Today marks the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest battles in history. We want to take the opportunity to remember Madge Greg who served as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse in France.
Madge was born in 1892 and grew up in Egerton, near Bolton. She was the daughter of Ernest Greg, who was a younger son of Edward Hyde Greg.
Madge’s passion for medicine began before the outbreak of the First World War. In 1913 she worked as a VAD probationer at the General Hospital in St Albans, and prior to this she had been a Sanitary Officer with the VAD Company in Wilmslow. As soon as war broke out she volunteered at Ancoats Hospital in Manchester, but she still wanted to do more. Madge trained at Auxiliary Unit Hospitals in Manchester and Cheshire, successfully passing her first aid and nursing exams. In February 1915 she joined the Cheshire detachment of the VAD and was one of the first twenty nurses to be sent to France.
Madge’s role as a VAD nurse was to work in rest and dressing stations across France, ensuring that casualties were checked before being sent to hospitals. During her time in France Madge kept two meticulously detailed diaries demonstrating the harsh, chaotic and dangerous conditions that she had to live in. Her stations were often forced to move at very short notice but at no point does this seem to have affected her energy and her constant sense of dedication and duty towards the wounded.
In early July 1916 Madge was stationed south of the Somme. Several days before, they had been advised to continually check their stores and replenish dressings in anticipation of an attack.
On 1 July she described the continuous gunfire they could hear and the arrival of two temporary ambulance trains. The following day another train arrived and she wrote ‘ambulance train arrived, no warning, battle between R.T.O. who wanted to send it on in 5 mins, M.O. said he must have 50 dressings done. We whisked across…and set to on the platform while argument in force…all boilers lit, rations ready, temporary dressing station set up in lean-to shed’.
During the first six days of July her dressing station received 14 ambulance trains and thousands of casualties, as well as 2,000 German prisoners. They worked non-stop, sleeping only an hour or two each night. Her skill and leadership didn’t go unnoticed and she was selected to set up a new dressing station from scratch.
What is remarkable is Madge’s lack of criticism. The only time during the war when her confidence was shaken was after the death of her brother Arthur in 1917, as she wrote in this letter to her father:
‘…Why can’t they kill some of us useless females instead. The most we ever do to help win this endless war is to patch up the sick and wounded men to make them fit enough to be killed again. It’s very hard this war, I hope it will all be over before Bobby has to face it. It gets hard out here, by seeing so much of the effects of the fight on the men and horses, that one does not think at all’.
After the war ended Madge remained passionate about medicine. She studied medicine in London and Manchester and became a surgeon, specialising in orthopaedics. Madge married John Morley, an eminent surgeon at Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1930.
In later life she wrote her autobiography, but was often plagued by her memories of the First World War. Madge died in 1992 at the age of 100.
Ally (Archives and Collections Manager)