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From Khaki Into Grey

From Khaki Into Grey


This year the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) celebrates its 75th anniversary. While the Corps is celebrating this milestone with events around the country, we thought it would be instructive to look back at the formation of the Corps in 1949, from its origins as a civilian service.

The Background

The forerunner of the QARANC, the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, was founded in 1902, and carried out duties in South Africa and the First and Second World Wars, as well as humanitarian operations around the globe. On many occasions the nurses of the service were recognised by awards for bravery and service with many paying the ultimate sacrifice. During the Second World War, for the first time, nurses were prisoners of war, suffering unimaginable horrors in Far East Prisoner of War camps, where, despite themselves suffering from malnutrition, tropical diseases, and inhuman treatment by their captors, they continued to carry out their nursing duties to the highest standards possible to those imprisoned with them.

At the end of World War One those members who chose not to stay in the service were at the forefront of registration of nurses and the creation of the National Health Service and they have been referred to as ‘The March of the Matrons’.

Although the officers of the Service were becoming more accepted within the military organisation, post-World War Two they still did not have equal status with male officers in the army. Their ranks were the same as those of other Women’s Services.

Given the role of the Women’s Services during the Second World War, there was government support after the conflict to “raise and maintain forces consisting of or including women,” that they “may be granted and may hold commissions to serve as officers therein.” With the passing of the Army and Air Force (Women’s Services) Act in 1948, changes to two women’s Services were announced by the War Office on 17 January 1949 to the effect that they were to be constituted into Corps. The ATS became the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) in the Regular and Territorial Armies, and the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service became the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC) from 1 February 1949.


With this transition in mind, on 8 June 1948, a final Drumhead Service was held at the QAIMNS depot of Anstie Grange in the presence of Queen Mary. Behind the scenes much work had gone on concerning the transformation of the QAIMNS to a Corps. For example, the QARANC Association was created on 11 October 1948. It was recognized that most regiments and Corps in the army have their own associations with friendly aspirations, and that the new Corps should have a distinct organisation for these activities. After the first month, Association membership stood at 260, and by early 1950 it had risen to 1,891. Branches were also established: the first being the Scottish and the second the Australian, both in 1950.

Subject to the King’s approval, Queen Mary agreed to become Colonel in Chief  of the new Corps although she would not actually assume that title for a while.

One of the delays was the subject of rank structure. The Army Council (as it was then known) would not agree to the new Corps having normal military ranks but would use those currently used by the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

On 1 February 1949 the new Corps officially came into existence with the signing of the Royal Warrant, although 27 March was chosen by the Corps itself as its celebration day. It will be recalled that 27 March was when the QAIMNS was established by Royal Warrant.

The Territorial Army Nursing Service (the TANS) would become the QARANC (TA) or the officers had the option of joining the Regular Army Reserve of Officers.

That day was not without a hiccup. In the newspapers of the day, under Royal Appointments, Queen Mary was shown as Commander in Chief of the QARANC. Her Private Secretary wrote to the Matron in Chief, Ann Thompson, expressing how very much annoyed Her Majesty was by the ludicrous mistake. This was rectified in the press the next day.

The Cap badge of the new Corps barely changed. The new Corps carried over the motto “Sub Cruce Candida” and the cross of the Order of Dannebrog from its Service days.

The new flag was flown. The flag we know today.

Over the next couple of years things moved at a fast pace. Short service commissions of 2, 3, or 4 years were granted as an interim measure pending the build-up of the Corps to its peacetime establishment. Candidates were required to be British subjects with British parentage, and on the general register of the General Nursing Council.

A new uniform was adopted – a ward dress of grey linen moygashel – a well-tailored dress, with a fine grey woollen dress for Matrons and Deputy Matrons. The new walking out uniforms were similar to the new WRAC design but carried out in grey and scarlet.

This new uniform even attracted press attention. The Scotsman of Saturday 5 November 1949 detailed the new uniforms for both the WRAC and the QA’s. The paper said that it had taken two months to find suitable uniforms for both Corps and that some earlier designs submitted by leading dress designers had been rejected as being “too glamorous.”

The New Corps

The QARANC Depot moved to Ontario Camp, Hindhead, and the barracks was renamed Queen Alexandra Barracks.  It was there on the opening of the new camp on 13 September 1950 that the Corps March ‘Grey and Scarlet’ was first played to the assembled great and the good of not only QARANC but also the Army and RAMC. 500 spectators saw three companies march on parade, an RAMC company, a QA Officers Training Company of 24, and a QA Recruit Training Company of 37.

It was in July 1950 that the first non-commissioned ranks were admitted into the Corps and Pte Ann Catherall was the first with a regimental number of 0/100001. On the parade in September 1950 she was presented with a clock to commemorate the occasion.

Intakes of other rank recruits was fortnightly and by November 1950 over 200 were undergoing training.

Many ORs became Ward Stewardesses, more recently renamed Healthcare Assistants.

The first Director Army Nursing Services (DANS) and Matron-in-Chief (Army) for the new Corps was Brigadier Dame Anne Thomson DBE, RRC, KHNS, from 1949 to 1952, while Queen Mary was the first Colonel-in-Chief and Patron of the Association.

1950 also saw the rank status change from the old Auxiliary Territorial Service ranks to those of the rest of the army, and so by now the Corps was established on a par with others, with the same status, and would go on to provide care to the armed forces around the world of the highest standard, always under the banner of the white cross.

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