Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps

In World War II, the nursing corps was known as the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). Each QA had an officer status but no actual rank. However in 1941 a rank structure was introduced to bring the QAs into line with the rest of the British Army. QAs wore rank badges and were able to be promoted from Lieutenant through to Brigadier.

At the outbreak of World War Two there were about 640 regular members of the QAIMNS. This number was increased with the mobilisation of the QAIMNS(R) and the TANS (Territorial Army Nursing Service).

As the war progresses and QAs found themselves in dressing stations and field hospitals their impractical ward dresses and veils were no longer worn. Instead they wore more practical battle dress and khaki from around 1942.

Privacy was difficult for QAs in a mans world. In her book Desert Nurse: A World War II Memoir Betty C Parkin describes using a canvas bath and the joys of discovering a convent that allowed the nurses to use their baths.

Initial recruitment for army nurses was so successful that large numbers of highly qualified staff nurses joined as a QA. In 1943 and for the rest of of the Second World War a restriction was put into place that decreed that only newly qualified nurses could enlist. This now meant that more experienced nurses stayed in Britain to care for civilian air raid casualties and nurse seriously wounded soldiers who had been evacuated back to Britain.

QAs and medical officers were estimated to have saved up to 15% of lives with the new super drug penicillin. This new antibiotic was used extensively for military patients who had undergone amputation and other major operations or had extensive wounds. QAs would administer penicillin every three hours and often would no sooner finish one drug round of penicillin injections than they would have to start all over again. Even preparing the wonder drug was time intensive and these early preparations would have to be drawn up from their orange yellow coloured powder and mixed with sterile saline - no easy to pop and draw up ampoule for WWII QAs.

Nor was there easy to use disposable syringes and needles. Each life saving penicillin injection was administered with a glass syringe and had to be sterilised between usage. The syringes were wrapped in gauze and boiled but would often crack in the steriliser despite the best care of the QA Sisters.