October 20, 2010

Sisters of Mercy face the nursing challenge

The 13th of August this year marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Florence Nightingale. As the nation remembers the ‘lady with the lamp’ and her enduring association with pioneering nursing during the Crimean War, the Sisters of Mercy can reflect upon their significant role in military nursing in the Crimea.

The archives of the Sisters of Mercy are capsules of memory for our history, and remind us of the role of the Sisters over 150 year ago in the Crimea. Although not elaborating on any details of the difficult nursing situation, the following letter written from Scutari Barracks Hospital in January 1856, by ‘Sister Mary Martha’ to her parents, reminds us of the challenge faced by the Sisters, and the appreciation of Florence Nightingale for their support. The second letter, written by Florence Nightingale to Sister Stanislaus in 1886, shows how this appreciation fostered in Nightingale a long-standing respect for, and connection with, the Sisters of Mercy.

Extracts from letters taken from St John & St Elizabeth archive, Union of the Sisters of Mercy of Great Britain

St Mary Martha from Scutari Barracks Hospital, 23rd January 1856

“How pleased we are to get out of all the Soldiers and strange people we have been surrounded by lately … last night I saw Miss Nightingale who was most kind & spoke most kindly of our coming out & of Revd Mother & the Sisters already here. We must all pray hard that all may be to the glory and honour of God … I would not like you to expect any more letters from here as the time is more than filled”

Florence Nightingale to Sister Stanislaus Jones, 30th December 1886

“Life is too busy for both of us to look back upon the Crimea much. But when I think of it I always look back upon you, dearest Sisters, in the little funeral hospital at Balaclava. And dear, dear Revd Mother at Scutari, now a Saint in heaven.”

This shows how important and fascinating our day to day correspondences can be for future generations - let us aim to preserve and use them!

Jenny Smith

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