Haslar Heritage Group


In 1854 during the Crimean War, the Board of Admiralty sent Mrs Eliza Mackenzie to the Naval Hospital at Therapia. Mrs Mackenzie was accompanied by her clergyman husband and six “trained” nurses. The nurses had undergone a minimum of six weeks experience in a civilian hospital.

Although Mrs Mackenzie and her staff had proved trained nurses could improve standards of patient care in Naval Hospitals, it was not until 1884 that the Naval Nursing Service was formed and the first Nursing Sisters were appointed to the Royal Naval Hospitals at Haslar and Plymouth. Not only were improvements noted in the care of the patients but also in the training and performance of the Royal Navy Sick Berth Attendants. The first naval Sisters served on board SS MALACCA during the Benin Expedition to West Africa.

Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, wrote in 1901 to the First Lord of the Admiralty, saying it was her “great wish” to have the “Navy Nursing Department also under my special charge”. This proposal was enthusiastically received and on 10 November 1902, the first regulations for Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS) were published.

During the First World War, Reserve Sisters and Lady Probationers and ladies from the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VADs) augmented the Service Nurses, releasing the Sick Berth Staff for sea duties. QARNNS Sisters served in Hospital Ships and some were lost at sea due to enemy action. Caring for severely wounded patients in a ship rolling in rough seas was found to be extremely difficult and exhausting.

On the death of Queen Alexandra in 1925, HM Queen Mary became Patron of QARNNS.

In World War II, QARNNS Sisters served in many areas of conflict and, with the Reserves and VADs provided care ashore and afloat, at home and abroad coping with shortages of stores and equipment. Nursing Sisters experienced a variety of situations including bombings, being torpedoed and incarceration in a Japanese prison camp. During the latter part of the war, QARNNS sisters were involved in the repatriation of patients from the Pacific Islands to Australia, India, America and Canada.
During the Korean War, HMHS MAINE for four months was the only hospital ship conveying the sick and wounded from Pusan to Osaka. The heat, humidity and minimal staff made the nursing task most difficult. In 1955, HRH Princess Alexandra became Patron of QARNNS following the death of Queen Mary.
From its inception, the Naval Nursing Service had been an all officer and female Service. Advances in professional practice were implemented and changes in the Terms and Conditions of Service improved the status of QARNNS Sisters and their Reserves. It became clear that the Service would need to be enhanced by QARNNS Nurse Ratings and on 20 February 1959 the Naval Nursing Auxiliary Branch was formed. In 1962 Nurse Training commenced, for the State Registered and State Enrolled Nurse qualifications.


The Falklands Conflict of 1982 saw QARNNS Sisters and Nurses on active service in HMHS UGANDA and another generation of QARNNS personnel cared for sick and wounded servicemen in difficult circumstances.


Male Nurses of the Royal Navy, trained alongside QARNNS nurses for their civilian qualifications. It was agreed that male nursing personnel should be integrated within the Service and It was agreed that male nursing personnel should be integrated within the Service and on 1 April 1983, the first male nurses joined QARNNS.

Lessons learned during the Falklands Conflict were incorporated into both the naval and professional training of QARNNS and led to personnel undertaking their initial training alongside their Royal Navy colleagues.

During the Gulf War of 1991, QARNNS personnel formed part of the Medical Team in the Primary Casualty Receiving Ship (PCRS) RFA ARGUS, providing care in a forward situation. After war QARNNS personnel provides humanitarian care in Kurdistan. QARNNS Sisters and Nurses again served in RFA ARGUS during the second Gulf War. Regular training is taken on board, with members of the Royal Navy Medical Service and Royal Marine Bandsmen, who act as stretcher bearers amongst other duties. 
With the move towards increased service alongside Army and Royal Air Force colleagues and multinational tasking for military operations, QARNNS Officer ranks and badges caused problems with identification. QARNNS ratings had worn modified Naval badges since 1985. In 1995, QARNNS Officers adopted Royal Navy rank titles and badges, retaining Queen Alexandra’s monogram of two As embroidered in red., interlacing a gold anchor and cable erect. In April 2000, QARNNS was incorporated into the Royal Navy.

Currently, QARNNS personnel are on active service wherever UK Naval forces and tri-service medical staff are deployed.

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