Contact Us     |     My Account     |     Checkout



The True Story of a First World War Nurse from Crosshill

Mary Mortimer Geddes


My great aunt Mary died when I was a baby. I don’t recall meeting her. She was my father’s maternal aunt. My mother told me when I was older that she was a nurse during World War One and showed me a family album with her photo in nurse’s uniform.

When my parents died, I inherited the album. I went to look at it in 2015, as I knew there was a photo of Mary’s brother, Thomas, who was killed 100 years ago at the battle of Loos, and I wrote about him.

Sometime later, I was looking at the National Archives website and saw that nurses’ records had now been digitised. I ordered a copy of the records not knowing what I would receive. It turned out to be forty plus pages. These were not in any order and took me some time to sort. Although there are some missing, they still give a remarkably clear idea of her work as a nurse from when she enrolled in the Territorial Forces Nursing Service in 1909 until she finally retired from it (renamed Territorial Army Nursing Service in 1921) in 1933.

I had noticed in her records that although most correspondence was sent to the family home in Queen Mary Avenue, Crosshill, the occasional item was sent to the Headquarters of an organisation called the Glasgow and West of Scotland Co-Operation of Trained Nurses in Sardinia Terrace. Sardinia Terrace, I found, is not far from here, it is the  top end of Cecil Street. I later attended Hillhead Primary School, and for seven years must have – unbeknownst to me – have been very close to where my great-aunt was located.

As part of the Hidden Histories team, I made a visit to the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. In addition to the suffrage material we had asked to see, various other material relating to women’s work had been put aside for us. One of these was the 1933 Annual Report of the Nurses’ organisation-and it showed by great-aunt’s name on it! Since then I have been trying to find out more, both about where my great-aunt served and about the organisations she belonged to.

This is a timeline of her life. It includes archival details, such as the list of equipment required for overseas nurses, and her arrival at the hospital when it was a few “partially constructed buildings in a sea of mud:”


25th December 1877             

Born 3 Nellfield Place Old Machar, Aberdeenshire, and registered in 1878.


1891 CENSUS                       

Still with parents in Old Machar.



With parents at 37 Finlay Drive  Dennistoun, Glasgow.



Trained at Western Infirmary.


July 1906

Mary became a member of the Co-operation of Trained Nurses in Sardinia Terrace. This is the first time her name appears in the list of nurses in the Society. Mrs Elder, Govan philanthropist, was previously president of the co-operation.


12th March 1909       

Enrolled in Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS) as Staff Nurse. The TFNS was established by R. B. Haldane (March 1908) following the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act (1907). It was to provide nursing staff for the twenty-three territorial force general hospitals planned for the United Kingdom in the event of war. Hospitals were allocated a staff of ninety-one trained nurses and included two matrons, sisters, and staff nurses, supervised by a Principal Matron.


November 1909

A bazaar raises over £4000 for the Co-Operation.



Location unknown.


21st December 1914  

Mobilised. Stationed at Scottish Military Hospital No 3 (Stobhill)


26th September 1915

Mary’s brother is missed presumed killed at the Battle of Loos.


21st December 1915  

Still at Stobhill. Report on Mary by Matron Jean Chapman:


“Miss Mary M Geddes was mobilized on the 21st December 1914 and has served under me for twelve months. Her ward work has been very satisfactory. She has taken an interest in instructing and training the orderlies and has got good work from them. She is capable, punctual and her influence generally is very good. I think she is well suited for the position she holds at present.”


Captain John Gracie (Medical Officer at Stobhill) writes that she is “fit for active service.” Report is signed also by Principal Matron Helen Gregory Smith.

21st December 1916  

Still at Stobhill. Report on Mary by Matron Alicia Hope Kerr (originally from Leith):


“She is a good nurse, punctual, energetic, capable in her work and kind to her patients. Miss Geddes has acted Sister with satisfaction.”

4th April 1917

Mary signs Army Form W 3548 agreeing to serve overseas.


12st December 1917  

Still at Stobhill Report on Mary by Matron Alicia Hope Kerr:


“A good surgical nurse and has had experience in eyes, nose and throats and skin wards. She is punctual, energetic, reliable, and very kind to her patients. Miss Geddes is considered suitable for foreign service.”


15th December 1917 

Captain R Barclay Ness (RAMC) formally certifies that Mary is in “a fit state of health to undertake nursing duties in a military hospital abroad.”



The following articles are to be provided by all members when proceeding on active service abroad.

Uniform only is to be taken; no plain clothes are required.

An allowance of £8. 5s. for active service equipment, and £7. 10s. for camp kit will be given to each member.

1 Trunk not to exceed 30 x 24 x 12 inches
1 Hold-all
1 Cushion with washing covers.
1 Rug
1 Pair gum boots
1 Small candle lantern
1 Small oil-stove and kettle
1 Flat-iron
1 Looking glass
1 Roll-up, containing knife, fork, dessert-spoon, and teaspoon
1 Cup and saucer
1 Tea-pot or infuser
1 Secure tent strap

2 Pairs scissors
2 Pairs forceps
2 Clinical thermometers

Camp Kit
1 Portable camp bedstead
1 Bag for ditto
1 Pillow
1 Waterproof sheet, 7ft. by 4ft. 6in.
1 Tripod washstand with proofed basin, bag, and bath
1 Folding chair
1 Waterproof bucket
1 Valise or kit bag to hold the above-mentioned articles with owner’s name painted upon it.



6 a.m. Called
6. 30 a.m. Prayers
6. 35 a.m. Breakfast
7 a.m. Wards
9 a.m. Light lunch and dress
9. 30 a.m. Wards
12. 30 p.m. Lunch
1 p.m. Wards
4 or 5 p.m. Tea
4. 30 or 5. 30 p.m. Wards
8 p.m. Dinner
10. 30 p.m. Bedrooms
11 p.m. Lights out

Times off
Three hours every day, from
9. 30 to 12. 30 or
2 to 5
5 to 8
Half a day every week from 2 to 10
A whole day every month from 6 p.m. previous day to 10 p.m. following day.

Staff nurses on night duty
Hours from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.
A night off once a month
Two months consecutive duty


20th January 1918    

Mary joins 73 General Hospital and starts her journey to Trouville at Talbot Road Railway Station (later Blackpool North) and then crosses the channel on the HMT Courtfield.

This was a “Base Hospital.” They were part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Casualty Clearing Stations. In France and Flanders, the British hospitals were generally located near the coast, often in pre-war buildings such as seaside hotels. They were close to a railway line, in order for casualties to arrive (some also came by canal barge); and were near a port where men could be evacuated for longer-term treatment in Britain.

24th January 1918    

According to the hospital War Diary:


“After many delays and much discomfort, owing to overcrowding and shortage of rations, the Transport reached le Havre at 7am on 24th January.”


After their journey from Blackpool to le Havre, the Units marched to a rest camp. On the 25th, a paddle steamer took them to Trouville, where a band from the adjacent Convalescent Camp welcomed them. At that stage, the camp consisted of “partially constructed buildings in a sea of mud.” In addition “the nurses’ quarters were not nearly ready for occupation, none of the Ward Blocks were completed, there were no paths, and the site was littered with builders’ debris.” Everyone including officers had to help turn the site into the largest yet constructed, with 2,500 beds. Luckily, they were on a ridge above the sea with a “wonderful view of the valley.”


23rd February 1918  

Twenty-two more nurses and nursing VADs arrive. A VAD was a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachments with some basic training in nursing. The VADs carried out a range of voluntary positions including nursing, transport duties, and the organization of rest stations, working parties and auxiliary hospitals. Women were taught first aid, home nursing and hygiene by approved medical practitioners. They also took classes in cookery. Men were trained in first aid in-the-field and stretcher bearing. Talented VADs could take specialist classes to become a masseuse or use an x-ray machine. Famous VADs include Vera Brittain and Agatha Christie.


Start March 1918     

Work on plumbing and improving “very backward” electric light is ongoing but proves difficult due to heavy snowstorms and frost.


7th March 1918         

First convoy of 399 patients arrives: “mostly stretcher cases.” On a daily basis, recovering patients are sent to Convalescent Depot No 14. On 26th March for example, 458 patients are discharged from No 73. The hospital War Diary notes that patients had to be clothed first. In the three weeks in March that the hospital was operational it treated 3805 patients.


3rd April 1918

40 RAMC reinforcements arrive.


During April  1918

By the end of April, the hospital had 67 General Surgery VADS out of an establishment of 124.


28th May 1918

Report on Mary from Matron Kathleen A Smith, 73 General Hospital in Trouville notes that Mary performed special duties in the field of surgical nursing and that she had acted as Sister in charge of a ward. Smith writes:


“A very good practical nurse but rather slow.”


Spring 1918

German Army breakthrough causes serious concern in Trouville.

June 1918

Concerns about possible attacks by hostile aircraft. Two wards per block were sandbagged and protective trenches dug. Hospital has “population of 3000.”


June –July 1918                   

American Hospital train takes patients to and from Trouville.

August 1918

Large number of admissions to hospital “a full train averaging 425 every third day.” Post Office built “very badly needed.”


15th September 1918

Ophthalmic centre opened. It was a converted Nissen hut with waiting room, test room with two dark rooms, operating room, and work area for the optician.


October 1918

Hospital “severely taxed.” Many patients coming direct from front line rather than through usual chain of command. Over 1400 in this category, including 91 dangerously ill (20 being penetrating chest wounds). Hospital received additional staffing of Canadian nurses & doctors. The influenza outbreak also hit the hospital. “The nursing was very heavy.” Of the 4998 patients admitted during October; 4957 are discharged.


10th October 1918                 

123 staff working at 73 General Hospital.


23rd November 1918 

73 General Hospital visited by Princess Mary. This is the first post-war visit to France by a member of the Royal Family. Princess Mary herself trained as a VAD. She visited the “Eye Department.” My great-aunt’s annual evaluation in January 1919  states “she is especially fitted for ophthalmic nursing” so it would be nice to think that she was working there at the time of the Princess’s visit.

January 1919

Patients gradually being sent back to UK, as hospital winds down. Recovered patients kept amused by daily visits to the cinema, whist drives, and concerts.


21st January 1919

Mary still at 73 General Hospital. Matron Kathleen A. Smith says:


“Her general professional ability is good, and she is especially fitted for ophthalmic nursing, her administrative capacity is very fair. Her power of initiative and ability to instruct others is good. With the exception of a rather abrupt manner of speech her vocal communications are good. Miss Geddes acted in charge of the ophthalmic block for a short time and gave satisfaction. She is fitted for promotion to Ward Sister.”


20th March 1919       

No 37 Casualty Clearing Station commences move from Busigny, Northern France, to Deutz-Koln, Germany.


3rd April 1919

Along with seven others, Mary now “on strength” at the Station.


2nd June 1919

Visit to Deutz Cologne by Matron in chief Maud McCarthy.


3rd April 1919

Mary now temporarily attached to Queen Alexandra Imperial Army Nursing Service and posted to 37 Casualty Clearing Station, Deutz, Cologne.


21st July 1919

Mary temporarily assigned to Hospital Train No.14 for 4 days.


22nd August 1919      

Mary returns to UK (Folkestone).


3rd September 1919  

Mary demobilised.


November 1919

Mary registers with the newly created General Nursing Council for Scotland.


31st March 1920

Proforma letter of thanks and given permission to retain TFMS Badge.



Approximate date of Mary’s photo. The considered opinion of Health Board Archivist Alistair Tough.


4th January 1923      

Promotion to Sister in TANS confirmed as of 6 November 1922 confirmed.

9th January 1929

Mary writes to Matron in Chief asking for her medals.


31st January 1933

Mary resigns from TANS on account of age (she is now 55 years of age).



Mary is still a member of the Co-operation of trained nurses, now located in Belhaven Terrace, Hyndland.


27th February 1959

Mary dies in family home, Queen Mary Avenue, Crosshill.


By Ian McCracken, Archivist at Govan High School




[SGHET would like to thank Ian McCracken for also donating to us a copy of a presentation he was due to give in Glasgow in 2020 which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and other related video and audio oral history materials which are forthcoming. These have (and will be) placed in our Digital Archive. If you have any enquiries about these materials, or would like to access them, please get in touch with us. They will also be avaliable in our online archive once that is launched.]

This article is also part of a series of material we are publishing to coincide with the 150th Anniversary of the founding of Crosshill in 1871 as an independent police burgh before being annexed to the city of Glasgow in 1891. See #Crosshill150 on social media.


no replies

Leave your comment