Tuesday 24 January 2017

Royal Navy's pioneering women doctors

Move over Dr Stephen Maturin? Make room, Dr Roderick Random?

Britain's Royal Navy was slow to accept women medical offices, certainly at sea. A sawbones and a woman was surely a contradiction in terms, it was thought.

Today I'm just discovering the women pioneers in this field in the 1960s. Colette Green in 1963 was the Navy's first woman doctor to be commissioned for 10 years. This is picture from the Imperial War Museum that I found with great delight and surprise. IWM A 34746. Part of ADMIRALTY OFFICIAL COLLECTION

Finding these naval women is all part of the exploratory process involved in writing my new book: Women and the Royal Navy, to be published later this year by IB Taurus/National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Dr Green had a very few predecessors, seemingly less than 20. See below.

Early pioneers

1. Dr Dorothy Hare (1876-67) Medical Superintendent for the WRNS in WW1 but initially a doctor with the Royal Army medical Corps in 1916. Pictured below, courtesy of IWM.

2. Dr Genevieve Rewcastle (1897-1951) obstetrician and the Medical Superintendent for the WRNS. She had 21-25 other doctors in her team including Ailsa Whitehouse, WW2. They worked mainly with Wrens

3. Toweringly stellar pioneer and First World War veteran Louise McIlroy. In World War I she had been a leading figure the Scottish Women's Ambulance movement, including in Serbia and Salonika. In WW2 she was a consultant gynaecologist to the Second World War WRNS. Miss McIlroy (1874-1968) was the only woman among the twenty-eight civilian medical consultants for the wartime Navy and the only woman consultant to the Navy until that point.

4. Dr Patricia MacDonald, later Morley (1929-2003), c.1954. She became an ultrasound pioneer after she left the Navy

5. Dr Colette Green in 1963 (born 1934).She was especially interested in orthopaedics

And later pioneers

6. Dr Victoria McMaster (born 1961), the first woman doctor in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (the Merchant Service organisation that provides support ships to the Royal Navy).

7. Surgeon Captain Fleur Marshall, the Medical Officer in Charge of the Institute of Naval Medicine (pictured below, right). http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/-/media/royal-navy-responsive/documents/profiles/marshall-fleur.pdf

What sort of situations did RN women medics face in their early history?
~ exclusion from seagoing, which meant they could never acquire the seniority to gain a high-level career
~ Jack Tars who were embarrassed at baring their bits to ladies - or rather titillated by the idea
~ a Treasury who thought the MOs should be waged as women, not as doctors i.e. low paid (1949)
~ exclusion from the naval medical team in the Falklands Conflict (1982)

What changed?
~ From the early 1960s the acute shortage of medical and nursing personnel meant women had to be accepted or the Navy simply wouldn't have had the healthcare needed to make it operational. Women doctors were able to work on short-term contracts.
~ From 1993, naval women of all sorts were allowed to go to sea, and so their career became similar in structure to men

Today all the Navy's women doctors are seagoing. For the story of one, Surgeon Lieutenant Dr Jo Laird on HMS Somerset in 2014, go to http://www.theadventuremedic.com/features/life-royal-navy-doctor/

Queer Seas talk, Liverpool on Feb 11.

LGBTQI+ lives in the Merchant and Royal Navy.That's the title of a talk I am giving on Saturday 11 February 2017: 2.30–3.15pm.

It's in Liverpool at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock. http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/events/displayevent.aspx?EventId=32661

What's it about?

Camp men on 20th century passenger ships found seafaring queer heaven. Some even transitioned. But Royal Navy men faced the noose in the past. Many women and men were dismissed and their careers ruined until as late as 2000. Find out the contrasting LGBTQI+ history of the two navies.

Are there pictures?
You bet. Scores.

What does it cost?
It's free. No booking necessary.

Is the related Hello Sailor! Gay Life on the Ocean Wave exhibition still on at the Museum?
Yes, you can see it before or after the talk. It's displayed at the far end on the first floor. Museum is open till 5pm.

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Celebrating Wrens' centenary year

Champagne time! November 2017 marks the start of the Women's Royal Naval Service in 1917.

I myself am writing a history of not just the WRNS but also naval nurses: QARNNS and Voluntary Aid Detachments, and Reservists, as well as women and girls in the Sea Rangers and Girls' Nautical Training Corps.
It's called Women and the Royal Navy (IB Tauris/National Museum of the Royal Navy).

My book will be coming out at some point in this year. It looks at the Navy's history of working with women, from women's perspective. It covers the past 600 years to today.

One of the VADs who has been helping me by telling her story, Norah Hanson, kindly loaned this picture which shows the variety of women in naval life in World War II.

Picture shows women working together despite being in different parts of naval services: HMS Cabbala signal school sick bay personnel, 1943: Lto R on back row: the Wren steward who cleaned the ward; two Red Cross VADs; the RNVR medical officer; a St John's VAD, Norma Wilson(a Red Cross VAD), and Wren writer who did the sick berth’s clerical work.
Front row: St John's VAD and QARNNS Sister (almost certainly a Reserve).

February 18 will see the exhibition at the National Museum of the Royal Navy: ‘Pioneers to Professionals: Women and the Royal Navy’, http://www.nmrn.org.uk/news-events/nmrn-blog/special-exhibition-shares-lost-stories-celebrate-women-royal-navy. From now on there will be frequent blog items with exciting photographs. One of the main images they are using for the exhibition is also the one we will be using for the cover of my book. Other smaller exhibitions and on-line exhibits are expected too.

PICTURE: Off to Arromanches. Wrens set off for France on HMS St Helier just after D-day, 15 August 1944. From the album of Elizabeth Ashton, NMRN


The Association of Wrens and WRNS 100 are organising many celebratory activities which can be found on this website:
~ www.wrens.org.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/wrns100_events.pdf

At least two books are coming out as well as mine.They include:

~ Autumn: Hannah Roberts'academic book focused on wars: A History of the WRNS in Two World Wars (IB Tauris). https://sites.google.com/site/hannahrobertshistorian/

~ April: The 64-page version by Neil R Storey, WRNS: The Women’s Royal Naval Service a Shire publication).