William Davey in uniform while serving with the Dragoon Guards. (Papers of W Davey, Documents 62/179/1)
As part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust, I catalogued some of the IWM’s medical collections which had hitherto been largely unavailable to researchers. A major dividend from making these newly catalogued collections more accessible is that some are now on display in the new exhibition at IWM North, Saving Lives: Frontline Medicine in a Century of Conflict (13 October 2012 to 1 September 2013).
The papers of William Davey who served in the ranks with the Dragoon Guards and the Labour Corps on the Western Front, record the effects of his service on his health. He was awarded a War Badge in December 1917, having received an honourable discharge due to ill health. On display are his Discharge Certificate releasing him from the Army as ‘no longer physically fit’ in November 1917; a Ministry of Pensions Notification of Final Award dated 1930, providing a full ‘a pension for life’ and a Ministry of Pensions letter dated 17 March 1933 informing his widow after his death (from the effects of gas) that she would not be eligible for a widow’s pension (but could apply for one).
A photograph of and letter from Nursing Sister D M L Crewdson (August 1918) about the award of her Military Medal. IWM DOCS 62/135/1
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work since I joined the Research Department has been cataloguing IWM’s medical collections. This was part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust to expand our understanding and online coverage of the experiences and participation of medical personnel and their patients in various conflicts since 1900. Working my way through boxes of diaries and letters, I wrote synopses for each of a large number of our collections which has now made it easier for researchers to locate material relevant to the history of medicine.
One of the joys of this research was discovering the personal experiences of medical staff who served during the two world wars. One particularly moving collection contained the letters written home by Dorothea Crewdson, who as a nurse on the Western Front became one of the few women to be awarded the Military Medal for bravery. After being wounded when her hospital at Etaples was bombed by the Germans in May 1918, Nursing Sister Crewdson refused treatment in order to continue to tend to her patients. Tragically, she died from peritonitis just after the war had ended, on 12 March 1919 aged just 32, and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery.
One of the collections catalogued by Dr Simon Robbins: A photograph of and letter from Nursing Sister D M L Crewdson (August 1918) about the award of her Military Medal. IWM DOCS 62/135/1
A delegation comes from the Wellcome Trust – to hear what we are doing on the medical history front. It’s a great opportunity to let them hear and see just how strong are our collections on this topic. Inevitably the medical treatment of wounded soldiers is a running theme in our collections – whether recruiting posters for Red Cross nurses in the First World War or films urging soldiers to protect themselves against malaria in the Second. But there are wider themes you can explore here too – there are few aspects of war which did not impinge on health also.
Dr Simon Robbins is our medical expert and he talks through the work he has done this year – the Wellcome Trust has just supported a major cataloguing project of our collections of letters and diaries written by medical personnel. We’re hoping to expand our understanding and online coverage of this massive subject – linking up with other archives so that specialists can see who has what.