Nursing Notes & Midwives Chronicle, July 1916: Contributing to the War Effort

This month’s blog post was written by RCM archive volunteer Autumn St. John.

In the month that the Battle of the Somme began, the underlying theme of Nursing Notes seemed to be contribution to the British war effort. This issue of the journal reflects on the legacy of Lord Kitchener who had died on 5th June after the ship he was on, HMS Hampshire, struck a mine and sank. The piece, simply entitled “Lord Kitchener”, expresses its hope that someone as great as the iconic British Army officer might one day take up his mantle. It points out that the children of today may be the Kitcheners of tomorrow –with each new birth is the possibility that this baby might be the next Lord Kitchener and so cherishing each newly-born life and giving it the best possible environment to grow up in should be the norm.

The Women’s Imperial Health Association had joined with the Women’s Emergency Corps to publish An Every Day Directory for War Time. Nursing Notes’ short review of the publication tells us that it contains a list of more than 300 societies involved in war work and is useful to those who want to know what is being done and by whom. It also notes that half of the entries are societies set up by women to help women and children through wartime distress. The Women’s Emergency Corps itself counts as one such organisation. It was founded in 1914 specifically to contribute to Britain’s war effort, which it did by helping women to become nurses, doctors and motorcycle messengers.

Away from war-related news and views, “Some Diseases of Infants” describes the conditions covered by a recent lecture from Dr. Gordon Ley at the Midwives’ Institute. Dr. Ley lectured at the Institute twice a week during the war years and would go on to become a member of Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1947, being elected to the fellowship in 1964.

We end our look back at this issue with “The Song of the Sand-bag”. Yes, the humble sandbag by this stage in the war had achieved such legendary status that a soldier in the trenches felt moved to write an ode to it. It begins like this:

Our Pal – The Sandbag.

The sandbag is a wondrous thing

To us in France to-day,

He’s used for every kind of job,

In every kind of way.


A suit of clothes he makes complete

When your uniform is wet;

And if he’s stuffed with dirt or sand

Makes a dandy parapet.


We use him every night, you know,

To bring the rations up;

And afterwards as a tablecloth

On which to have our “sup.”


“If torn to shreads [sic] and greased a bit

With candle fat, he’s fine –

On which to boil a cup of tea,

A stove for any time.


Those are only half of the verses but you get the idea – sandbags were absolutely vital to the Front, putting into context just how important initiatives like the Nursing Notes’ very own Sandbag Fund were to the British war effort.

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