In Summer 1916, the first Military Medals were awarded for gallantry under fire. Thousands of MMs were awarded during the war, including over a hundred to nurses. One of the first nurses to be decorated was a Londoner: Beatrice Allsop.
The Military Medal was introduced in March 1916 as an other ranks gallantry award, matching the officers-only Military Cross (established in 1914). In June 1916 the first men to be awarded the MM were announced – at the same time, it was extended to be awarded to women as well. The first list of female recipients was announced in early September 1916:
The Lady Dorothie Mary Evelyn Feilding (Monro Motor Ambulance).
Matron Miss Mabel Mary Tunley, R.R.C., Q.A.I.M.N.S.
Sister Miss Beatrice Alice Allsop, Q.A.I.M.N.S. (R.).
Sister Miss Norah Easeby, Q.A.I.M.N.S. (R.).
Staff Nurse Miss Ethel Hutchinson, Q.A.I.M.N.S. (R.).
Staff Nurse Miss Jean Strachan Whyte, T.F., N.S.
Beatrice Alice Allsop was born in Wandsworth in 1882 and trained at the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’s Hospital from 1906 to 1910. She then became a Sister at the Seamen’s Hospital in Greenwich, and returned to St Thomas’s as a Charge Nurse in November 1913. She went out to France as part of the QAIMNS in August 1914, with No. 7 General Hospital.
In August 1916, Nurse Allsop was serving at No 33 casualty clearing station at Bethune. On 7 August it was hit by a German 15-inch shell. Several of the nurses were injured: Allsop was wounded while in the operating theatre, while Easeby and Whyte were hit by flying glass and splinters and Hutchinson was knocked to the floor. Nonetheless, the nurses successfully moved the 260 patients in the station to safety in the cellars and continued their work through hours of shelling.
The war diary of the matron-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force for 9 August records her visit to the CCS:
Left at 8am for the Front. Arrived at St. Omer, where I went to Mess to see Miss Tunley and the Sisters who had been shelled out of Bethune. They apparently behaved with conspicuous bravery. 204 patients were carried to the cellars. 2 operations were done under the bombardment, which had begun. Shelling continued for 3 hours, shells falling into the town at intervals of 10 minutes. 2 of the Sisters were slightly wounded from broken glass from windows. Most of the Chapel in the courtyard was absolutely destroyed, and many lorries and their drivers blown to atoms. The Surgeon-General said no praise was great enough for anyone of them, that men and women worked alike in a calm manner, and there was no confusion.
The nurses were then decorated with the ribbons of their medals on 17 August, as the matron-in-chief recorded:
Left early for 1st Army. I went to HQ, saw General Pike. Learnt that 5 of the Nurses from Bethune were to get the Military Medal, and that the GOC was going to present the ribbon to them. […] On to Bethune with the General, where I saw the damage that had been done. The whole of the East end of the Church had been destroyed, and over 2000 window panes broken in the schools where the CCS is established. Seven of the Nursing Staff had returned, it being considered safe. They are accommodated in a solid stone building with a large cellar. All repairs had been completed, and the rooms had been repainted. When I looked at this enormous building with the narrow winding stairs, it seemed remarkable how the patients had been carried to the cellars.
Beatrice Allsop and her fellow nurses acted with great bravery on that August day in Bethune. The experience of shelling must have been terrifying, but they calmly got on with their jobs. These nurses were worthy first female recipients of the Military Medal.
(The MM was discontinued in 1993, since when officers and other ranks have been eligible for the Military Cross. The first woman to be awarded the MC was a medical orderly from the West Midlands: Michelle Norris in 2007)
Scarlet Finders (and excellent resource on nurses in the Great War)