Collecting Nursing History 54
Frances Mary Macdonald nee Charles, 1885 -
Sarah Rogers
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Frances Mary Macdonald nee Charles, 1885 -


Frances Charles was born on 14th August 1885 in Sheffield, the first of four children born to her parents Samuel and Frances.(1) Her father worked in the Sheffield Steel industry as a forge man.(2)  In 1899 her mother Frances died aged 36 years leaving four children aged between four and fourteen years old.(3) In 1907 her father Samuel died aged 54 and left his estate to his eldest daughter Frances, aged 21years.(4) The younger daughter Edith went to live with relatives; in the 1911 census Edith is living with her aunt and uncle.(5) In 1911 Frances is working at Sheffield Union Hospital, Fir Vale, Sheffield as a ‘sick’ nurse.(6) Her training hospital certificate states that she completed four years training from 1908-1912. Staff records for this period do survive at Sheffield Archives.(7)

 Her father’s death split the family up; the facts suggest that until he died Frances was looking after her siblings and that after his death she commenced her nurse training, and her sister was taken in by relatives. The alternative for the family was to go into the workhouse. During her four years training Frances also became a Midwife.

Frances in sister’s uniform.


  France’s training hospital and Central Midwives Board certificates.

 Frances is in the middle, holding teapot!

Frances appears to join up and works initially at the 3rd Northern General Hospital, formerly the Wharncliffe Hospital, Sheffield. It appears that her brother Leonard also joined the army. Frances’s service records appear to have been culled in the 1930’s as they do not survive.

   Above: Frances in her uniform and her T.F.N.S. medal.

A few sketches survive from her sketch book, which show the typical preoccupations of injured and sick soldiers!





In 1916, Frances as a member of the Territorial Force Nursing Service is in India and Ceylon; only one sketch in the autograph book gives clues about where she is serving, although numerous annotated photographs state either India or Ceylon, suggesting that she was moved around. They provide a photographic archive of the life of a nurse in India and Ceylon during the Great War; and fall into two topics; work and leisure. The latter is divided into friends and family.

Above: 34 General Hospital Deolali, India.



Frances with various groups, including wounded soldiers, these are all thought to be in India.

Above: Frances is in the middle.

Above: Frances is nearest the camera.

Above: Frances with soldiers and is in white on the right.



 Above right: Frances is right holding the flask.


 Above: An Indian picnic.


   Above: Frances’ British War and Victory medals.


Friends and family:

Frances appears to marry abroad during the war and has a baby, Joan Margaret ‘Peggy’ Macdonald ( later Lee) in August 1918.(8)

James Alexander Macdonald


Above: Frances and James MacDonald on the right.


Above: Joan Margaret Macdonald, ‘ Peggy’, 1918-2005. Photo taken in Ceylon.


Above: Frances and Peggy in Ceylon.

Frances and Peggy  returned home in August 1919, unusually Frances travelled on her own passport, her personal details occupying the space usually reserved for the husband. It does not state her marital status. She is given permission to travel through Basra and Bagdad, with her eleven month old baby. They visit Edinburgh, where the formal photograph is taken, and appear to settle in Sheffield. Frances asks her former Matron of  Sheffield Union Hospital to give her a reference and she joins the College of Nursing and becomes a registered nurse.(9) It is not known what happened to James, or Frances. Their marriage does not appear in the British India marriages overseas registers, nor does the birth of their daughter Peggy and nor does the death of James.(10) It is not known if their daughter Peggy who married Charles Lee in 1940 had any children. It appears that James either died, was disabled or they separated as married women were not allowed to work as nurses until the Second World war. It was also unusual that Frances went back to work when her daughter was still quite young, all pointing to a financial imperative.

Above: Frances and Peggy, taken in Edinburgh, circa 1920

Above: Peggy and Frances in Sheffield, circa 1925?


    Above: Frances’s College of Nursing certificate and badge in its original presentation box.



 1.  Birth Marriage and death registers,, accessed 1 January 2016.

 2.  The National Archives, The General Register Office England and Wales 1891 census for Attercliffe, RG12/3840/17/30, accessed
       via, 1 January 2016.

 3.  A Family member confirmed this finding.

 4., accessed 1 January 2016.

 5.  TNA, The General Register Office England and Wales 1911, census for Attercliffe, RG14/ 28011, accessed via, 1 January 2016.

 6.  TNA, The General Register Office England and Wales 1911, census for West Brightside, Sheffield, RG14/27959/2, accessed via, 1 January 2016.

 7., accessed 1 January 2016.

 8., 1939 Register, accessed 1 January 2016.

 9.  The G.N.C. registers are going on line via later this year, so it will then be possible to see where and when she

10. A Peggy Mac Donald is listed as being baptised in 1918, however no parent’s details are given, tantalisingly only the family
      surname is given.

© Sarah Rogers 1st January 2016.


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