password, email

2. Discover online learning tools

Your St George’s login also gives you access to our growing collection of online learning tools, many of which use video, quizzes and other features to keep your learning interactive. Below we’ve highlighted one of our newer resources, but you can view a full list here.

St George’s students have full access to JoVE Science Education resources

JoVE Science Education helps you recap topics in basic and advanced biology, chemistry, clinical skills and more through an extensive collection of video lessons. Click here to sign in with your St George’s username and password.

Also included in our subscription is access to JoVE Core, a collection of video textbooks that use animation to teach molecular and cell biology, statistics and more; and JoVE Lab Manuals in biology and chemistry.

3. Study at other university libraries

After a long break, the SCONUL Access Scheme has returned, allowing St George’s students reference access to over 150 university libraries across the UK and Ireland. (Postgraduate students may also get limited borrowing rights at some libraries.)

To start using the scheme, visit the SCONUL Access website where you can register your details and check whether the library you’d like to visit is participating. Within a few days, and provided your library account is in good standing, we’ll send you a confirmation email. Take this email, along with your St George’s ID, to your chosen library to apply for access.

Access to BNF and BNFC

The BNF and BNFC are key resources for all medical and pharmacology students.

Decorative image: picture of white and red-white pills

This is particularly important for Clinical Pharmacology students and those of you in your final year studying medicine, as you will have your PSA (Prescribing Safety Assessment) coming up soon and we know you need BNF and BNFC to do well.

Recently, we have made some changes to how you access these resources, so we wanted to keep you updated.

Access to BNF and BNFC

You no longer have to go via BMJ Best Practice to access BNF and BNFC. Instead you can go straight via MedicinesComplete. We hope this will make things a little more straight-forward for you. If you go to our website, you find the Databases A-Z link on the right-hand side. From there, all you need to do is search for BNF or find it under ‘B’.

Even easier, you can access both via Hunter. Click here for the BNF and here for the BNFC.

If you have any questions or issues around accessing e-resources, please email

Library in Numbers 2019

With the Christmas and New Year break almost upon us, we’ve reached that time of year where it’s helpful to take stock and reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the past year. The Library is always a busy place and this year has been no different – have a look at our infographic below to see our 2019 in numbers:

EJ 2019 in Numbers v2

What else have we been up to?

Getting out and about:

Throughout the year members of the Library team have been taking our services and resources to you. In 2019 we’ve held ‘pop-up libraries’ throughout the university and hospital to mark the release of new resources or to celebrate events like World Book Day. We’re also always on hand at Fresher’s Fayres to get new students acquainted with the Library and to give away our all-important freebies (our sticky notes were gone in a matter of hours!)

Members of our Research Support Team also held pop-up stands to mark World Digital Preservation Day (thanks to our Principal Jenny Higham for snapping the photo below!) and our Research Publications Librarians produced an excellent poster for Research Day, demystifying the language around Open Access.

Keep an eye out for us in and around St George’s in 2020: whether you have a pressing Library-related question or just fancy a free pen, we’re happy to meet you all.

Creating our home in Canvas:

Our Liaison Team have been busy this year developing the Library module in Canvas – St George’s virtual learning environment. Students can check their individual course pages for details of what to expect from their scheduled Library sessions, find teaching and learning resources and try their hand at our referencing quiz. There’s plenty more in the pipeline for 2020, so watch this space for more interactive resources and support.

The Library module also became home to our first ever online Library induction. New students were presented with a scenario in which they needed to control an infection outbreak by finding evidence-based information in the Library. The induction quiz then takes students on a tour of different Library resources and services and tests their knowledge along the way.

Everyone who completed their induction was automatically entered into our prize draw, which featured lots of exciting prizes provided by the Library and local businesses. There were 21 prizes up for grabs – here are a few of our lucky winners!


New for 2019/2020:

At the tail end of 2018 we welcomed our Careers Team colleagues to the Library – keep your eyes peeled for careers-related guest posts from them in 2020! You’ll find their information stands opposite the Library Helpdesk and detailed support and guidance on the Careers module in Canvas.

The new academic year kicked off with a flurry of new initiatives in the Library. We were thrilled the help facilitate the arrival of The Big Read at St George’s and our staff book group got together to read this year’s pick: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. We also started the year by introducing new Study Break Passes to help combat desk hogging and promote fairer use of the Library study spaces. At the end of August, the University began trialling a pilot year of free printing for students in response to student feedback and in October launched a brand new website to make it easier to find important information for staff and students alike.

As ever, your feedback remains vital to the development of Library services and resources. We held a series of focus groups in November and as we head out of 2019, our focus group team are still working away on the final report and action plans arising from your feedback which will help shape our service in 2020 and beyond.

What else have we improved as a result of your feedback? Have a look at some of these Library-focused changes below or visit the You Said, We Did pages on the University website for more.

The above is only a snapshot of what Library staff do behind the scenes to support teaching, learning, research and practice in the University and the Trust. If you’d like to know more about what we do, have a look at our Libraries Week posts from October that celebrate the work of our various teams and our Archives and Special Collections. We’re looking forward to continuing all of this hard work in 2020, but with the Library closing over the Christmas break we’re also excited about putting our feet up with a mince pie (or two).



Hunter’s New Look

paint splash Hunter's NEW LOOK - twitter

Hunter has had a makeover for the new term. While the search tool’s features remain the same, it has a fresh new look which will change the way you use and navigate Hunter. Read this blog post for a quick guide to some of the cosmetic changes that have been made to Hunter’s interface, or see our Hunter FAQs for further guidance.

Viewing item records
Using ‘My Account’
Using your eShelf



Hunter’s new homepage has a clean design with a search bar for all of our resources embedded in the centre of the page. The homepage header provides links to your account, interlibrary loans, databases and more. You can sign in on the top right hand corner for full functionality.


You’ll find links to our social media accounts and library blog along the bottom of the page. You can like or follow our accounts to keep up-to-date with the library.



Hunter’s search ‘widget’ has had a facelift and is now a deep blue instead of orange – you will find this embedded on the Library website and in our LibGuides. It will continue to perform the same search functions as before. You are still encouraged to select the category that you would like to search from the drop down list. You should then type in some keywords from your search topic and select ‘Search’ to view your search results.

hunter widget

Viewing item records

After performing a search you will see a list of search results displayed on your device. You can click on each individual result to view the item record which will appear in a pop-up window.  This will include information on full text and borrowing availability and you will be encouraged to sign-in to your account for full functionality. The slideshow below shows some examples of what a book, article and journal record look like in this updated version of Hunter:




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Using ‘My Account’

By signing-in to Hunter in the top-right hand side of the page, you will be able to view detailed information on your borrowing history, current loans, fines and hold requests. The overview section offers a quick snapshot of your account but the following tabs offer more detail about your Library record:

Loans: This tab will show you a list of items you currently have on loan and their due dates. You can also change the drop-down arrow to view your previous borrowing history.

Requests: This tab will highlight any items on which you have placed a hold. Click this tab to check your place in the queue, or cancel your request if you no longer need the book.

Fine + Fees: This tab will include the details of any fines or fees associated with your record. These might include fines for overdue items, or invoice and administration fees for lost or damaged books.




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Using your eShelf

eshelf pin

Your eShelf will remain active and any items that you have previously added will automatically be transferred over to the new Hunter interface. The eShelf has a new icon, the pin graphic, which you can select to add items you want to save. The pin icon in the top right hand side of the page will take you to your eShelf.

The different tabs within your eShelf will allow you to view your save records as well as any previous searches you have saved. If you have lost track of your searches in a particular browsing session, you can view your search history for a reminder. More detailed guidance on adding, managing and removing items/searches from your eShelf will be published shortly.




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We hope you’ll agree that the new interface looks and feel more modern and offers a more intuitive search experience. Further guidance is available in the Hunter FAQs on the library website. If you have any questions about Hunter, you can email us at or a member of Helpdesk staff will be happy help anytime during staffed hours (Mon-Fri 8am – 6pm)

Hunter Upgrade: Important Information

Banner SGUL - Hunter is Upgrading

Over the weekend of December 2nd & 3rd 2017, the Library system including Hunter will be upgraded.

Important Information regarding loss of service

What this upgrade means for you:

SGUL Students and Staff

NHS Staff

Important information regarding your e-Shelf

Important information regarding loss of service during the upgrade

Please note that between 18:00 on Friday 1st December and 09:00 on Tuesday 5th December the following services will be unavailable whilst we transition to the new library system:

  • Borrowing books & other items
  • Viewing/renewing your loans
  • Paying fines
  • Hunter & the Library Catalogue
  • Self-service machines

Items due to be returned to the library or renewed between 1st – 5th December will not be fined.

It will still be possible to return books via the Book Returns Slot in the lift lobby next to the Library.

What this upgrade means for you:

SGUL Students and Staff

The look of Hunter and how you search will not change but when logged in to Hunter, using your SGUL log in, you will benefit from the following enhancements:

  • View full availability information immediately for print and e-resources as the Library Catalogue will be fully integrated within Hunter
  • View and update your loans & holds (i.e. reservations)
  • Place inter library loan requests
  • Review any fines
  • Up to 10 automatic renewals, unless another user has placed a hold on your item

NHS Staff

From Tuesday 5th December your library account can only be accessed by signing in to Hunter, the library’s search tool, where you will be able to renew your books, place reservations and view fines.

Sign in details for your library account can be obtained by contacting the library.

When signed in to Hunter, you will benefit from the following enhancements:

  • View full availability information immediately for print and e-resources as the Library Catalogue will be fully integrated within Hunter
  • View and update your loans & holds (i.e. reservations)
  • Place inter library loan requests
  • Review any fines
  • Up to 10 automatic renewals, unless another user has placed a hold on your item

Access to the university’s collection of e-journals will still largely remain on-campus only after the 5th December, unless you are attached to an academic programme, have a University honorary title or joint contract.

You will still need an NHS OpenAthens account to access NHS e-resources such as e-books, literature search databases or journals from any computer or device with internet access.

Important information regarding your e-Shelf

Your e-Shelf will function in the same way. However, unfortunately the contents of your e-Shelf cannot be automatically transferred across to the new system.  Therefore, you will need to:

  1. Before the upgrade – keep a separate email list of any items on your e-Shelf that you want to restore after the upgrade eg articles, books; saved searches and alerts, ideally before Wednesday 29th November.
  2. After the upgrade – manually restore the content to your e-Shelf using your list

You can find instructions for performing step 1 here. Further details on performing stage 2 will be posted at a later date.

Closer to the upgrade date we will provide more details of all the changes you will see in Hunter. Look out for more information on the improvements we are making here on the blog, on our social media channels and on the Library website.

If you have any queries please email

Banner NHS - Your Library Catalogue is Improving.png

Milk Matters by Maureen Minchin donated to St George’s Library

On the 13th June 2016, Maureen Minchin, medical historian, health educator, and author of Breastfeeding matters: what we need to know about infant feeding, spoke at St George’s to  dieticians, health visitors, public health, GPs, researchers, IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants), midwives about the science and history of infant feeding. The room was packed and people were enthralled with her delivery of research and evidence showing the inter-generational impact of infant feeding practices. She spoke of the necessity of breast milk for normal human development and how breast milk is the bridge from womb to world. Maureen and the GP infant feeding network (GPIFN) kindly donated a signed copy of her latest book  Milk Matters: infant feeding and immune disorder to St George’s Library.

The two books are available in the Library catalogue, follow the above links to check for availability. Books on breastfeeding are available at call number (shelf mark WS125 in the Library.)


Replacement of furniture in Group Study Space

Over the Bank Holiday weekend we replaced the furniture in the Group Study Space (orange zone).  We have listened to your feedback about the new furniture, and have brought back some of the rectangular tables whilst we purchase more large round tables to improve this space and increase seating capacity.

The new round tables were put into the Library Group Study space, with the intention of creating more appropriate space for groups to study. This was following feedback from students in our recent survey.

Please use the silent study spaces (blue zone) at the back of the Library if you need more space or a quieter environment.

We welcome any comments and feedback, please email

Added: 04 May 2016

Women medics and the First World War.

Women medics and the first world war

By 1914, the long fight by women to gain entry to medical education had largely been won. However Oxbridge and the London teaching hospitals, including St George’s, still held out and refused to admit women for training. In 1915, in response to wartime staff shortages St George’s relented and admitted it’s first four female medical students. It was the first London teaching hospital to do so. The St Georges Hospital Gazette reported that:

‘Among the many sorrowful effects which the War has had upon us it is pleasant to record one joyful result which we would never have attained without a war. Variety and charm has been added to the Medical School and its works by the admission of ladies as students’ (St George’s Hospital Gazette, April, 1915).

Despite this initial enthusiasm, fears of controversy led to these places being rescinded.  The  female students were impelled to write and plead their cases. In 1916 the medical school acquiesced and allowed them to continue their studies. This indicates that medical training for women remained a contentious issue. By 1917 however, St George’s was prepared to even employ women, albeit temporarily, as house officers.


Two of St George’s first female medical students (St George’s archive).

Irregardless of the medical school women graduated from, they were still confronted by a scarcity of available positions. Most found themselves limited to work in women’s hospitals, moving to obscure geographical locations or adopting specialities that did not generally appeal to men.  When the First World War broke out there was no official interest in involving qualified female doctors in the war effort. When Dr Elsie Inglis attempted to volunteer, the infamous War Office response was ‘My good lady, go home and sit still’. This was unlikely to ever happen; Dr Inglis like others had been involved in the suffrage movement. Women doctors simply approached their campaign to help the war effort in the same way they had fought for voting rights. They mobilised support, formed voluntary groups and raised money. In effect they simply circumvented  officialdom and offered their services elsewhere, even to foreign governments.

In 1914 the Women’s Hospital Corps was formed by Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson and Dr Flora Murray. The French government, unlike their British counterparts, promptly accepted their offer of help. Under the aegis of the French Red Cross the Women’s Medical Corp successfully ran military hospitals in Paris and Boulogne. In Paris they occupied the newly built Claridge’s Hotel on the Champs Elysee. The organisational skills required to raise funds, recruit staff, design uniforms and equip and manage the hospital were considerable. But both women were experienced doctors and had been active suffragettes, Dr Garrett Anderson herself had even been imprisoned in Holloway. They must have been formidable; the concierge told Dr Garratt Anderson that ‘he would have had an easier time fighting the Germans than facing so many active English Ladies!’ (Papers of Louisa Garrett Anderson,1914).

floramurrayFlora Murray supervising an operation at the Paris Red Cross Women’s Hospital (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

In 1915, ostensibly to free men for service, the Corps was given control of the Endell Street Hospital in London which treated over 25,000 patients during the duration of the war (Murray, 1920). The Scottish Women’s Hospital, which had been formed by Dr Elsie Inglis after her War Office rebuff, distinguished itself in Serbia and France in 1916. In Serbia, the all female staff of the hospital found themselves in the midst of the conflict treating serious injuries in extremely difficult conditions. Moreover they had to fight major epidemics of disease and deal with a starving civilian population. The Hospital’s volunteers were forced to join the retreat during which thousands died. Some chose to take the even more risky option of  staying behind with patients who could not be moved.  Dr Inglis herself was taken prisoner of war.

In that same year, in the light of escalating need, the War Office reconsidered their positions and grudgingly allowed female doctors and surgeons to join the services. Despite the efficiency of the Women’s Medical Corps and the sheer toughness of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals the authorities continued to refuse to countenance the idea of women near the battlefield. Instead volunteer medics were sent  to locations like Malta. This was located far from the fighting and  most of the patients there were being treated for malaria and other infectious diseases.


The Newnham and Girton units of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals about to leave for Serbia in 1915 (image courtesy of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow).

Nonetheless the war gave female medics, especially at the voluntary women’s hospitals, the chance to treat a wider range of cases. Like their male counterparts they dealt with gruesome wounds, amputations and fierce infections in great numbers. Dr Garrett Anderson described her routine in Paris:

‘I am in the theatre from 2 – 9 or 10 at night and eight or more [operations] The cases come to us very septic and the wounds are terrible. Today we are having an amput’ of thigh, two head cases perhaps trephine and five smaller ones’ (Papers of Louisa Garrett Anderson, 1914) .

Despite their efforts, women serving  their country were, unlike their male compatriots denied official military commission. In addition they were paid less, had one year contracts, were given no uniform and did not necessarily  receive any ration or billeting allowance. Furthermore they would not receive any pension if they were injured (Leneman, p.1593). Dr Jane Walker wrote to the Times in 1918 complaining that:

‘Although many of the medical women in the army not only have a high professional standing in civil practice, but now have a large experience in military hospitals, they rank below the latest joined R.A.M.C. subaltern, and are obliged to take their orders from him. When they travel, they travel not as officers but as soldiers wives’ (Times, 1918).

Whilst women’s’ suffrage had been put on hold for the duration of the war the Medical Women’s Federation decided to challenge this inequality robustly. A number of reasons for treating women in an inferior manner were put forward. Some feared it would be the thin edge of the wedge and that women serving elsewhere in the forces might also want commissions. The military were by nature conservative and some in it’s ranks had no sympathy for claims of sexual equality.

LouisaDr Louisa Garratt Anderson photographed in 1918 (image: Open I)

Perhaps the oddest objection was that the ordinary soldier would not bear examination by female medics or tolerate treatment of venereal disease. This, despite the fact that female nurses dealt with cases of venereal disease and had continual intimate contact with patients.  A doctor was traditionally a masculine authoritarian role and it was felt men might resent being told what to do by a woman. A famous Punch cartoon of 1915 shows a stern looking female doctor recognising a patient. The patient cheerfully points out that as a police constable before the war he had once arrested her in her guise as suffragette. There appear however to have been few examples of any complaints from patients at being treated by a female surgeon or medic. The women run hospitals were, in fact, considered to be far more pleasant places to be than many official alternatives.

endell wardWard round at Endell Street hospital (image courtesy of bbc. co).

Women doctors had some support, from both the British Medical Association and more enlightened officials within the War Office. The then Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill ultimately refused to allow women to hold commissioned rank commensurate to their skills and responsibilities. He concurred with the official line that a commissioned officer had to be able to undertake all kinds of military duties, including where necessary, fighting. The Medical Women’s Federation retort to this was that:

‘Commissions have been given to numbers of medical men who by reason of physical disability or age were not fit for service’ (Contemporary Medical Archives Centre).

The War Office however maintained that a man unfit for full service was still more able to serve than an able bodied woman. In 1919 the Medical Women’s Federation declared that in future it would advise it’s members never to volunteer for any emergency, unless they were treated in the same way as the men.

Despite finally being granted limited suffrage in 1918, many female army medics found themselves  rapidly demoted back the backwoods of hospital medicine, but not all. Some helped found famous hospitals and others became leading figures in their fields. Notably however, few were allowed to continue to practice as surgeons, where their greatest expertise and experience lay.

In the case of St George’s Blomfield wrote of its women students:

… they proved an enthusiastic and efficient body. Most of them became house officers in their turn. Some occupied the higher posts of assistant curator and pathologist with such signal success that their services were retained long after the war had ceased. No more women students were admitted, however, as soon as it became plain that we were getting enough men to fill all the necessary posts in due course. The school is not big enough to harbour women as long as it continues its present prosperity with men’ (Blomfield, p. 92).

The War Office in fact continued its stance until the Second World War became imminent when again a generation of female doctors and surgeons would be called upon. That generation however were even less inclined to tolerate the inequalities their predecessors had been but even then they were only granted ‘relative’ rank and often denied commissions.


Blomfield, J. (1933) St George’s: 1733-1933. London: The Medici Society.

SA/MWF/C.163. Contemporary Medical Archives Centre, Wellcome Trust.

Leneman, L. (1933) ‘ Medical Women in the first world war-ranking nowhere’, British Medical Journal, 307 (December) pp.1592 – 1594.
Murray, F. (1920) Women as army surgeons. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Papers of Louisa Garrett Anderson, The Women’s Library, London.

St George’s Hospital Gazette, 1915.
The Times Letters page, The Times, 4 July.

Nursing and the First World War.


Nurses and the first world war

Nursing before the War.
Until the 19th century nurses had been regarded as low level domestic servants with very basic skills. In 1865 the Medical Superintendent of Glasgow Municipal Hospital, Dr J. B. Russell, described the profession thus:

‘at present nursing is the last resource of female adversity. Slatternly widows, runaway wives, servants out of place, women bankrupt of fame or fortune from whatever cause, fall back on hospital nursing‘ (Gaffney, 1982, p.140).

In 1867 Florence Nightingale dismissed her predecessors as: ‘those who were too old, too weak, too drunken, too dirty, too stupid or too bad to do anything else‘ (Gaffney, 1982, p. 194).


Barnard, F. (1874) Mrs. Gamp, on the Art of Nursing. This image depicts Dickens’ dissolute, drunken and slovenly stereotype of the early Victorian nurse.

Nursing often involved close physical contact with strangers. This, combined with the cleaning and feeding elements of the role, led to it being regarded as somewhat degrading and thus unsuitable for respectable women. Furthermore, a social stigma attached itself to any woman required to work for a living rather than being supported by her husband or family. As the 19th century advanced however, the social class of hospital patients had begun to diversify. Advances in surgery and care at hospitals resulted in the presence of patients who had previously been tended to at home under the management of personal physicians. This, along with developments in medical science and technology, fuelled the demand for skilled presentable nurses.


Professional nurses at George’s circa 1900 (St George’s archive).

By 1914 there were an estimated 12,000 nursing personnel with some kind of recognised training in Britain (Dingwall, Rafferty and Webster, 1988, p. 47). Such training might have included lectures in pharmaceuticals, hygiene, anatomy and nutrition. There was also plenty of work available as hospitals expanded and new ones opened but there remained no recognised formal skill base. Old prejudices towards the profession lingered and very few middle class women were recruited (Maggs, 1983, p. 47). Nurses, who were largely drawn from respectable working class backgrounds, regarded themselves as educated and genteel. Nursing itself however, remained a new and vulnerable profession.


Advertisement for St George’s Hospital Institute for trained nurses (St George’s Hospital Gazette, May 1914).

Nurses operated within a regimented, hierarchical system with their status demarcated by their uniform and experience. They were expected to be obedient and calm under pressure. Most would have had experience of treating wounds and infections. To modern eyes it seems surprising therefore that they were not immediately acknowledged as an indispensable resource in fighting the war. However 1914 Britain remained a patriarchal culture and there was a resistance to placing women anywhere near the fighting. Nurses were therefore initially regarded as being most useful where they could free able-bodied men for service. Nevertheless due to the sheer numbers of wounded being evacuated from the front, it rapidly became clear that professional nurses were urgently required as close to the battlefields as possible.


Photograph of St George’s nurses taken close to 1914 (St George’s archive).

Professionals and Volunteers.
As the casualties mounted it also became apparent that the number of nurses deployed was, in fact, grossly insufficient. Voluntary Aid Detachment Workers (VADs) were recruited to carry out the auxiliary, unskilled parts of the job such as laundering, cleaning and applying basic dressings. It was dirty, challenging work yet paradoxically recruits were usually drafted from the middle and upper classes. This was partially because the other opportunities to aid the war effort such as work in munitions factories were considered socially unacceptable. There was also a perception that these young women were, due to their class and temperament, ‘natural’ nurses. Providing light care to the poor and elderly had long been considered appropriate pastimes for wealthy young women, as long as they did so out of charity rather than the need to earn a wage. VADs received a salary but were expected to pay for their uniforms and basic training themselves.

nursing vad poster

Dennys, J. (1915) VAD Recruitment poster (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

As a consequence professional nurses found themselves cast in the role of manager and educator of VADs alongside their nursing duties. Moreover they had to supervise women from higher echelons of society than themselves and may have felt threatened by this influx of unskilled labour. This caused some friction. The professional nurses were occasionally irritated by the sense of entitlement of young, untrained women whom after the war would naturally occupy higher social positions than them. The volunteers in turn, unused to the discipline of the nursing system sometimes found their supervisors harsh and disciplinarian (Hallett, 2014). The VADs however, generally admired the professionalism and skills of their seniors and more often than not the challenges of dealing with the dying and wounded brought them together. The VADs’ contribution was essential and many finished the war as highly capable nurses (Hallett, 2014).

muddy field nurse

French and British soldiers and German prisoners having their wounds dressed by nurses at a clearing station in 1918. (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Nursing at the Front.
Life for nurses near the front was difficult. Trained to preserve cleanliness and hygiene they had to struggle to even keep themselves clean and louse-free. Casualties would arrive caked in mud and dirt (Lomas, 2014, p.20) and conditions at both clearing stations and hospitals could be rudimentary. E.M. McCarthy the Matron-Chief of British Troops wrote of the clearing stations near the Western Front in 1915:

In the wards there were rows of stretchers with brown blankets only and on bare floors…There were no trolleys or dressing tables, an empty petrol can served for the soiled dressings and a clean piece of paper as a tray for the soiled dressings, and the floor or next stretcher for a table. The cases, acute and light, were all mixed in the same ward.’ (McCarthy, 1919).

Nurses also had to cope with brutal injuries and aggressive infections. Their work included carefully removing shrapnel, irrigating wounds and cutting away infected tissue; activities that more closely resembled surgery than nursing care. Due to the heavily manured soil in Belgium and France many soldiers succumbed to tetanus and gangrene, the only practical treatment for which was often amputation. Anaesthetics and pain medication could be scarce; nurses would work on wounds as orderlies forcibly held patients down. The term ‘triage’ was popularised during the First World War. Nurses found themselves making decisions that would have dramatic and lasting effects upon their patients’ lives.

Despite the damp, unsanitary conditions of the trenches this was the first modern war during which more combatants died from their injuries rather than infectious disease (Hallett,2014). In 1915 Nurse Clare Gass described the arrival of casualties:

… some terrible cases, oh so much better dead (one young lad with eyes and nose all gone- one blur of mangled flesh –and body whole and sound), heads shattered to pieces or limbs hanging by a thread of tendons. Oh why must such things be?’ (Lomas, 2014, p.21)

These wounds were the consequence of advances in conventional weaponry. The use of chemical warfare such as chlorine, phosgene and mustard gasses however, took combatants and medical staff by surprise. It was particularly hard to treat. One nurse described the effects of mustard gas:

‘Poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured blisters, with blind eyes… all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke’ (Blodgett, 2009).

After the War.

handling prisoner of war over

British nurses watching a German patient being handed over in 1919 (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

Hospitals such as St George’s continued to deal with the effects of the war long after the armistice in November 1918. Amputees and those poisoned by gas or suffering from disfiguring injuries required continuing care. Nonetheless, demobilisation and the closure of military hospitals naturally led to a dramatic reduction in the need for nurses, leading to a sudden loss of employment and income for many. This particularly affected married women who could no longer serve after the war (Dean, 2012).

Many nurses returned to their pre-war lives but the war had provided not only horrors but opportunities. Some had travelled to places they had never imagined visiting and experienced freedoms and responsibilities they would never have been granted before 1914. It had a lasting effect on many. Agatha Christie, for example, served as a VAD and was able to qualify as a pharmaceutical dispenser after the war. Many of her novels would subsequently feature death by poisoning. Her most famous detective, Hercule Poirot, was a Belgian refugee from the war.

nurse picnicNurses having a picnic in Egypt (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

Medicine itself remained a male dominated field but it had become difficult to refute the value of a qualified, skilled nurse in the light of the resilience, stoicism and determination they had demonstrated during the war. Nurses’ fears that the large numbers of volunteers taking on nursing roles during the war would ‘dilute’ their claim to professional status proved unfounded and in 1919 official registration for trained nurses was introduced. In 1933 Blomfield described the post-war body of nurses at St George’s:

‘There is little in common between the kindly, but poorly instructed female of a hundred years ago, and the healthy, young, cultured and highly skilled woman who is the finished hospital nurse of today (Blomfield, 1933, p. 102).’

He goes on to describe the training and rigorous application procedure at the hospital concluding that:

‘The high standard demanded at St. George’s has given her nurses a reputation second to none’ (Blomfield, 1933, p.103).

Barnard, F. (1879) Mrs. Gamp, on the Art of Nursing [Pen and Ink]. Available at: (Accessed: 4 November 2014).
Blodgett, B. (2009) ‘Germany’s use of chemical warfare in World War I’, First world, Available at: (Accessed: 4 November 2014).
Blomfield, J. (1933) St George’s 1733 – 1933. London: The Medici Society.
Dingwall, Robert, Anne Marie Rafferty, Charles Webster, eds. (1988) An Introduction to the Social History of Nursing. London: Routledge.
Gaffney, R. (1982) ‘ Women as Doctors and Nurses’, in Checkland, O. and Lamb, M. (eds.) Health Care as Social History. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press pp. 134–148.
Hallett, C. (2014) ‘A very valuable fusion of classes’: British professional and volunteer nurses of the First World War.’ Endeavour, 38 (2), pp: 101 – 109.
Hallett, C. (2014) ‘Stoicism and care in the face of carnage’ Nursing Standard, 28(48).
Imperial War Museum. Collections and Research. .
Lomas, C. (2014) ‘In the thick of it’, Nursing Standard, 28 (24) pp: 20-22.
Maggs, C.J (1983) The Origins of General Nursing. London: Croom Helm.
Mc Carthy, E. M. Report 31.7.1919. The National Archives WQ222/2134. Available at: (Accessed: 4 November 2014).
St George’s Hospital Gazette, July 2014.

Library Refresh

The Library has been reconfigured over the summer. With limited funds we focussed our efforts on improving the study space and creating an environment where students can work quietly in small groups. The carpet has been replaced, the lighting improved (we are still working on this in some areas), the furniture moved and the walls painted. We hope that we might be able to further improve this space for students with any future opportunities. We welcome your feedback via

Thank you for your patience over the summer.

The Library Team
September 2014

New Library Space front New Library space - back