To Sir Nicholas Houghton, Chief of the Defence Staff, and
Sir Nicholas Carter, Chief of the General Staff, September 2015
Lord Soley, as chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Fund Appeal, has announced that he has approached the army, not specifying at what level, regarding a memorial garden to be identified with Mary Seacole, with seats named in honour of nurses killed in conflict zones. Since there is a plan to have a Seacole statue in the garden of St Thomas’ Hospital, perhaps the intention is to expand that site-currently an eyesore-for the purpose. Or perhaps he has asked the Army to find a site. Could you clarify if any inquiries are in progress?
You may or not be aware of the close connection of St Thomas’ Hospital with Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), who headed the first team of British women to nurse in war. The nursing school she founded at St Thomas’, the first in the world, and which trained army nurses as well as civilian, was paid for by a fund raised in her honour, largely by the army, late in the Crimean War. That site remained the headquarters of nursing for more than a century, sending out trained nurses to introduce professional standards in hospitals throughout Britain and the world.
Mary Seacole was a businesswoman who ran, in effect, an officers’ club 1855-56. It was not a hospital or clinic, and she did not nurse the sick and wounded on the battlefield, as is so often claimed. She visited the local Land Transport Corps Hospital, near her business, to distribute magazines at it and send the occasional treat. This voluntary work was much appreciated, but to confuse it with the founding of the modern profession of nursing is nonsense.
Mrs Seacole sometimes called a “battlefield nurse,” when her forays onto the battlefield happened on three occasions, post-battle, after selling sandwiches and wine to spectators. She missed the first three, major, battles of the war as she was busy in London attending to her gold-mining investments (she had previously been in Panama with a business for men heading for the California Gold Rush). This is perfectly clear in her memoir, but her campaigners instead claim that she rushed to London to volunteer as a nurse!
We would be happy to furnish further details if any consideration is to be given to this memorial garden proposal. A website is available: www.maryseacole.info/
There is much to be said for the idea of a memorial garden for nurses, but it should be linked to real nurses who did give their lives to nurse in war.
(signed by 15 members of the Nightingale Society)