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Hospitals, Nursing, & Relief Organisations

The First World War And Ireland

3. Hospitals, Nursing, & Relief Organisations
While some professions gained from the war others took a different view. Most of these were made up voluntary, religious or other organistions who in their own way contributed to the war effort. Examples of these separate organisations included the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Order of St John and the Red Cross.[35] (However the Irish Red Cross organisation did not exist prior to the Second World War).[36] Indeed much of the work done by the Red Cross in Ireland at this time was controlled by the British Red Cross Society, who were responsible for the unloading of hospitals ships and transferring the patients to hospitals or hospital trains. Between October 1914 and February 1919, a total of 46 hospital ships arrived in Dublin carrying an estimated 19,255 patients. [37] But this was not the only organisation to help in a purely voluntary capacity. Another was the Irish Volunteer Aid Association who had been established by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction at the beginning of the war. The aims of the association was to establish 'a Volunteer Military Medical Corps, with proper medical and nursing staffs and adequate hospital and ambulance equipment.'[38] But this was not the only aim of the association it also established classes in 'first aid, home nursing, hygiene, military sanitation, and child care.'[39]  The courses were so popular the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture, Ireland Mr. T.W. Russell in reply to a question by the Irish MP Mr. Boland stated that the number of classes that had been established until then (18 February 1915) stood at 390. Most of these were based on first aid of which there were 304 with the remaining 86 teaching 'hygiene and emergency nursing' and 'ambulance work.' The number of those who had enrolled stood at a staggering 10,000 however the need for more classes was not considered urgent.[40] However classes continued for the duration of the war.[41]

While most voluntary ambulance services worked in Ireland one exception of was the Friends (Quakers) Ambulance Unit that had been established during the Crimean and Franco-Prussian war of 1870.[42] But this was not the only relief organisation that the Quakers had established another was the War Victims Committee. But differences existed between these two relief organisations the reason was the number of men who outnumbered women in the ambulance unit, which stood at 18 to 1. [43] During the Yearly Meeting that was held in Dublin in 1916, the Munster Quarterly Meeting reported that 'one of our members'[44] had been engaged in work with the Friends Ambulance Unit.[45] However as the report does not give the gender one can only suspect the member is male. But this is not to say that Quaker women did not help in relief work as this would be untrue, two of these who were singled out for their work was Bonville Fox and A. Ruth Fry. Fox was one of the rare Quaker women who worked with the Friends Ambulance Unit in France where the unit established a convoy between the French and other armies, as well as hospital ships and trains. But these were not the only work that the Unit had established it also helped in two hospitals in England. [46] As well as these reports from the Ambulance Unit, the meeting also received reports from the War Victims Relief Committee that was headed by A. Ruth Fry.

Fry had established a relief committee in Russia (in 1916) where conditions were extremely harsh, which restricted what work the relief committee could engage in. However this did not stop Fry or her companions from offering what help they could which was mostly 'the promotion of industries and other constructive work'[47] that the committee believed would help the local peasantry. The committee also had to deal with the extreme cold, and the constant fear of typhoid and other epidemics, which were exasperated by the poor living conditions of the peasant population in which Fry and her companions worked with. Again the problems did not end here. Another was the lack of qualified doctors or for that matter any other qualified medical staff, this left the feldscher (the local medical auxiliary who had some medical training) to help to alleviate the constant threat of epidemics. However many of these were serving in the Russian army. As well as these concerns, another problem was lack of communication between the between the committee and the local peasantry to those refugees who could speak some German.[48] By the end of the following year, (1917) much of the work that had been established by the War Victims Relief Committee had come to an end mostly due to the political upheaval that occurred following the Russian Revolution of October 1917. [49]

While many of the voluntary organisations concerned themselves with the wounded and dying, others believed in helping the living. One of these was the contribution of University College Corks' War Work Guild, which was established in November 1915. The Guild president was Lady Windle (the university's president's wife) with a Mrs. Alexander  as the Guild's Honorary Secretary. The aim of the guild was to help in the organising wives of staff members and women students in supplying sand bags, hospital bags, socks, mittens as well as other items of assorted nature which were sent to troops in the Irish Regiments at the front, or to sailors who were stationed in Berehaven Co. Cork.[50] By the war's end the guild had receipts in money totalling £483 10 2, with a further 3,894 articles that had been collected or despatched. As well as these the guild had also prepared 2,790 Sphagnum dressings. But this was not the only work of the guild. It also raised a further £231 0 5 for books and newspapers for the soldiers as well as supplying regular food parcels to 22 prisoners of war who had been held in Germany during the war.[51]  But the women students and staff of University College Cork were not the only ones to help in this way. Another University whose women students and graduates contributed to helping with the war was Dublin University who as early as 1914 established a voluntary hospital at 19, Mountjoy Square and a Belgian Refugee Hospital, run by a Miss Ethel Hannan, at Beresford Place.[52] During the course of the war the hospital that had been established by the women students in Dublin received 461 patients. Moreover the hospital had a volunteer staff that numbered almost 2,000 people. But this was not the only hospital that had a purely volunteer staff, Dublin city had a further 12 with another 8 outside Dublin. These included hospitals in Westmeath, Cork, Kildare and Louth.[53]. But one point remains, how unfortunate it is that historians remember  Ireland's contribution and not the Irish public. Has LEST WE FORGET become WE HAVE FORGOT!

Author: Dave Hennessy

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