Thursday, 18 May 2017

Jant Gaff - pre-war hospital experience

Janet Muir Gaff (Jessie) did her nursing training at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in Scotland.
Sketch of Glasgow Royal Infirmary in distance - National Library of Scotland
The hospital built beside Glasgow Cathedral opened in 1794. The original hospital building was designed with 100 beds in eight wards. Janet worked at the infirmary from 1889 until the end of 1891 when she migrated with her family to Australia.

The Nursing Record for November 1891 included a copy of a letter that Janet had written about the length of time dead patients remained in the wards and the effect upon the other patients. The article shows this nurse's concern for patient welfare, an attribute she would have required when nursing injured soldiers during World War I.
Nursing Record 12 November 1891 p 247
Janet arrived in Melbourne on Christmas day 1891 and moved into the house her mother had purchased as a family home in Blackburn.

Janet continued her nursing career in Australia, initially at the new hospital at Warracknabeal which opened in 1892. The new hospital had two wards with a total of 16 beds. It soon became obvious that the hospital was too small to serve the local population. Beds were located on the verandah and for a time a tent in the hospital grounds housed some of the patients. Room was also required to house patients with infectious diseases such as typhoid fever which was prevalent at the time. The hospital committee unsuccessfully applied for government grants to expand the premises. Hospital annual reportsare published in John Brennan's history of the hospital.

In June 1894 the Age newspaper published a letter about a complaint made to the Warracknabeal Hospital by a Catholic priest that one of his parishioners was receiving inadequate care as Sister Gaff had been nursing Dr Little who was ill with typhoid instead of his parishioner. Meanwhile other staff cared for the general patients. The priest continued his complaints but his letters were ignored by the hospital committee. (Age 9 June 1894 p 9) It must have been difficult in a small hospital with limited facilities and staff to keep all patients and families satisfied with their care. The hospital probably could not afford to lose a doctor so in this case it would appear that every effort was made to try and ensure Dr Little's eventual recovery.

Sometime in 1897 a private hospital was established in Warracknabeal in a weatherboard house, Massawippi, situated in Jamouneau Street. In 1918, an advertisement for the sale of the house described the premises as having eleven rooms, kitchen, bathroom and wash house. (Warracknabeal Herald 24 December 1918 p 4). This was the first private hospital in the Warracknabeal and was generally referred to as Nurse Gaff's Hospital. (Weekly Times 28 September 1812 p 33) It was a small hospital with eight beds and newspaper articles mentioned that a particular patient had been referred to the hospital by Dr Little. It is probable that Dr Little established the hospital and Janet ran it. Dr Little died in October 1911. (Obituary in Horsham Times 13 October 1911 p 5) In July that year Nurse Petremant of Adelaide took over the running of the hospital. (Adelaide Advertiser 24 July 1911 p 12). For a few years the house was used as a girl's school before being sold in 1918.

Janet was the nurse at the private hospital until she left to go on a world tour in 1910-1911. When she returned Janet worked at the Private Hospital in Willaura. This may have been Kelvin Private Hospital which opened in March 1910.

In October 1914 Janet wrote articles published in three newspapers outlining the need for troops to have warm clothes during a European winter. She suggested that frozen rabbits should be sent to England which would serve two purposes. The meat could be used to feed British people and refugees from Belgium while the tanned skins could be used for the soldiers' uniforms. This proposal has been put forward by the Patriotic League. (Willaura Farmer 23 October 1914 p 3; Warracknabeal Herald 27 October 1914 p 6; Ararat Chronicle and Willaura and Lake Bolac Districts Reporter 24 October 1914 p 3) At the bottom of these letters Janet gave her address as Private Hospital, Willaura.

Janet was obviously concerned about the effects of the war in Europe and her name appears in newspapers as a donor to various war related appeals during 1914 and 1915. (Argus 10 November 1914 p 6; 9 January 1915 p 16; 5 March 1915 p 6; 19 July 195 p 13 plus Age 15 March 1915 p 12)

However Janet wanted to be more involved so she returned to Melbourne to enlist as an army nurse.

On 11 August 1915 Janet joined the AIF Australian Army Nursing Service and worked at No 5 Australian General Hospital in St Kilda Road for twelve months. On 2 September 1916 Janet applied to serve as a nurse with the  No 4 Sea Transprt Service. She left Melbourne aboard the troop ship Euripides on her way to England.

Glasgow Royal Infirmary - Wikipedia
Copies of Nursing Record available online on Royal College of Nursing library and heritage website.

Brennan, John. One Hundred Years of Tender Loving Care 1891-1991: the History of the Warracknabeal Hospital Inc., Warracknabeal: North West Press 1991
Copies of digitised Australian newspapers available in Trove.

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