British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by H P Dickson (QEONS, Cyprus and Somaliland)
Queen Elizabeth’s Overseas Nursing Service Association
Pemba Hospital
A Colonial Nursing Association was formed by Lady Mabel Piggott in 1895. She saw a need to provide trained nurses for the Colonies to care initially for British personnel who fell ill and often died for want of skilled attention. Subsequently this nursing care was extended to the whole indigenous populations in conjunction with their Medical Services. The Colonial Secretary responded to her project by asking each colony to report their needs in this respect. As they all responded positively, Lady Piggott set up the Association in London; a voluntary body, to select nurses as required and initially to meet all costs. A fund-raising committee was then formed to provide for salaries, uniforms and travel expenses. Subsequently the colonies were to take over these costs. By 1910 some 521 nurses had been sent overseas and in 1918 nurses also began going to the Dominions. By 1929 some 2,532 nurses had been recruited.

Mabel Piggott died in 1949 aged 92. Meanwhile in 1940 a Colonial Nursing Service had been set up with the (by then) Overseas Nursing Association still responsible for its recruitment. In 1948 the CNS became the Queen Elizabeth’s CNS and in 1954 changed again to the QEONS. During World Wars I and II, some 55 nurses died on active duty. Thereafter numbers fell as recruitment demands decreased with the progressive training of local staff and the onset of Independence. In 1966, when the Colonial Office was incorporated into the Commonwealth Office, the Service became part of HMOCS. The QEONS and the ONA were then closed. Under the patronage of the Queen Mother a new Association was then formed, as the QEONSA, to enable retired members to meet annually and keep in touch with one another. This continues today. Between 1896-1966 the ONA recruited 8,400 nurses for overseas service.

Africa Map
British Empire Map, 1897
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 77: May 1999
Colonial Nursing: Travel and Travail
Writing the Century: Passages from Empire


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe