Discover your nursing ancestor among the recipients of the Royal Red Cross Award awarded for excellence in British military nursing between 1883 and 1994.
Each record is a transcript of combined original source material, the three Royal Red Cross Registers and the announcement of the awards as it appeared in the London Gazette. The information given can vary but you could be able to find out the following about your ancestor.
There are 8,093 names of those awarded the Royal Red Cross. The names are recorded in three volumes of registers held in The National Archives (pieces WO 145/1, WO 145/2 and WO 145/3) and transcribed by the late nursing history expert Sue Light.
The Royal Red Cross was established on 27 April 1883 by Queen Victoria, who wanted a special award for the distinguished work of the women nursing sisters in South Africa. One of the earliest recipients was Florence Nightingale for her work at the Scutari Hospital during the Crimean War.
The decoration was awarded to nurses of any nationality who had distinguished themselves caring for the British military. By the end of 1915 only 246 women had received the award. The award was not simply given to British military nurses. The first recipient of WW1 was a French civilian: Eugenie Antoine was given the award “in recognition of her courageous and devoted services to the British wounded in hospital at Vailly-sur-Aisne whilst the village was under shell fire”.
The award originally came in a single class of Member. A second lower class of Associate was added during World War 1 in 1917. Holders of a second class could subsequently be promoted to first class. Those in the first class who received a further award were awarded a bar.
During the First World War, the award was conferred on many of the Commandants of the various voluntary hospitals, who had little or no nursing training or experience, while their staff went empty-handed.
Note that there are numbers of Australian and Canadian recipients within the records.
During WW2 the award was given only 1,300 times and that decline has continued ever since. It is now exclusively an award for the finest military nurses.
There are many discrepancies in the spelling of names, with many surnames differing between the London Gazette entry and the Royal Red Cross Register entry. Mis-spellings have been corrected in the Register, and this has been taken as more likely to be correct. However, where there have been two awards, months or years apart, it is not unusual to have two “official” different spellings of a surname.
Forenames are sometimes different or reversed between two entries.
The database has been checked for duplicate entries. If a woman received a second award, entries are often noted in the Royal Red Cross Register as having a previous (or later) award, and can easily be cross-referenced. Where this has not been done, some awardees have been entered twice, once for each award. Checking for duplicates resolved most of these instances, but there are two or three where it cannot be proved from the information supplied whether they refer to the same or to separate women of similar name. Leaving them as two separate entries under the same name enables the researcher to decide whether they are both relevant. Where no forenames have been given in the original, there may well be duplicates which cannot be found.
The entries in the Service field are as published in the London Gazette, although some are not strictly accurate. The Canadians suffer a little from inconsistency, having their WW1 service variously named Canadian Nursing Service, Canadian Army Nursing Service and Canadian Army Medical Corps.
The abbreviation ‘A/Matron’ can mean either Assistant Matron or Acting Matron, and unless this is clear either in the Gazette or the Register, it has been left in its original (ambiguous) form.