Collecting Nursing History 48
Agnes Emily Dundas, 1884 - 1965

Sarah Rogers

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Agnes Emily Dundas, 1884 - 1965


Agnes’s medals (note engraved with her middle initial E).


Agnes, who appears to have preferred to have been called ‘Emily’ was born in March 1884, in Toxteth, Liverpool. Her father James who is thought to have been born in South Shields in 1853 had ‘died’ by the 1891census; although one child was born after this date.1  Emily’s mother Elizabeth was a lace worker, and in 1911 stated that she had four living children, and one deceased.2  The family moved to Waterloo, Liverpool between 1891 and 1901.3  Emily had two surviving sisters and one brother, of whom Bessie, a year older than her is described as a ‘Sick Nurse’ on the 1911 census.4  James received a Master’s certificate of competency a month before their marriage in October 1881; both their fathers were also mariners.5  James Dundas died in Hospital in Progresso whilst a Mate aboard the SS Bengar on 18th September 1888; Emily attended the School for Seamen’s Orphans in Liverpool.6

Emily trained at the Royal Southern Hospital Liverpool from 1910-1914, which is now part of the Royal Liverpool University Hospital.7  No more is known about the 1st prize, Senior Examination medal that she received in December 1911.28  During her training Emily had gained ‘General experience in Medical wards’ of nursing Enteric fever.8  Following this she worked in theatres as a Staff Nurse for seven months, and a male surgical ward for 12 months.9 For the final year of her four year training she worked as a private nurse and from July 1914 Emily worked as a school nurse for the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council.10  On her application form for QAIMNSR Emily does not state that she was a 1st prize Medal winner; perhaps her referees including her former Hospital Matron Miss Jolley were of suitable professional and social standing.11  Miss Jolley RRC was well respected in the nursing establishment; she trained at Guys, and was Matron of the Royal Southern Hospital until outbreak of war when she served as Sister/ Acting Matron in France.12

Emily’s Army Nursing records survived the post World War One cull, including her application form which she signed ‘Emily Dundas’, and gave her training details.13.

Emily was appointed Staff Nurse in October 1914 to QAIMNS(R); she served in the Military Hospital, York from October 1914 to July 1915 when she was transferred via Colchester to serve overseas in Egypt. Emily was promoted to Sister in June 1916, and was finally demobilized in March 1919.14

World War One was being fought on all geographical boundaries; the Allies were defending the Suez Canal, and the Gallipoli campaigns resulted in many casualties. At the commencement of the Gallipoli campaign, Alexandria was the nearest base, and was not only some 700 miles away, but also under resourced with too few doctors and nursing staff.24  When Miss Oram, the Matron in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force arrived in Egypt in May 1915 she found nurses desperately overworked. Miss Becher, Matron in Chief of QAIMNS was ‘…Urgently deploying reservists and Territorial Nurses from Britain to the Mediterranean.’ Emily was one of these such nurses redeployed hastily in response to Miss Oram’s report on the lack of hospital facilities in Egypt.25  Miss Oram wrote that within days of the first troops landing at Gallipoli that ‘…The wounded began to our into Egypt almost without intermission. No fewer than 16,000 cases were landed and distributed among the hospitals ashore, during the first ten days’.26  Unlike the other essays in ‘ Reminiscent Sketches’  Miss Oram writes her short essay mainly from a logistical and managerial perspective, and gives little detail about the reality of working conditions in Egypt for the nursing staff. Miss Oram mentions the nurses being housed in a hotel in Alexandria, the initial lack of equipment and the intense cold during winter months. Miss Oram concluded that the sick nurses were cared for in a small hospital in Alexandria, and in Cairo ‘…The Matron made arrangements’ and ‘Twenty two nurses and VAD members died from sickness or accident, and eight were drowned within sight of land’.27 No mention is made of those whose health was permanently affected as a result of nursing in such harsh conditions. Nurses had to cope with nursing the casualties of brutal, modern warfare, along with living and working in a completely unknown climate. They both nursed and caught many new, diseases such as sand fly fever, dysentery, diarrhoea, enteric fever, jaundice, malaria and rheumatic fever.35

Emily embarked the SS Hunstgreen at Devonport on the 27th September 1915, joining 21st General Hospital in Alexandria in October 1915. In May 1917 Agnes moved to 36 Stationary Hospital which was based at Mehamdiya, and whilst there she was hospitalised on 6th October 1917 and transferred to Cairo, her records do not state what the issue was.29  In January 1918 whilst stationed at 70 General Hospital she was granted a week’s local leave in Cairo. In July she was moved again to 19 General Hospital in Alexandria. She embarked for England on HS Ormorde on 25th February 1919.15

In July 1919 A report is written for the Medical Officer of Health in Bootle, where Emily may have been applying for a job, which whilst accurate may not have helped her get the job; ‘Her work in the Army gave no opportunity of judging whether or not she was suited to nurse women and children16   It appears Emily who had served for five years in very challenging situations was applying for other work. Whilst accurate, the reference is perhaps unfortunate in its brevity.

 On demobilization her report written by Acting Matron Howell in the 19th General hospital, Mura el Waska Schools was good; ‘She is kind to the patients’, and recommended her for further military service.17  However when in July 1920 Emily applied for an overseas posting, due to the post-war reduction in the nursing establishment, her request for work was turned down.18

Emily registered as a nurse on 25th October 1923, her registration number 13434, and her registered address was in Waterloo; it is thought that she worked as a ships nurse on SS Montclare, a passenger ship built for the Canadian Pacific Steam Ship company.19  Between March 1922 and December 1938 Emily made over 13 crossings as a nursing member of the Ship’s Crew.31  A crew card for Emily, dated 1936 records that she has blue eyes, brown to grey hair, a fair complexion and is 5ft 7inches tall. Her date of birth is found on other records; possibly to gain employment, although this varies from card to card.32 Similarly her job description varies from Nurse to a combined title of ‘Masseuse Nurse’.33  Bessie Dundas, her sister, also travels to Canada on at least two occasions, once in 1922 as a passenger on the Montclare.34  It is thought that they travel to see their  brother James who appears to have lived in Quebec from at least 1920, where he was working as a railway officer.20  Aged 60 years Emily withdrew from the nurses register in October 1944, and died in Anglesey in 1965, five years after her sister Bessie with whom she shared a cottage, died there also.21 Bessie left her estate to her sisters Emily and Marion, a widow.22 Marion died in Chichester  in 1988 aged 93, a few miles from where these medals were auctioned.23  It has not yet been possible to locate any living descendants of theirs.

Bessie Dundas, 1883-1960.

Bessie also served during World war One, but suffered from Neurasthenia; ‘Shell shock’, and was invalided out after one years’ service. Bessie served as a member of the TFNS at 1st Western General Hospital, Fazakerley, Liverpool from 1914 to October 1915, when she was invalided out.  ‘Major Rundle reports that Nurse Bessie Dundas is apparently suffering from a condition of nervous debility associated with a mitral stenosis.36  She had also had a DVT one year previously, which caused much pain in the affected leg, and was reported to be depressed. Bessie received a gratuity of £9.0.9, equivalent to £389.15 in 2005.37  Bessie’s service record fails to document where she trained; the remaining papers concentrate on her ill health; Bessie was ‘lucky’ in that she did receive a small gratuity, many nurses failed to do so for similar and equally debilitating diseases.


1. The National Archives, Kew, the England and Wales Censuses for 1891, and 1911 accessed via, 3rd January

2. TNA, the England and Wales Censuses for 1911 accessed via, 3rd January 2015.

3. TNA, the England and Wales Censuses for 1891 and 1901 accessed via, 3rd January 2015

4. TNA, the England and Wales Censuses for 1911 accessed via, 3rd January 2015.

5. Master's Certificates. Greenwich, London, UK: National Maritime Museum, accessed via 3rd January 2014.

6. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas; Overseas death registers accessed via Find My Past, 5th January 2014.

7. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas;

8.  TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

9. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

10. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

11. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

12. RCN Archives; The British Journal of Nursing July 6th 1918.

13. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

14. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

15. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

16. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

17. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

18. TNA, WO/399/2407, Miss Agnes Emily Dundas.

19. TNA, The General Nursing Council Registration Book, DT10/59, p 442; Crew listings accessed via Find My,
       accessed 5th January 2015.

20., accessed on 3rd January 2015.

21. Free BMD, death registers, accessed 3rd January 2015; Probate Registers for England and, accessed
      on 3rd January 2015.

22. Probate Registers for England and, accessed on 3rd January 2015.

23. Free BMD, death registers, accessed 3rd January 2015.

24. Y. McEwen, ‘In The Company Of Nurses’, Edinburgh, 2014, pp 93, 99.

25. Y. McEwen, ‘In The Company Of Nurses’, p 99.

26. Dame E Oram writing in ‘Reminiscent Sketches 1914-1919’. London 1922, p 35.

27. Dame E Oram writing in ‘Reminiscent Sketches 1914-1919’. pp 39-40.

28. Hospital and Newspapers in the Liverpool Archives might yield some information.

29. TNA WO95/4745

30. TNA MSEA_BT348_34_78_347874.jpg, Crew listings accessed via Find My, accessed 5th January 2015.

31. TNA_MSEA_BT348_34_78_347874.jpg, Crew listings accessed via Find My, accessed 5th January 2015

32. TNA_MSEA_BT349_07_79_077968.jpg, Crew listings accessed via Find My, accessed 5th January 2015

33. TNA_MSEA_BT349_07_79_077970.jpg, Crew list June 1929 for Agnes Emily Dundas, accessed via Find My Past, 5th
 January 2015.

34. TNA_BT27_1081_00_0089_P_0012F.jpg, Passenger list for SS Montclare June 1922;
      TNA_BT27_1379_00_0042_P_0001F.jpg, passenger list for the ‘Empress of Britain, June 1923, both accessed via Find My
       Past. 5th January 1922.

35. Y. McEwen, ‘In The Company Of Nurses’, p102.

36. TNA WO399/10965, Dundas, Bessie.

37. convertor, accessed 5th January 2015.


Many thanks to Sylvia and Will.


Copyright, Sarah Rogers 4th January 2015. 


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