Confirming the eligibility for campaign medals was the responsibility of individual units who recorded the details of serving personnel on a medal sheet, which was then forwarded to the War Office. Individual nurses might appear on more than one medal sheet, as each unit they served with might record them.

For military nurses these medal rolls provide a definitive source for their participation in any particular campaign, which is why they are such a valuable source of information for both family and nursing historians.

Medal rolls are likely to be very big files, either digital or on microfilm. They are not always presented in what seems to be a logical order, and you may have to trawl through the whole thing to find what you are looking for.

What you might find

Early medal sheets were handwritten in script, using ink on paper. Over time their condition may have deteriorated. Issues with transcribing the sheets include:

  • Legibility, there may be some difficulty in interpreting the various hand writing styles;
  • Fading, many inks fade badly leaving some names illegible or only partly legible;
  • Deterioration, a few of the sheets have deteriorated to the point where they are no longer viable as source materials.
  • Use of names – nurses were recorded using variations of names. Elizabeth, for example, may have been used in different documents in many forms. In addition, some nurses preferred to use a name other than their first given name.
  • Recording of status, varies from document to document so that the same nurse can be recorded as, civilian or military, regular or reserve. This could be due to the novel nature of this duty for military clerks and an unfamiliarity with the status of military nurses.
  • Information. The information recorded in the sheets varies from unit to unit. The surname and service are always present. Most sheets have initials whilst some give full or partial names.

Where to find Medal Rolls

The National Archives, at Kew now hold the War Office Medal Rolls. Most are available digitally and are free to download. They are not always easy to locate. In the next two sections we will look at finding and interpreting some of the earliest medal rolls that contain nurses.