Mary Ann Brown – A
Mary Brown (right back).
Imperial War Museum, Department of Documents.
Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS)
was formed on 27th March 1902. Queen Alexandra chose the
Order of Dannebrog as the basis of the badge for the Corps and
the motto Sub Cruce Candida (under the white cross)
was adopted as their motto.
QAIMNS nurses served in military hospitals and onboard hospital
ships, which were theoretically “safe” postings.
However in practice both land hospitals and hospital ships were
attacked and nurses lost their lives.
Reserve nurse Mary Ann Brown’s diary reflects
the danger of working as a nurse. On December 16th 1915 she said:
“The hospital on the beach was blown up by the Turks yesterday,
there were 16 patients in it. I think they were all killed”
Brown was born on October 8th 1883 to George and Mary Brown
in the Parish of Lairg, Sutherland, Scotland. Her father was
an agricultural labourer.
|Detail from Mary Ann Brown's birth record.
This document was obtained from the
General Register Office Scotland. Birth 1883 RD 53 (Lairg) entry 30
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Brown joined QAIMNS as a sister in August 1914 and served until
she was demobilized in March 1919. During that time she worked
in the UK, Egypt, India and Mesopotamia in military hospitals
and aboard hospital ships.
Her first posting overseas was to Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria
is the second largest city in Egypt and its main port.
The city's strategic importance meant that it served as the main
British naval base in the Mediterranean during both World War
I and World War II.
Brown (3rd from left) on a donkey ride at Montazah. Imperial
War Museum, Department of Documents. Ref: 88/7/1
In her dairy, Brown writes of her first sight of the city on
May 21st 1915:
“… about 4.30 we saw a sandy shore with a few straggly
palm trees, then bit by bit Alexandria began to appear. It seems
a very large town and the docks are the largest I have ever seen.
The bay is simply crowded with troopers and other kinds of ships… I
counted 22 troop ships”
Possibly due to overcrowding in the port, Brown and her companions
were unable to disembark for several days. Everyone aboard the
ship grew restless and several of the men arranged boxing matches
to pass the time, causing them to sustain injuries that Brown
regarded as “rather stupid”. After 3 days they were
allowed to leave the carrier ship and Brown had her first experience
“The children are funny black fuzzy headed things… some
of the women are very stout”
Mary Brown's Diary. Imperial War Museum, Department
of Documents. Ref: 88/7/1
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Brown remained in Alexandria until June 3rd 1915, working at
the 19th General Hospital and then the 15th General Hospital
before transferring to the hospital ship Devanha where she remained
until she returned to England in leave on September 15th.
After a short period in England and further temporary duty at
the 15th General Hospital in Alexandria she returned to the Devanha
on October 27th 1915 and remained there until May 23rd 1916.
Her diary shows her time onboard as either being chaotically
busy or crushingly dull. In a typically understated way she records
the night of January 23rd 1916 as “eventful”:
“About 5.30 a submarine or torpedo boat fired 6 shots
across our bows. At first the captain slowed down but as they
kept firing, he went full steam ahead. We are now going at 15 ¼ knots
an hour, the enemy ship may still be chasing us, it’s too
dark to see. We all have our lifebelts ready in case of anything
On June 13th 1916 Brown was transferred to India. She served
at Freeman Thomas Hospital, Bombay, Deccan War Hospital, Poona
and Cumballa War Hospital, Bombay until January 1917 when she
was sent to No 3 British General Hospital, Basra, Iraq.
It was during her time in Basra that she experienced some of
the other non-confrontational difficulties of war. Her diary
entry on January 19th 1917 records that there have been break-ins
at the hospital. She is made to feel very nervous as she realises
she was directly outside the window while the thieves were inside:
“I will need to carry round the carving knife with me”
|Detail from Mary Ann Brown's casualty record
- active service. Army form B 103.
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She also spent two periods in hospital (June 29th – July
9th 1917 and 17th April – 6th May 1918) with Sandfly
fever and dysentery respectively
and it is during this period that her diary entries end.
Detail from letter from the War Office to Mary
Brown concerning her award of the Serbian Samaritan Cross medal. Imperial War
of Documents. Ref: 88/7/1
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Her service records (National Archives' Catalogue reference: WO
shows that at the end of 1918 she was transferred to duties
in the UK and returned to Alexandria during January
1919. She was granted 5 weeks leave which ended with her demobilisation
on March 8th 1919.
Mary Brown's devotion to duty did not go
unnoticed and she was awarded the Serbian Samaritan Cross, equivalent
to the Royal Red Cross medal, for her time in Salonika. She
of the Royal Red Cross medal and was mentioned in Despatches
from Lieutenant General W.R. Marshall on November 18th 1919
and distinguished services in the field".
After leaving QAIMNS Brown joined the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, now
British Petroleum and worked in Iran where she met and married
her husband, Cyril S. Cleverly.