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History of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps

Origins of the QARANC

Although a formal military nursing service did not exist in the army prior to the late 19th century, nursing care was provided to the army during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and the Civil Wars of the 1640s when Parliament employed nurses at the three military hospitals in London.

During the 18th century, Matrons and nurses worked in military hospitals but the training and level of care was not of a high standard, this was not unique to military hospitals but typical of healthcare at the time.‍

Improving conditions

The widespread reporting of conditions in army hospitals during the Crimean War generated public alarm and demand for nurses to go to the Crimea and tend to sick soldiers. Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War, wrote to Florence Nightingale asking her if she would organise a party of nurses to take to the Crimea and superintend the nursing in Scutari.

Nightingale was an able administrator and dedicated nurse, and her reforms following the conflict led to the creation of the first nursing schools and the professionalisation of nursing. She dramatically improved conditions within the hospital at Scutari, where the majority of soldiers had been dying from disease rather than battle injuries.

Her efforts in elevating the status of nursing continued after the war and she wrote copiously setting standards of care and advice on hospital administration.

Late 19th century

The Army Nursing Service was formed in 1881 and nurses accompanied the army on campaign in Egypt and the Sudan. In 1887 Princess Christian, Queen Victoria’s daughter, gave her name to the Army Nursing Service Reserve and the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service Reserve served with the British Army during the Anglo-Boer War.

The force that went to South Africa was the largest ever sent abroad and nurses were desperately needed.‍

Formation of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS)

On 27 March 1902 Queen Alexandra became the President of the newly formed Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). Queen Alexandra was a Danish princess before she married King Edward VII and she chose the cross of the Order of Dannebrog as the basis of the badge of the QAIMNS.

The motto, Sub Cruce Candida (Under the White Cross), was adopted by the Corps.

Rapid expansion

At the outbreak of war in 1914 there were just under 300 nurses in the QAIMNS, by the end of the war this had risen to 10,404 (including reservists). The nurses were well-trained but the increasing mechanisation of war brought some horrific new injuries, including wounds caused by shrapnel, landmines, mortars, grenades, tanks and gas attacks. Army nurses served in Flanders, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Middle East and aboard hospital ships.

Almost 200 army nurses lost their lives in active service — and in 1916, when the Military Medal was instituted as an award for bravery, some of the first awards went to military nurses

Nursing around the world

With the outbreak of the Second World War, nurses once again found themselves serving all over the world, including Norway, Iceland, Greece, Ceylon and South Africa. The changing working conditions and wartime shortages led to changes in uniform. Khaki slacks and battledress blouses replaced the grey and scarlet ward dress and rank insignia was adopted to signify the officer status of the nurses.

In the Far East the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore led to many army nurses being captured by the Japanese and enduring the terrible hardships and deprivations of the Far East prisoner-of-war camps‍. The popular BBC series 'Tenko' was based on the experiences of Margot Turner, a nurse in the QAIMNS.

1945 onwards

At the end of the war the Army Medical Services underwent further reorganisation and on 1 February 1949 the QAIMNS became Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC). In July 1950 the first non-commissioned ranks were admitted to the Corps and in 1954 the first nurses to undertake State Registered Nurse training within the Corps successfully passed their examinations. However, the QARANC was still an all-female organisation as male nurses were members of the RAMC and it was not until April 1992 that male nurses transferred to the QARANC.

Following the Second World War, QAs served in the Far East, Germany, Jamaica, Bermuda, West and East Africa and the Middle East. QAs were stationed in Hong Kong in 1950 to treat casualties from the Korean War and also served in Malaya, Singapore and Borneo during the 1950s and 1960s. QAs landed at the Falkland Islands shortly after the war in 1982 to care for the sick and wounded, although the lack of accommodation meant nurses had to remain onboard ship for two months.

Large numbers of QAs have also served in the conflicts of the 1990s and early twenty-first century, as well as their involvement in humanitarian work.‍


Colonel-in-Chief: The Countess of Wessex GCVO GCStJ CD

Corps Day: 27th March

Date of Royal Warrant: 27th March 1902

Current Representative Colonel Commandant: Col. Kevin Davies

Find out more about the QARANC

History of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps

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