Saturday, 13 November 2010

Remembrance Day: The Diary of a WW1 Nurse

As this week it was Remembrance Day, commemorating the official end of the First World War, I thought I would share a short extract from the diary of Lily Harris, sister of my great-grandmother Emily Harris. 

Lily was a trained nurse who in 1915 joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (Q.A.I.M.N.S.R.) and spent much of the war serving in Egypt. 

Lily does not seem to have always had time to keep her diary regularly but this extract, dated 25th November 1918, describes how the news of the end of the war was celebrated where she was: 

Nov 25th 

This has been a very exciting day, hear definitely we are to take no more convoys & evacuate on alternate days, all cleared out by the 3rd of December. My ward has been emptied. Hand over equipment tomorrow. 

Several sisters go to Jerusalem tomorrow, 2 days leave, so now we are all wondering where will be our next stop & how soon we shall be home. 

On the 11th Germany signed the Armistice. We had a few little parties, two social evenings & a whist drive here in the mess & one evening “At Home” at the Club, they were all very enjoyable. 

Last Sunday we “The Nursing Staff” thought we must make our patients realise the war was ended, so gave them a supper, “Fresh Mutton & Vegetables”. They did enjoy it. 

Unfortunately, it was many months before Lily got to go home again. Her service record (held at The National Archives, Kew - Reference: WO399/3582) includes a letter she wrote from Suez in June 1919 requesting that she might be released from her contract and allowed to return to the United Kingdom as she had been serving abroad since May 1915. Although not absolutely clear, it appears she did not return to the UK until September or October 1919, after a medical board judged her to be suffering from Anaemia. 

This photograph dates from Lily’s time in Egypt and shows a group of QAIMNS nurses in their distinct uniforms. One of them may be Lily herself. 

There is a modern colour photograph of one of the capes worn by a QAIMNSR nurse on the Auckland Museum website.


  1. Kirsty, Enjoyed this post. Lily sounds like a remarkable woman! --Laura

  2. Lovely post! Thank you so much for sharing Lily's letter.

  3. Kirsty, what a wonderful piece of history, as well as family history, to have! Thank you for sharing it. I have on the wall a photo of my great grandfather wearing his kilt uniform (years after his service) and people always assume he was Scottish, but he was actually from Lancashire and was in a northern regiment. Lily was amazing!

  4. What a pertinent post for The International Year of the Nurse about which I blogged earlier this year at

    Thanks for sharing this story

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