Mystery First World War nurse’s suitcase discovered at Abertay University

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Nursing staff at the University of Abertay Dundee are appealing for more information about the owner of a mystery suitcase.

It was discovered at the back of a cupboard in the University’s Psychology department, and is filled with nursing memorabilia from the First World War.

Slightly battered after so many years, it appears to have once belonged to a nurse from Paisley called Margaret Maule who looked after badly wounded German soldiers at the Dartford War Hospital in Kent.

She also cared for wounded British soldiers at the Shakespeare Hospital in Glasgow, and later did her training to qualify as a Queen’s Nurse in Greenock.

However, why the suitcase has turned up at Abertay, nobody knows.

Robin Ion, Head of Abertay’s Nursing and Counselling Division, was intrigued by the discovery and is keen to hear from anyone who can shed more light on who Nurse Maule was:

“The contents of this suitcase are absolutely fascinating, but we know very little about the person who owned it. There’s no record of her ever having been to Abertay, so how it came to be in our possession is a complete mystery.

“All we know about her is what we’ve been able to piece together from the things we found in her suitcase. It contains documents dating back to 1914, including her diary and an article she wrote for a newspaper called The People’s Journal.

“There’s also an autograph book filled with detailed sketches drawn for her by her patients by way of thanks for the care she gave them, and a number of faded photographs of her and her fellow nurses dressed in their pristine white uniforms.”

From her diary it is clear that Nurse Maule initially had misgivings about having to care for German prisoners of war. However, she was able to overcome these feelings and provide a very high level of care for her patients, something Robin Ion feels made her an exemplary nurse:

“When she graduated as a nurse at the age of 30 in 1917, after three years of training in Glasgow, she became part of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and signed up instantly to be sent overseas.

“From the documents in the suitcase, we know that her brother had been killed in action, and that she was desperate to do her bit for the war effort. So it came as a shock when she learnt she was to be sent to Dartford to care for prisoners of war.

“However, the fact that she managed to carry out her duties in spite of her misgivings, and that she did so in such a way that her patients went to the trouble of crafting gifts for her to show their appreciation, indicates that she was one of the best.

“Nursing has always been about showing compassion – without prejudice – and Nurse Maule showed an enormous depth of feeling to her patients under very difficult circumstances.

“If anyone knew Nurse Maule, or has any information about where the suitcase might have come from, I’d be very keen to hear from them – she’s a fantastic example of what nursing is all about and it would be wonderful if any of her relations alive today could tell us more about her.”

If anyone has any information they would like to share with Abertay about Nurse Maule, please send an email to


Notes to Editor:

1. Abertay University has been teaching nursing since the mid 1970s and is set to create a centre of excellence in mental health nursing over the coming years.

2. Very little is known about nursing during the First World War, and there are few published sources of information. However, it is an active area of research, and two books dedicated to the subject have recently been published:

  • “Containing Trauma: Nursing Work in the First World War” by Christine Hallett (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2009)
  • “Its A Long Way to Tipperary: British and Irish Nurses in the Great War” by Yvonne McEwen (Dunfermline, Cualann Press, 2006)

There is also an invaluable website dedicated to sharing information about British military nursing from 1880 onwards, run by Sue Light:

The little that is known about nursing during that period has been put together from gathering information about the lives of individual nurses, so Nurse Maule’s suitcase and its contents are an important historical record.

3. The following information is known about the history of military nursing:

  • Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS) was formed in 1902, replacing the Army Nursing Service (ANS) which was formed in the 1850s as a result of the Crimean War where there were a large number of casualties who needed expert care.
  • The ANS was originally made up of only six nurses, but by 1898 there were 72.
  • However, during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) it was difficult to train and maintain a large military nursing service, so a major reorganisation and expansion of military nursing took place, and the QAIMNS was established.
  • According to, “members of the QAIMNS were all over the age of 25 (or just possibly widowed), educated, of impeccable social standing, and had completed a three year course of nurse training in a hospital approved by the War Office.”
  • Nursing, therefore, was still a relatively new profession, and the QAIMNS was the first “official” nursing service in the UK.
  • Although the recognised training for civilian nurses at this time was also three years training in a hospital with a recognised training school, there was no actual register for civilian nurses, so a lot of women practiced as ‘nurses’ in the community without actually having official training. In addition, one of the most prestigious schools, The London Hospital, only had a two year training course.
  • However, all of these issues were resolved when nurses got their own professional register in December 1919, largely thanks to the exemplary work of the QAIMNS during the Great War. All nurses (military and civilian) from that point onwards had to have the full three years training and enter their names onto the register.

4. It is possible to search for information about trained nurses on The National Archives website – where official documents are stored – using the series code WO399. Enter the nurse’s surname into the “Word or phrase” box, then enter “WO399” into the “Department or Series code” box. Click on “Search”, and any records held will be listed for you.

Nurse Maule’s record contains 24 pages and, together with the information in the suitcase, tells us the following about her:

  • She was born in Paisley and lived at 5 McKerrell Street, went to the East Public School in Paisley and trained as a nurse at Merryflatts Hospital – now the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow – from 1914 to 1917.
  • She then became a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and was sent to care for seriously injured prisoners of war at the Dartford War Hospital in Kent. She began her duties there as a Staff Nurse on September 25, 1917.
  • When the war ended she resigned from her post in Dartford and went to work in a hospital in Glasgow known as the Shakespeare Hospital. This was once the Shakespeare Street School in Maryhill, which was turned into a hospital during the First World War when more beds were needed to treat wounded service personnel. She began working there on August 1, 1919.

5. The autograph book found inside Nurse Maule’s suitcase was signed by German prisoners of war. According to the Imperial War Museum, they hold a considerable number of similar autograph books within their collection, but those containing entries made by German POWs are quite unusual. However, they are not looking to acquire any further samples.

6. As well as the autograph book, diary and newspaper article, the suitcase contains a signed photograph of Queen Mary – who came to visit the Dartford War Hospital – Nurse Maule’s qualification certificates, letters, and one of the gifts the prisoners of war made for her, that she mentions in the newspaper article.

7. After the war, Nurse Maule went on to train as a Queen’s Nurse at the Greenock District Nursing Association from 18th November 1919 to 17th May 1920.

8. She retired in 1969. A letter of appreciation for her service from the Ministry of Defence was sent to her at her home at number 46 Dunchurch Road, Oldhall, Paisley.


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