These letters were received by the VAD nurse Rose Mary Savage during World War One from a range of people in her life. They offer an insight into the vital role – both medical and pastoral – that nurses played in the recuperation of soldiers.
Who was Rose Mary Savage?
Rose Mary Savage (1893–1983) was living in Ireland at the outbreak of World War One. She first joined the Ulster Volunteer Hospital in Belfast in January 1916, serving up to seven hours a day for three months, after which she applied to serve overseas (f. 35). By July, Savage had been posted to the No. 12 General Hospital in Rouen, France – her first day coinciding with the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. Savage remained in Rouen for over two years (July 1916 to 20 January 1919). Her hard work did not go unnoticed: in December 1917 she received a mention in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatches for her ‘distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty’.
The movement of soldiers in war
The course of triage followed by the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) often meant that injured soldiers were caught up in a constant stream of movement. The majority of soldiers writing to Savage had been treated at No. 12 General Hospital and were then sent to convalesce in ‘Blighty’. They were sorted into categories, dependant on their injuries, and transported from Rouen to London Waterloo (via Southampton) where they were dispatched to specialist hospitals.
This meant that battalions, who would often be treated within close proximity to each other along the Western Front, were subsequently split up for specialist care ‘back home’.
Relationship with soldiers
Within this set of letters, there are numerous examples of genuine friendships that had developed between Savage, her colleagues and the patients in their care. Many of the correspondents ask after other nurses, provide personal updates (including the progress of their recovery) and thank Savage for her kindness.
The letters also show how the wounded regarded nurses as useful points of contact while being transferred between hospitals. In the letters penned by ‘Snowy’ (ff. 61–62) and Stanley J Noble (ff. 63–64), the men use the exchange to pass on information and catch up with the progress of the friends they left behind.
What else do these letters tell us?
Lieutenant W W Brown (ff. 46–47), who was recovering in Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital in 1916, discusses ‘The Rebellion’ – also known as the Easter Rising of April 1916 – and states his hope that ‘“Home Rule” is properly finished now’.
Stanley J Noble (ff. 63–64) discusses the arrival of the ‘Yanks’ (United States of America) in 1917, and details how the USA military absorbed control of existing hospitals in France, including No. 12 General Hospital.
 Miss Rose Mary Savage, VAD Cards, RedCross, (1919), <http://www.redcross.org.uk/About-us/Who-we-are/History-and-origin/First-World-War/Card?sname=savage&page=4&id=183943&forwards=true>
 Letter from Field-Marshal, Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, (7 November 1917), as published in The London Gazette, no.30421 (11 December 1917), p. 12907. Rose Mary Savage’s name appears in a later supplement of The London Gazette (24 December 1917), p. 13488.
Dear Nurse Savage
I am very sorry to hear that you also
intend to leave us. However I must not try
and wage you to stay when your people wish you
to take up work else where. And I only think
that your short stay here may be of benefit to
you in your new undertaking.
It was very kind of you to come and help
us. And I much appreciate your willing
help. And will be at all times
pleased to help you in any way. If you give my
name as a reference to the Red+. I will fill in
your recommendation form with pleasure.
You will have finished your months night duty on
the 3rd of April. And are entitled to leave them _
Janet D Bruce
7070. Black Watch
U . V . F Hospital
May. 7. 16
Dear Nurse Savage,
Many thanks for the lovely cake
which you sent, & which I enjoyed imensely.
It was indeed kind of you to remember me
I went through my operation, & am on the high road
to recovery. I don't know whether the operation will be
successful or not, in the end. Apart from the pain I
have in the wound, I still have some of my old
painds, which make me dubious, & doctor Ray says
that time will perhaps chase away all pains
Lets hope it will be soon. The Ward has chang-
ed a good deal once you left Nurse, & I don't
suppose you would know many faces now.
Sister Johnston has left us, & now looks after
the Sisters' Home; & that reminds me, She was
in seeing some of us, the day I got the parcel
from you, & she said that you had never
written her since you went away, & that I had
to give you her new address which is “U. V. F
Sisters' Home, University Street, Belfast. Nurse
Vernor is in the Carson Wing now. We do miss
Smith in the Ward. McLean is still here & also
Savery. The Rebellion was serious while it lasted
but thank goodness it didn't last long. I am sure
'Home Rule,' is properly finished now. If not it should
be. I am indeed sorry to hear about your friend
being wounded. I hope you will see your way to
drop me a note now & again Nurse. My Wife &
little girl are both keeping very well Nurse, thanks.
Did Nurse Howard tell you I wrote her. We
could do with you here again Nurse. I still have
my little nightcaps at 9.30pm. I think I will
stop now, trusting you are keeping well. I am
keeping alright myself up to the present
Remember me to Nurse Malcolm when you
see her next. So GoodBye. For the
Lt W. W. Brown
4530. Pte Peter Smith
17th Batt A. I. F.
No 1 Command Depot.
Perham Down. Hamp. Eng.
you will no doubt be thinking
that I have forgotten you, but that could
never be. The fact is I haven't been properly
settled since I left No 12 General.
We had an unexciting trip across the
channel to Southampton.
I went to Richmond Military Hospital,
Surrey, where I only lasted 3 days.
While there I saw “Charlie Chaplin, Bomb Boy”
He is getting along fine and looking forward
to his furlough.
I haven't seen anything of Skeen since
I left him at Waterloo station. Probably he
went to a different Hospital.
I have just got back from 14 days
furlough. I visited my old home in Scotland
and had a splendid time. I met an old
schoolgirl friend of mine (still unmarried)
and we became great friends. If I had
stayed there much longer she might have
“popped the question”.
I also stayed a few days in Whitehaven
Cumberland. Everywhere I went I was made
I suppose you will have left
Rouen long ere this, and I sincerely hope
you are in a good Hospital.
They talk about their Blightly
Hospitals, but No12 will do me.
Of course it will be different now
that the “Yanks” have got it.
Remember me kindly to Sisters
Coombs, Verling, Barrie and last but
not least Sister Smith.
Are you all in the same Hospital?
I am now in camp getting
ready for France again. I expect
to be here about a month yet.
I would like very much to
hear from you Miss Savage.
You were always very kind to me
while at No12 and I can never
forget the part you played in getting
me to Blightly.
Before concluding I wish to
thank you to your kindness and I hope some
day in the near future to meet you
under similar circumstances.
Yours very sincerely
L/Cpt. S. J. Noble 267/04
2/1 Bucks Battn
“13! Division, Ward 0/111
Dear Miss Savage,
You will notice I have arrived in “Blightly”
safe and sound so that I need not state the fact.
Before I begin relating experiences etc I wish to
thank you very much indeed for all you did for
me while I was at No12, I had a very
pleasant time indeed while there, enjoying myself
thoroughly and I know my good luck was mainly
through you. I was sorry I did not see you
before I went but it could not be helped.
We left Rouen at 9.30am on Tuesday
morning and arrived at Southampton 8am the
next morning. The trip up the river was
fine and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We did
not cross the channel till night. I expect
they were afraid of an attack of “submarinitis”.
Eastleigh is not a bad little town at
all. We are allowed out anywhere within a
mile radius between the hours of 1.30pm and
8pm. The people are very good and invitations
are very frequent.
The hospital itself is all small
little huts, each containing 5 beds, table and
chairs etc. We are waited on “hand and foot” and
live very well indeed. I do not mind staying
here for 8 weeks on even duration.
The leg is much the same, still getting
“smaller” as per usual. I am certainly not very
particular how long it is getting smalled now.
They very politely informed me yesterday I have
to be inoculated every week while it is open.
I hope they will not make up for last time.
It does seem good to be back in Blighty
again. I am just beginning to realise the
fact that I am there now.
I hope everyone is keeping quite well
in D7 especially “Squatts” Sens and “Squatts” James.
I forgot to bring the latter with me. Has
the former been marked up yet? I hope so.
Please remember me very kindly to “Squatty” (not the
kitten) and am writing to Miss Coombs. I
forget the Head Sister's (American) name but please
remember me to her. How is Pannett progressing?
I trust you are all well. Kind regards to all
I am, yours sincerely
Stanley J. Noble
- Full title:
- Letters to Rose Mary Maxwell, nee Savage, from family, friends and other acquaintances
- c. 1914 - 1919, Western Europe
- Letter / Ephemera
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- Article by:
- Emily Mayhew
- Life as a soldier, Wounding and medicine
Dr Emily Mayhew follows a wounded soldier from the battlefield to the hospital, explaining how stretcher-bearers, surgeons and nurses would help him recover and adjust to his new life.