CRIMEAN AND BOER WARS
Written by Steve Lawes, CW+ Heritage Officer
The first international conflict that we know the Westminster Hospital played a role in was the Crimean War of 1853-1856. An alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia defeated the Russian Empire, in a dispute over control of the Holy Land. During this war, several Westminster Hospital nurses were working with Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing. In a letter sent by Miss Nightingale to the House Committee from Scutari Hospital, dated 13th August 1854, she mentioned one Miss Mary Tattersall, who wished to send £5 to the Westminster Hospital, “being the first money she had earned; which she wished to give to the place where she had received so much kindness.” 1
Later, during the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), several physicians and medical students from Westminster Hospital were present in the conflict. The group landed in South Africa on 6th April 1900, having collided with and sunk another ship, the RMSS Mexican, two days previously. When the crew arrived, they, “marched 1269 miles: as the wagons were drawn by mules this was a most educational journey. On 7th June the Field Hospital became prisoners of a Boer commando, led by General Christian de Wet, at Roodewal Station, where some 500 men of the Derby militia were surrounded and captured. However, they were rescued by the British forces on 12th June.” 2
This crew included Dr A. H. Evans, who’s stethoscope the hospital still holds in its archive. In 1902, Dr Evans was appointed Assistant Surgeon to the Hospital, before later being made Head Surgeon. He went on to become the first surgeon in the world to successfully remove a cancer from the upper end of the oesophagus, in 1909.
1, 2 Westminster Hospital 1716–1974, by J.G. Humble and Peter Hansell.