Working Life: Nursing

The announcement of war in 1914 created a significant and sudden crisis in staffing for existing healthcare services such as hospitals and local health department.  New military support services were being created and staffed in large quantities by the existing pool of experienced persons who already worked for the Hospitals and Health organisations.

Brighton was an important town during WW1 due to its position on the coast that when wounded men were shipped back to England, Brighton was the obvious choice. Brighton became the 2nd Eastern Territorial Forces which covered Brighton, Eastbourne, Newhaven and Chichester.  Convalescent homes were also utilised for transferring soldiers in the process of rehabilitation.  The Anglo-Jewish community was quick to answer the call as they had loved ones who were joining up to serve King and Country.

Those that were already trained nurses such as Florence Oppenheimer joined the Queen Alexandra Hospital Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) whilst others joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service.  For those women who were untrained but still wished to care for the wounded soldiers they could join the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) which were run by the British Red Cross and they could volunteer to nurse in England or abroad.

Florence Oppenheimer. Photo sourced from

Before the National Health Service medical care was funded by voluntary hospitals and private means and the hospital in Brighton consisted of the Royal Sussex County Hospital.  In 1914 it still served the community but also was allocated 100 military beds, BHASVIC which was then a newly built grammar school became a hospital for wounded soldiers, Brighton General Hospital which became known as ‘Kitchener’s Hospital’ and probably the most famous, The Royal Pavilion, which nursed wounded Indian soldiers.  

2nd Eastern General Hospital, Dyke Road, Brighton, 1919
2nd Eastern General Hospital, Dyke Road, Brighton, 1919

Several hospitals were funded by private donations such as ‘Hove Military Hospital’ in Adelaide Crescent by Fanny Barnato.  The Jewish community provided funding for hospitals such as Beech House Hospital which operated as a franchise ran mainly by Jewish staff for Jewish patients and Tudor House Hospital in London.

The British Jewry Book of Honor contains photos of about 24 of the women who volunteered throughout the country, such as Elsie Borgzinner who volunteered as a VAD at Beech House Hospital in London.

Staff of Beech House Military Hospital
Nurse uniform 1910 – Worthing Hospital , West Sussex (Photo taken by Nicola Benge)

Other women who took part in nursing activities included:

  • Eva Mond Isaacs & her mother – received Red Cross training
  • Enid Margaret Lasar/Lazar – nurse at the John Howard Home in Kemptown, Brighton
  • Maud Messel – Commandant of VAD hospital at Balcombe
Maud Messel with VADs at Balcombe, Sussex – ‘Balcombe at War 1914-1918’ (Balcombe History Society)

Influenza Epidemic

Globally, the influenza epidemic killed more people than the First World War and in the UK around 250,000 people died from the flu. The 1918/19 flu pandemic was distinctive in that it ‘killed mostly young adults’ and came in three waves, the second being the most deadly.  

In Brighton, the peak of the 1st wave was from Jul-Aug 1918, the 2nd wave: Oct-Nov 1918 and the 3rd wave: Jan-Feb 1919. Brighton’s medical staff were already depleted by the war and were “stretched to breaking point” due to the number of flu cases and staff contracting the illness.  The official estimate of the total flu deaths in Brighton was 526 (likely to be an underestimate).

However, deaths from flu received less local coverage than those from the war, in part because more people were killed by the fighting.  For example, in the Oct/Nov 1918 wave the number of deaths from flu was 317 compared with the 2997 people killed in the four years of the Great War.

Over 500 people died in Brighton and we came across six of its likely victims while researching the Shalom Sussex project.  They were:

  • Isaac ‘Jack’ Henry Woolf Barnato (1894-1918) – airman
  • Lieutenant Arthur Sampson Marks (1885-1918) – son of Alderman Barnett Marks
  • Emile Daniel Mayer (1883-1918) – son of a former mayor of Bexhill, Daniel Mayer.  
  • Muriel Messel (1889-1918) – youngest child of Ludwig Messel.
  • Tobias Rosenthal (1889-1918) – soldier, died of pneumonia in Shoreham.
  • Jacke Terresfield (1892-1918)musician & entertainer.

To find out more about the Spanish Flu in Brighton, visit the project site –

Sources used include:

  4. www.jewfww/uk/jewish-nurses-vads-and-military-hospitals 
  9. Source: Jaime Kaminiski, ‘A terrible toll of life: THE IMPACT OF THE ‘SPANISH INFLUENZA’ EPIDEMIC ON BRIGHTON 1918–19’, SUSSEX  ARCHAEOLOGICAL  COLLECTIONS 147 (2009), 193–210.