At the outbreak of World War One it was recognised that there would not be enough professionally qualified nursing staff in the country to support the number of casualties that might be expected from the front. To help boost the numbers of medical staff available civilian groups were rapidly set up by concerned citizens to teach themselves the basics of first aid and nursing to assist those who were already qualified. This assistance was not always appreciated at first by the professionals but as war went on was to become increasingly important as medical services were pushed to breaking point. Some local authorities did encourage these enthusiastic amateurs and London County Council published some aide memoires for those learning nursing at home. Tonight we have an example of one of these, being a ‘Schedule of Infectious Diseases for Home Nursing Classes’:This trifold card was first issued in October 1914 at the very start of the great War, however there must have been a subsequent print run as we can tell by the printer’s code that this copy was one of a batch of 10,000 printed on the 23rd June 1915:Inside is a list of common infectious diseases, how long it takes for symptoms to be seen, what early indicators are and how long the patient needs to be in isolation depending on whether a disease is suspected or confirmed:The range of diseases listed is very wide and most are today vaccinated against or treatable with antibiotics. This was not an option in 1914 so isolation became far more important to prevent the spread of the disease and stop an epidemic which could take the lives of many, especially the young. This risk was all the more prevalent in wartime with troops moving around the country and thus able to spread the diseases much more quickly than would have normally been the case.
An article published in the Daily Mail in September 1915 entitled ‘Woman’s Part in the War’ set out the importance the country placed on nursing and how it was seen as a suitable outlet for women’s patriotic fervour:
No able-bodied woman is the worse for some knowledge of the common sense elements of nursing. It is not known at what moment that knowledge may be turned to account. It may be useful at any time and now particularly.
As the war proceeds many homes may have convalescents from wounds and disease to care for.
Whatsoever may be the cause of his invalidism, the returned soldier will need good nursing and skilful care: the nurse must know just the right thing to do or otherwise she will retard her patient’s recovery.