Call to recognise First World War nurses at Belfast City Hall
It is part of a campaign by the Royal College of Nursing’s History of Nursing Network in Northern Ireland to remember their service.
Campaigners have called for the service of nurses in the First World War to be recognised with a permanent memorial at Belfast City Hall.
Scores of nurses left Ireland between 1914 and 1918 to serve on battlefields across the world from northern France to east Africa and Mesopotamia.
A research project by a group of retired nurses has traced the stories of some of those who deployed.
In their publication Nurses’ Voices From WW1, they record that when war was announced in August 1914, nurses from across Ireland immediately signed up for service.
The nurses they traced included Margaret Anderson from Kilkeel, who became known as the Mournes’ Florence Nightingale.
She received the Royal Red Cross for her service in the First World War, and later went on to work in Iraq before rejoining the nursing reserve at the age of 58 at the start of the Second World War, during which she took part in several sorties during the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Annie Colhoun from Londonderry served in Monastir in Tunisia during the First World War and was injured when the hospital she was working in was bombed in 1917. She was awarded the Military Medal for her bravery and devotion to duty during the attack.
Others died in service including Eveline Dawson on a hospital ship in 1917 and Rachel Ferguson from Moneymore who died of pneumonia in Italy in 1918.
Retired health workers Margaret Graham and Heather Thompson from the Royal College of Nursing’s History of the Nursing Network Northern Ireland were involved in the project.
“In the run-up to the anniversaries around World War One our history group applied for heritage lottery funding for an exhibition that we could move around the province, with that we had a mobile display and a small book that talked about the nurses from Northern Ireland that made a contribution,” Mrs Graham said.
“We came up with so many names that we felt it would be nice to try and have a plaque somewhere to commemorate the contribution these ladies have made to the war effort at a time when there was no female emancipation and when nurses were striving to have their qualification recognised through law.
A lot of them were from country areas and signed up to see the world, this was the war that was due to be over by Christmas, they were very brave, a lot died from disease and are buried in foreign lands Margaret Graham
“From our history of nursing perspective we were really impressed by what these nurses of the day did during World War One, and we would like to see that memory recognised, and we’ll be really thankful if they do agree to our request to put up this plaque.”
She added: “A lot of them were from country areas and signed up to see the world, this was the war that was due to be over by Christmas, they were very brave, a lot died from disease and are buried in foreign lands.
“As the war went on they were looking for more and more nurses to go to the frontlines, the nurses were in Egypt, in Mesopotania, in Greece, they weren’t only just in France.”
Alliance councillor Michael Long supported the bid for the plaque.
“I am delighted that this attempt to recognise the contribution by nurses in the First World War has been responded to positively by all the parties in City Hall,” he said.
“I think the plans to hold the exhibition will give visitors to City Hall the opportunity to learn more about the sacrifices of nurses in World War One.
“I also am hopeful that a permanent reminder can be installed in City Hall through the provision of a plaque and I hope that it is soon agreed as part of a proposed deal on the grounds of City Hall which should happen in the coming months.
“I was previously delighted to second the proposal to give the Freedom of the City to nurses which resulted in a wonderful event in City Hall a couple of years ago and the exhibition and plaque will hopefully allow everyone to recognise the role of nurses in the war.”
The request for the exhibition is expected to be passed by the next full meeting of the council on November 4. The plaque is set to be considered by the party group leaders.
It comes following the conferring of the freedom of the city on nurses in 2016 for their contribution during the Troubles.