6. PAY


     The pay scale for members of the military nursing services during wartime followed exactly the peacetime rates for members of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. 

Extract from 'Regulations for Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, 1916'

Basic pay was comparable with the mid-range rates paid to civil nurses at the time, although staff nurses, rather than sisters, formed by far the largest group and the majority of women were paid at the lower end of the scale. From November 1st 1916, nurses who chose to sign agreements to serve for the duration of the war received an additional £20 per annum after completing one year’s service thus increasing their basic annual remuneration by as much as 50%.[61] Pay was increased substantially by the inclusion of board and lodging and other allowances which provided enough for a moderately comfortable, if not luxurious, existence.

     VAD members employed in the United Kingdom under the Joint War Committee received allowances for board and lodging but no pay – ‘voluntary’ was the vital word. Women appointed as the War Office equivalent of a VAD – the Special Military Probationer – and VADs working overseas under the auspices of the War Office were paid at the rate of £20 a year with increments which could, if they stayed long enough, increase their annual salary to £30. 

Terms of Service - One month's probation, and if considered suitable, contract for six months' service in the same hospital.
Pay for first seven months at rate of £20 per annum.
a. Members who enter immediately on a second or subsequent term of six month's employment are to be paid at the rate of £22.10s. per annum, instead of £20 per annum from the first day of the further time of employment.
b. Members who agree to serve for so long as required will be eligible for further increments of £2.10s. each half-year until they reach a maximum rate of £30 per annum. The first increment takes effect six months after the date on which they become entitled to £22.10s. per annum.[62]

     They also received extra allowances for overseas service, uniform, board, lodging, washing, fuel and light, which raised pay substantially. For service in France, Field Allowance was payed at the rate of three shillings a day, or one guinea a week, to all nursing staff with the British Expeditionary Force.  As all nurses, trained and untrained, were awarded similar overseas allowances it soon became clear that the differential between the pay of the two groups was very small indeed. However, in January 1916 notice was given that Field Allowance would be withdrawn from nursing staff in France and Flanders which caused immediate concern and alarm:

Orders received that Field Allowance in addition to all other allowances are to be discontinued in the Nursing Service. DMS has approached the I.G.C. on the subject. It will not be possible to carry on without them, and many of the Reserve and TFNS will, I am sure, resign in consequence [62a]

On the 10th February 1916, this order was corrected and the Matron-in-Chief was informed that Field Allowance would continue for trained nurses but would still be withdrawn for VADs and Special Military Probationers. From that date there was much correspondence about the matter and warnings that it would not be possible to get untrained nursing staff to remain in France if their pay was reduced to such an extent.  The problems were finally resolved in September 1916 with the decision that the allowance would be reinstated for VADs and also backdated to the date on which it was stopped:

Telegram from Troopers, informing us that Field Allowance is now payable to V.A.D.’s and Special Probationers, and authorising issue of it from date of cessation. Telegraphed immediately to all areas where V.A.D.’s are working asking that the information might be conveyed without delay to all concerned.[62b]

Dorothea Crewdson, a VAD working at No.16 Stationary Hospital at Wimereux was constantly surprised at the size of her monthly pay-packet. On the 4th August 1915 she wrote in her diary:

Pay night and we have all received a monstrously and wonderfully large sum of money … The Sisters of course have different pay and more of it. We all feel robbers of the Matron as our salary for the month comes to more than £10 and we only expected £20 a year.[63]

On September 21st she continued:

All the night staff were paid yesterday morning after breakfast. Matron dispensed coins, done up and packed as usual. VADs got fr. 302.75 which is more than £10. Pay is a wonderful mystery and seems always more than one ever expected.[64]

And even when allowances for Field Allowance, heating and lighting were discontinued the following year, she had no complaints:

Pay night yesterday and we got fr. 334.90, the last big pay we shall have before allowances are cut down. But I am glad as I think it is a waste of English money to pay us all so much.[65]

     This shows that the annual 'take home' pay of a VAD on active service was roughly £120 and despite having to cover the cost of uniform and incidental expenses it provided an income comparable to that of a professional woman in the United Kingdom. Although the trained nurse might start off with a basic salary twice that of the inexperienced VAD, after allowances they were earning a very similar amount, a fact that did not go unnoticed and caused some bad feeling between the two groups:

Great undercurrent of feeling just now between Sisters and VADs. Think it partly, if not largely, arises from the everlasting money question and also from real resentfulness and a good deal of jealousy on the part of the Sisters. Not an individual feeling but just an atmosphere of disunion.[66]

     Nurses on British hospital ships using cross-channel routes often saw themselves at a disadvantage where pay was concerned as they were considered ‘home’ based staff and received basic salary, but fewer allowances, all aspects of board, lodging, light and heating being included free of any charge and no field allowance being payable. Only members of the regular branch of QAIMNS qualified for pensions but other trained staff received a gratuity when resigning or on demobilisation, the amount depending on the length of their period of service. Gratuities were paid on termination of employment at a rate of £15 per completed year for a Matron, £10 for Nursing Sisters and £7.10s for Staff Nurses, with part years paid pro-rata if the period of service was ended due to the exigencies of the military authorities. This meant that a Nursing Sister who worked throughout the war and was demobilised in the spring or summer of 1919 could receive a one-off payment equal to almost a full year’s annual salary.

     However, the question of gratuities was complicated in May 1919 when an Army Order set out regulations by which extra amounts could be paid retrospectively to many members of the military nursing services and voluntary aid detachments who served in military hospitals during the war.[67]  In addition to an increased basic gratuity, a sum of between 10s. and £1 was paid for each month worked up to a maximum of forty-eight months to women who had served for at least one year and had not voluntarily resigned before having completed two years’ service. The schedule was complex but the British Journal of Nursing set out the main points of interest to their readers:

A Royal Warrant has just been issued granting a new and more generous rate of gratuity to members of the Military Nursing Services in recognition of their war services.

The Q.A.I.M.N.S. (Regular) have been given a war gratuity on the same lines as regular officers, i.e., nurses below rank of Principal Matron get a lieutenant’s gratuity (£40) for the first year’s war service and increments of £1 or 10s. a month (according to whether they have served overseas or only at home) for each subsequent year or part of a year. Principal Matrons are classed with captains (£45), and Matrons-in-Chief with lieutenant-colonels (£75), while all receive the same increments for service subsequent to the first year.

The temporary nurses (Q.A.I.M.N.S.R. and T.F.N.S.) now get a more generous gratuity than that previously provided. Staff nurses get £20 for the first year, Sister £30, and Matrons £40; while all get 10s. a month increment for each subsequent year or part of a year, irrespective of whether their service has been at home or overseas.

A gratuity has also been given to V.A.D. nurses and assistant nurses employed by the War Office. They are to get £10 for the first year, with increments similar to those for the reserve or the T.F.N.S. Nurses who have already drawn gratuities at the old rates may now apply to the paymaster who issued the original gratuities to have them adjusted according to the new or may keep the old in the very few cases where they are more advantageous.[68]

     There were also extra financial benefits for nurses who remained with the military nursing services after the Armistice. In August 1919 a ‘war bonus’ was announced, payable to nursing staff who continued their employment with Q.A.I.M.N.S., Q.A.I.M.N.S. Reserve, or the T.F.N.S. after February 1st 1919, and to include certain VADs and Special Military Probationers. They received additions to their pay of 3s. 6d for a VAD, 8s. 9d. for a staff nurse and 10s. 6d. for a nursing sister for each week worked after February 1st on the condition that they agreed to work until the 30th April 1920 or until their services were no longer required, whichever was the sooner.[69]

     Nurses varied enormously in their attitudes to their pay, some considering they were poorly paid and finding it hard to manage on what they received, while others found no difficulty in accruing savings during wartime

Forwarded to D.G.M.S. application to resign from S/Nurse J. V. I. Lusk, Q.A.I.M.N.S.R. Canada, in order to join the C.A.M.C. This lady had stated that she could not live on the pay she was at present receiving. Added a minute to the effect that she was now receiving £100 pay and allowances, and that her statement was not understood.[70]

     Considering how few opportunities they had for leisure activities, travel, or home leave during their service, it can be hard to understand how their perspectives were so varied or what the more extravagant among them found to spend their money on. There were many who at the time felt that their contribution was not sufficiently rewarded but the post-war increase in bonuses and gratuities went some way to make their efforts seem financially worthwhile. When, in 1920 the majority of the QAIMNS Reserve and TFNS members had been demobilised, the time came to increase basic pay for regular members of QAIMNS from rates which had remained the same for nearly twenty years. From the 1st April 1920 the starting rate for a staff nurse in the service was raised to £60 and for a nursing sister £75. As the service moved forward and fresh recruitment began, an incentive had at last been set.[71] 


     To provide a comparison with the pay of nurses in civil hospitals in the United Kingdom at that time, I have put here details of rates paid to both trained nurses and probationers at Leicester Royal Infirmary, taken from the British Journal of Nursing, 30th January 1915, to act as a guide.  They may be assumed to be increased by the addition of free board, lodging and laundry.


[61] Army Council Instruction 2306 of 1916
[62] Terms of Service with the Voluntary Aid Detachments of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John, Military Hospitals, Nursing Members; British Red Cross Society Archives.
[62a] War Diary of the Matron-in-Chief, The National Archives, WO95/3989, 31 January, 1916
[62b] Ibid., 13 September, 1916
[63] Dorothea’s War; The Diaries of a First World War Nurse; ed. Richard Crewdson; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2013; page 24.
[64] Ibid., p.47.
[65] Ibid., p.95.
[66] Ibid., p. 91
[67] Army Order 194 of 1919, published 9th May 1919
[68] British Journal of Nursing, 17th May 1919, page 331
[69] Army Order 300 of 1919
[70] War Diary of the Matron-in-Chief, WO95/3990, 28th March 1918
[71] For a copy of these revised pay scales see the previous section on ‘Contracts.’