Staff Nurse Bridget Donovan

Staff Nurse Bridget Donovan – Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service

Hospital staff c.1916

During the spring of 1916 the funeral and burial took place at Christ Church of a Staff Nurse from Alexandra Military Hospital at Cosham, as it was then known. Staff Nurse Bridget Donovan died on 3rd April 1916 after contracting Cerebro-Spinal Fever from patients she was nursing, an epidemic occurred during 1915/16 affecting among others, troops from Eastney Barracks in Portsmouth.

Bridget was a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) the forerunner of what is now Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC).

Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward the Seventh, was the first president of QAIMNS when it formed in 1902 until her death in 1925 and her name was given to the red brick Military Hospital built at Cosham in 1904.

Hospital staff c.1916

Bridget Donovan was born in Tullogher, a small rural village in County Kilkenny in the South East of Ireland, on 3rd April 1878. She had a younger sister who married and moved to mainland Britain to live in the Oldham area of Lancashire, where Bridget, as a single lady, also moved. During March 1910 Bridget commenced a three year course of training to be a nurse at The Oldham Union Infirmary and on completion of training, she remained at the Infirmary employed on the nursing staff. No doubt influenced by the wartime government appeals for more military nursing sisters, Bridget enlisted into Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve on 12th November 1915. She was posted to Alexandra Military Hospital at Cosham, which would have been under extreme pressure at that time, dealing with casualties from the front line as well as the Cerebro-Spinal Fever. It is sad to note that she only served at that hospital for a few short months before her death on her 38th birthday from the fever. From the relative safety of Oldham she had lost her life doing her patriotic duty. The gravestone erected in her memory by the Staff of Alexandra Hospital bears an inscription from Job 29, “The ear that heard me blessed me and the eye that saw me gave witness to me: Because I had delivered the poor man that cried out. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me”.

Bridget Donovan’s headstone

On Sunday 3rd April 2016, the centenary of Bridget Donovan’s death, a short commemoration took place at her grave in the Military Cemetery at Portsdown. This followed on after the 10:30am Service in the church which was attended that day by QARANC staff from Queen Alexandra Hospital Defence Medical Group. A large contingent of Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps paraded next to Bridget’s grave on the edge of the Military Cemetery and laid a wreath to her memory. After the graveside dedication event on 3rd April 2016, QARANC members attended for refreshments in the church hall and met members of the congregation.

Acknowledgements to Revd. Andy Wilson and Mrs. Tracey Harvey a QARANC veteran for assistance in producing this item. 

Keith Fisher (Church Historian)