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The History of British Army Nurses

If you are interested in all aspects of the history and heritage of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps and its antecedents (Army Nursing Service; Princess Christian's Army Nursing Service (Reserve); Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, Territorial Force Nursing Service, Territorial Army Nursing Service), then please visit our dedicated history site - British Army Nurses, where you will find sections which cover:


Nurses & Nursing

The information we have about individual Army nurses is arranged in the form of a wiki (like wikipedia). This allows us to connect nurses to one another, and to events and places in their own history. All the information is referenced back to source material. The wiki is fully searchable and also contains categories to make it easier to find what you are looking for. The wiki has been produced under a creative commons licence, and all content is reproduced with permission of the owner.

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Letters & Diaries

The writing of Army nurses in diaries and letters helps to illustrate the changing nature of Army nursing, and the contexts in which military nurses serve. On this site we will be publishing extracts from: the letters written home by Kate Luard from the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902); the diary, illustrated autograph book and biography of Lilian Robinson who served in WW1; the diary, audio recordings and biography of Alice McHardy who served in WW2; and reminiscences from nurses who served from the 1950s to the present day.

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The section of the site aims to give those interested in family history involving nurses, or those generally interested in nursing history an opportunity to explore some of the context and methodologies behind this research area. This includes ethics in historical research, transcribing documents, major sources of information about British Army nurses, and recognition of medals, badges and uniforms from the various Army nursing services.

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Our Latest Letters & Diaries Feature

  • WW1 Photograph Album

    Dec 29, 2019 | 10:51 am

    We recently purchased a photograph album from WW1. It belonged to Staff Nurse Cecilia Louise Unwin, Territorial Force Nursing Service. Most of the pictures are from her time working at the 1st Eastern General Hospital in Cambridge. You can see what we have learned about her so far on our website. Now we just have to decipher the faint writing in the album to identify others … and hopefully to identify a photograph of Cecilia herself.


History of the QARANC

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The QARANC Association was founded in 1947 by Dame Louisa Wilkinson DBE RRC. The Association was able to support the many thousands of members of the QAIMNS who were leaving the Service after the Second World War, having shared experiences their civilian colleagues would not have done. This continues today through Headquarters and branches countrywide.


Although a formal military nursing service did not exist in the army prior to the late 19th century, nursing care was provided to the army during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and the English Civil War and Interregnum (1642-1660) when Parliament employed nurses at the three military hospitals in London. During the 18th century, Matrons and nurses worked in military hospitals but the training and level of care was not of a high standard, this was not unique to military hospitals but typical of healthcare at the time.

Crimean War

The widespread reportage of conditions in army hospitals during the Crimean War generated a public alarm and subsequent demand for nurses to go to the Crimea and tend to the sick soldiers. Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War, wrote to Florence Nightingale asking her if she would organise a party of nurses to take to the Crimea and superintend the nursing in Scutari. Florence Nightingale was a fantastic administrator and dedicated nurse and her work in the Crimea is still remembered today. She dramatically improved conditions within the hospital at Scutari, where the majority of soldiers had been dying from disease rather than battle injuries. Her efforts in elevating the status of nursing continued after the war and she wrote copiously setting standards of care and advice on hospital administration.

Late 19th century

The Army Nursing Service was formed in 1881 and nurses accompanied the army on campaign in Egypt and the Sudan. In 1887 Princess Christian, Queen Victoria's daughter, gave her name to the Army Nursing Service Reserve and the Princess Christian's Army Nursing Service Reserve served with the British Army during the Anglo-Boer War. The force that went to South Africa was the largest ever sent abroad and nurses were desperately needed.

Formation of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS)

On 27th March 1902 Queen Alexandra became the President of the newly formed Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). Queen Alexandra was a Danish princess before she married King Edward VII and because of that she chose the cross of the Order of Dannebrog as the basis of the badge of the QAIMNS. The motto, Sub Cruce Candida, (Under the White Cross), was adopted by the Corps.

World War One

At the outbreak of war in 1914 there were just under 300 nurses in the QAIMNS, by the end of the war this had risen to 10,404 (including reservists). The nurses were well trained but the increasing mechanisation of war brought some horrific new injuries, including wounds caused by shrapnel, land mines, mortars, grenades, tanks, flame throwers and gas attacks. Army nurses served in Flanders, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Middle East and onboard hospital ships. Almost 200 army nurses died on active service and in 1916, when the Military Medal was instituted as an award for bravery, some of the first awards went to military nurses.

World War Two

With the outbreak of World War 2, nurses once again found themselves serving all over the world, including Norway, Iceland, Greece, Ceylon and South Africa. The changing working conditions and wartime shortages led to changes in uniform. Khaki slacks and battledress blouses replaced the grey and scarlet ward dress and rank insignia was adopted to signify the officer status of the nurses. In the Far East the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore led to many army nurses being captured by the Japanese and enduring the terrible hardships and deprivations of the Far East prisoner-of-war camps.

1945 onwards

At the end of the war the Army Medical Services underwent further reorganisation and on 1st February 1949 the QAIMNS became Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC). In July 1950 the first non-commissioned ranks were admitted to the Corps and in 1954 the first nurses to undertake State Registered Nurse training within the Corps successfully passed their examinations. However, the QARANC was still an all-female organisation as male nurses were members of the RAMC and it was not until April 1992 that male nurses transferred to the QARANC and female non-nursing trades transferred from the QARANC to the RAMC and RADC. (Male nurses had briefly been admitted in 1904 and wore a bronze version of the QAIMNS cape badge.)

In October 1967 the QARANC Depot and Training Establishment had a purpose built home built at the Royal Pavilion in Aldershot, where it remained until its transfer to Keogh Barracks in Mytchett in 1996.

With the expansion of the Corps, following World War Two, QA's served in the Far East, Germany, Jamaica, Bermuda, West and East Africa and the Middle East. QA's were stationed in Hong Kong in 1950 to treat casualties from the Korean War and also served in Malaya, Singapore and Borneo during the 1950s and 1960s. QA's landed at the Falkland Islands shortly after the war in 1982 to care for the sick and wounded, although the lack of accommodation meant nurses had to remain on board ship for two months. Large numbers of QA's have served in Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan and continue to serve on Operations abroad.

Army Medical Services Museum


To learn more about the Corps history or to purchase gifts, uniform items or accessories please visit the AMS Museum at Aldershot. Click this link, AMS Museum to visit their website.

Florence Nightingale Museum

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The Florence Nightingale Museum is located at St. Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth, London. More information can be found on the museum website.

A Career in Army Nursing


The QARANC employs Officers and Soldiers in both the Regular and Reserve Army, as Registered Nurses, Student Nurses, and Health Care Assistants, and we are always looking for people. If you are interested in a career as a Nurse or Health Care Assistant which also offers other great opportunities then you are just the person we are looking for. A career in the QARANC is more than a job, you will have access to extensive training and development opportunities, not just related to your job, but personal development too. You will have the opportunity to use your skills in diverse settings – wherever the Army is employed health care professionals from the QARANC are there. Right now there are QARANC personnel working around the world, including Sierra Leone, Canada, Mali, Afghanistan, Germany, and Cyprus. Being in the QARANC you will have access to, and be expected to undertake adventurous training, and you will have access to free medical and dental care, as well as robust annual leave and pension package. For information contact a member of the QARANC recruiting team on: 01276 412741, 01276 412742 or 01276 412740 or visit

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