The Tablet Page 24, 8th February 1908
There are not many of the nun-nurses of the Crimea left among us—not, we believe, more than four, namely, Mother Mary Aloysius, the last survivor of the band of Irish Sisters of Mercy who tended the sick and wounded in the hospitals at Scutari ; Sister Stanislas and Sister Anastasia (both now at St. John’s Wood), the representatives of the English Sisters of Mercy who gave an equal devotion to the same service ; and Mother St. George, of the Convent of the Faithful Virgin, Norwood. Of these, the first, Mother Mary Aloysius, put on record some ten years ago her wonderful experiences in that delightfully simple and graphic little book, “Memories of the Crimea.” Mother St. George resigned a few weeks ago the active headship of the branch house of her Order at Folkestone (which she helped to found) and has now returned to pass her remaining days in the Norwood Convent, where she was professed sixty years ago at the age of twenty-one. This week the readers of The Daily Chronicle were privileged to hear some of the reminiscences of this venerable nun, recounted in an interview which she gave to a correspondent of that paper.
“I must have five of your Sisters by seven o’clock to-morrow morning at London Bridge ready to start for Constantinople.” Those brief, imperative marching orders from Bishop Grant were handed to the Mother Superior of the Convent of the Faithful Virgin at Norwood late in the evening of Sunday, October 22, 1854. Before six o’clock the next morning the Sisters asked for were at Bishop Grant’s house, and they started the same day with Florence Nightingale and her nurses for the East. Of that little band of five, Mother St. George was the youngest, and to-day is the sole survivor. The Order of the Faithful Virgin is a teaching, not a nursing order; but when that urgent cry of “More Nurses for the East” came from the perishing Army, there were few trained for the work who could immediately step into the breach, and hence it was that, at Bishop Grant’s summons, the Sisters of the Faithful Virgin came eagerly forward to fill the gap, and they filled it at Scutari nobly from November, 1854, till February, 1855, by which time plenty of nursing Sisters had arrived. Mother St. George recalls the enthusiasm with which Florence Nightingale and her nurses were received when they landed at Boulogne. “Then we sailed from Marseilles” (she says); “it was a Friday, I remember, and the Captain objected to starting on Friday. The sailors were perfectly sure that the ship would go down. But Miss Nightingale would not wait ; she was anxious to reach her work as soon as possible. We had terrible weather, and the ship at one time was in very great danger in a narrow passage. However, we reached the Bosphorus safely, though I believe the ship was too damaged to make the return voyage, and Miss Nightingale said to the Captain, Why, I thought we were all to go to the bottom because we sailed on Friday ‘ ; and he answered, ‘And so we should have done if we hadn’t had Sisters on board I” On arriving at Scutari, Mother St. George went with the other nurses to the great palace which the Sultan had placed at the disposal of the British Government for a hospital. “At that time,” she says, “all the wounded had to be brought across the Black Sea before they could be properly treated. Many died on the way across, or directly they were brought in. But the men were so good, so brave, so delicate. Why, they would try to take off their soiled bandages themselves to save the Sisters the task. And some of these men were brought in after lying out six weeks in the trenches, so that their clothes stuck to their skins, and it was difficult to remove them. There was no chloroform in those days ; so when a man had to be operated upon they used to put a ball of lead in his mouth.” Of Miss Nightingale, though she has never seen her since she left Scutari, Mother St. George retains a vivid impression. “Tall, slender, upright she was, with dark hair. Very, very gentle in her manner, but very capable. She was a wonderful nurse. And she was very accomplished, too ; she spoke three languages fluently. The officers at the hospital at Scutari did not like a woman put over them ; I think she often suffered much from that. She used to be called ‘The Bird.’ We came home in the Candia with some invalided officers and men, coming direct to Southampton. It was a Sunday morning when we reached port, and we went ashore to see if we could find a church and hear Mass. A troop of street boys followed us ; they were so astonished at our white robes, and cried that it was ‘the Emperor of Rooshia and his five daughters come over.’ ‘Them Rooshians ‘—that was how the soldiers always spoke of the enemy,” concluded Mother St. George, with a smile.