Nothing is new, as they say
The response to Covid-19 is as much the spirit of WW1 as WW2
Before the beginning of WW1, there was a call for volunteers by the military and the British Red Cross to support the nursing profession. Thus was the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) created, thousands of young, mainly women, almost whitewashed since from nursing history. It is largely true that the only people in a financial position to volunteer in the early 20th Century were from the upper classes. And so, the debutantes, shire girls and vicars’ daughters from the Edwardian drawing room, who couldn’t even boil an egg, donned starched, austere uniforms and mucked in doing tasks similar to their own servants back at the grange. When the conflict intensified, many volunteered to go abroad to the theatre of hell and died in service.
I’ve been delivering a fundraising presentation about these largely forgotten events for several years, during which I show the original poster advertising for volunteers, and have always quipped: “Imagine today in our PC, bureaucratic age, advertising for volunteers with no previous experience to support the nursing profession”
. Well, I was wrong, and history has now repeated itself – over half a million people have volunteered to assist in our current war against Covid-19.
The other extraordinary parallel now emerging once more concerns the almost instant appearance at the beginning of WW1 of thousands of auxiliary hospitals. Take a look at the Red Cross archives some time and gape. Every county was festooned with impromptu hospitals. The call went out – have you a village hall, the wing of a house, a ballroom, a hotel, any spare space at all that we can shove some beds into and create an instant hospital? Again, you would find it hard to believe that in today’s H&S-obsessed, conferencing age, bureaucracy wouldn’t prevent or delay such a radical concept. But now we see a similar thing happening today. Needs must.
We successfully raised funds for a memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum to commemorate all those who died in service during both World Wars. However, we continue fundraising as an ongoing, living legacy from those who died, to establish a permanent link between yesterday’s heroines and tomorrow’s savers of lives. Called Extreme Nursing Today, we raise money to pay for specialist training in humanitarian and conflict nursing.
However, even with our contemporary experience of war, terrorism and disease, no-one could have predicted the level of need produced by the current global crisis. And it highlights just how precarious and exposed we’ve allowed ourselves to become. My presentation stresses the incalculable cost of treating student nurses the same as university undergraduates. Yes, folks, for those who still weren’t aware, during the past decade anyone wishing to train as a nurse has to commit to the dreaded tuition fees (Florence Nightingale, by the way, fell out with the profession she created by insisting to her dying day that the most important ‘qualification’ for a good nurse wasn’t qualifications at all, but character. She also stressed the importance of flowers as a spiritual help to recovery, now automatically banned in today’s hospitals).
So by the time nurses don that uniform full-time, they’re already c£50k in debt. Then try saying to them: “How would you like to go beyond the call of routine nursing and specialise in humanitarian and conflict nursing? You would? Well done, the world needs you! That’ll be another few thousand to add to your long-term burden, please.”
Not exactly an incentive. So we’re here to help. But maybe, given the lessons we’re now learning, the government can put us out of business by providing specialist training for our nurses free-of-charge! Until such time, however, we really need your donation – either through Virgin Giving (see right) or with a cheque made payable to Nursing Memorial Appeal and posted to:
Nursing Memorial Appeal
Naval & Military Club
No. 4 St. James’s Square
London SW1Y 4JU
John Drewry, Patron & Presenter