Collecting Nursing History 33
Ada Maria Blake 1885 - 1978

Sarah Rogers.

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ADA MARIA BLAKE  1885 - 1978


Ada was born in July 4th1884, the third of six siblings; her parents Edward and Mary had four daughters and two sons. Ada's older sister Agnes appears to marry Stanley Penny in 1916 and may die in Bournemouth in 1966, but the younger two sisters, both dying shortly before Ada.(1)

On the 1901 census, she was a servant in a household in Camberwell, and by the 1911 census a nurse at Camberwell Workhouse Infirmary, Brunswick sq, North Camberwell.(2)   Ada's father died in 1912.

 Fig 1.  Camberwell Infirmary; Copyright Backman.

Ada applied, aged 23 years to work at St Giles, Camberwell, The parish Infirmary. She had worked previously at The Isolation Hospital Stanmore as Probationer Nurse from November 1906 to March 1909, resigning voluntarily. Her character references were 'satisfactory'. She actually started work at St Giles on 1st January 1909 on a temporary basis, and was 'elected to the post' on the 10th February 1909, and her duties commenced on 19th May 1909, on a salary of 10, with 2 yearly increments to a maximum of 14. Following her three months trial as a probationer nurse, Ada signed her contract for three years training with the Local Board of Guardians, who ran the workhouse and Infirmary, on 29th April 1909. She would therefore have finished her training in approximately April 1912. (7)  We can only speculate why she left the Isolation Hospital after 2 1/2 years of training; not all records are available, many were pulped during WW2, and many more were destroyed when the workhouses were closed in 1929/1930 as they became, in London, LCC hospitals. Records may be available for the Isolation Hospital. It would appear that she left St Giles infirmary between 1912 and 1914, when she was working in Wimbledon, where prior to mobilization, Ada was Sister at the Isolation hospital, Wimbledon.


Fig 2.  Camberwell Infirmary; Copyright Backman.

Ada writes to Miss Sidney Browne, Territorial Force Nursing Service, in October 1914, and is redirected to presumably a recruitment officer/nurse. She writes:

"Enclosed is the form filled in with copies of my certificate and testimonials. I shall hope for a favourable reply-as i am most anxious to help-but regret my lack of surgical experience since training-which will possibly put me at a disadvantage as a candidate." (3)

This is presumably why Ada was " demoted" a rank when entering the T.F.N.S. and starts as staff nurse, although her experience as Ward sister at an isolation hospital would have been invaluable also for nursing Enteric fever.

On November 21st 1914, Ada wrote to Sidney Browne (matron in chief TFNS) that she was pleased her application to enrol in the TFNs had been successful:

"My matron does not like the uncertainty -so I have handed her a months' notice today. Under the circumstances, I should be grateful if you could give me some idea as to when you are likely to need me. Because if not called up early in January i shall i have to get a temporary post." (3)

In December 1914 she wrote to the TFNS authorities, saying that she was available earlier if required

"Otherwise I shall have to get a temporary job" (3)

On December 20th 1914 she wrote again, saying

"Although my month's resignation ends tomorrow I am staying on here indefinitely, and will inform you of any change of address." which was then The Isolation Hospital, Gap Road, Wimbledon.(3)

By May when Ada received her mobilization orders and travel warrant from Sidney Browne's office (for first class travel) for 19th may 1915, she was living back in Meadow road, Salisbury at her mother's address, as she was given as Ada's next of kin, on her Army Records.

Which she returned and wrote:

"I shall follow your instructions and go to Leicester tomorrow, May 17th." (3)

North Evington Infirmary was opened in 1905 as a New Poor Law Infirmary, with over 500 patients, and cost over 90, 000, being known locally as 'The Palace on the Hill.' The 63-acre site allowed space for an accompanying workhouse to be built.

'During the First World War, North Evington Infirmary was used as a military hospital. The number of beds was doubled, to 1010, and the first 100 war casualties were admitted on 9th May, 1915.' (4)

Staff Nurse Blake, Annual Confidential Report, May 1917, 2nd General hospital, North Evington Hospital, Leicester.

"Has worked in the above hospital as Staff Nurse for two years. Is a good nurse, Capable and a good manager. Has taken charge during Sister's holidays. Suitable for Promotion. May 1917 "(3)

In September 1917 at a medical board, in Leicester it was reported that Ada was suffering from diphtheria, which she had caught from a patient.

"She developed diphtheria on 23rd august 1917 at North Evington war hospital. She is now in Gilroes isolation hospital, she is progressing satisfactorily," and in another hand "She has been instructed to remain in hospital." (3)

In December, a medical board was convened in Leicester to examine Ada who had been off work with diphtheria, for 31/2 months, and found that she was then fit for duty.

Her illness is possibly, what delayed her promotion, as it happened in the middle of her catching Diphtheria and being hospitalized.

People suffering from diphtheria often have a sore throat and low pyrexia ;

'Diphtheria is a contagious disease spread by direct physical contact or breathing the aerosolized secretions of infected individuals. Historically quite common, diphtheria has largely been eradicated in industrialized nations through widespread vaccination.'(4)

 In February 1918 a further annual report states

"Sister Blake... Has worked in this hospital since May 1915.Was promoted to be Sister October 1917. Is a good nurse and ward sister, and looks well after her patients. Has not acted in a rank higher than Sister and has just been promoted." (3)

In December 1918 after Armistice Day, Ada filled in a form to say where she has worked before WW1, and answered  the following:

         Did she wish to be released as soon as peace is declared? -  To which she replied "No"

         Are you willing to serve for 3 months after peace is declared? To which she replied "Yes"

         Are you willing to serve in any Military Hospital as long as your services are required?" Yes"

         Do you wish to apply for a permanent posting in any institution for the treatment of invalided soldiers?" No"

Ada's elder brother Edward had three sons, who served in WW1.

In February 1919, a similar report is written:

"Is a good ward Sister, Capable and Reliable, takes an interest in her work, and is very kind and attentive to her patients. Has not acted in a higher rank..." (3)

Ada was demobilized from T.F.N.S. on 17.6.19.

In 1920, Ada was sent a letter, care of her mothers in Salisbury,

"Dear Madam, as you have been demobilised from the Territorial Force Nursing Service, I wish to take this opportunity of thanking you for the good service you have rendered during the war... Your work has been excellent and has been fully appreciated by all those under whom you served. Her majesty, Queen Alexandra, has graciously given permission for you to retain your TFNS badge permanently**, as you have completed four years good service during the war. Sidney Browne, Matron in Chief, TFNS "3

** In some circumstances TFNS badges were required to be returned.

In 1925, whilst Ada was away in India, her  mother died.

In 1928 Ada's sister, Mrs Agnes M Penny replies to a letter  from Ann Beadsmore Smith* about a forthcoming battlefield pilgrimage to which Ada had signed up, saying that she has been given permission to open her letters in Ada's absence and that Ada has gone away:

" My sister Ada M Blake, sailed at the end of April to take up a post in India....My sister finished her three years contract in Nassau- she was matron at the Bahamas and General Hospital for 2 years & 3 months while there"(3)

* Dame Anne Beadsmore Smith, (Matron in Chief, QAIMNS 1919-1924)

According to family rumour, a ward at a Hospital in the Bahamas was named after her, it has not been possible to corroborate this so far.

In April 1939, Ada arrived back in England, and gave her address as  44 Pennington Rd, Southborough, in Kent.

She resigned on 27th July 1940, presumably to retirement, as she was now 55 years of age from the QAIMNS(R), this resignation was supported by the Matron at No 4 centre, Bristol, Bristol Royal Infirmary. It is unclear from her records, which were subjected to a ministry 'prune' whether or not her nursing service in India and Nassau was as part of the QAIMNS(R).(3)

Ada died on 3rd June 1978, and left half her estate of 7831 to Mrs Doreen May Blake, the widow of her nephew and executor Gordon Blake who had predeceased her. Ada left one quarter to her sister Amy Beauchamp, and the final quarter was divided between the Church Missionary Society and British Leprosy Relief Association. In her will written seven years before her death Ada left a small bequest of 50 to another neice Kathleen, and requested that her body should be cremated.(6)



2. Camberwell Infirmary; was opened in 1873, becoming  St Giles hospital, in 1927.

3. The National Archives, Kew, WO399/9862; ADA BLAKE.

4. (Accessed 29th November 2013).

5. (accessed 29th November 2013).

6. The last Will and testament of Ada Maria Blake; proved in Winchester 24th July 1978.

7. The London Metropolitan Archives, CABG/230/007, Register of Officers appointments.


Many thanks to all those who have helped me along the way with this research, in particular Peter Malezcek; Will Burgess; plus all the Archivists I have consulted in order to find Ada's Maria Blakes records and Harry. 

1st January 2014.

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