Elizabeth Annie Dowse



  In her famous book Testament Of Youth, Vera Brittain described the matron of the Britannic as a " sixty-year-old 'dug-out' with a red cape and a row of South African medals". This is probably the best-known information regarding Miss Dowse but it surely isn't enough to illustrate the qualities of one of England's most celebrated military nurses.

 Her long and glorious carrer as a nurse started at St. Mary's, Paddington, between 1878 and 1885. In 1885, she joined the National Society for the sick and wounded in War and soon went to Egypt in order to serve during the campaign of that year. She was one of the first sisters to sail up the Nile as far as Wadi Halfa. On July 15, 1885 she embarked the Bulimba in order to escort wounded soldiers back to England. In December of the same year, she applied for admission to the Army Nursing Service (A.N.S.) and was posted on probation to R.V. Hospital at Netley in 1886. After three months her appointment in the A.N.S was confirmed.

 In 1900, during the campaign in South Africa, she was matron at the Intombi Hospital in Ladymith during the siege of that garrison. It was a very difficult period for the nursing staff who had to endure the acute shortage of food, the heat and the crossfiring of the artillery of both sides. During this campaign she was awarded the Royal Red Cross (R.R.C. - 1st class), a military decoration awarded for exceptional services in military nursing.

 In 1902, the A.N.S became the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (Q.A.I.M.N.S) and Miss Dowse was transferred to that Service in which she remained until her retirement in 1911. She was given permission to retain the  Q.A.I.M.N.S badge on account of her "meritorious and devoted service".

 During the Great War she was re-employed and placed again on active service. During the evacution of the Britannic she maintained the discipline of her staff and left the sinking ship only when she was certain that all her sisters had boarded the lifeboats. Afterwards, she and her staff passed  to other lifeboats in order to take care of the wounded, tearing up their caps and aprons and using them as bandages. An officer of the R.A.M.C. later stated the following to a journalist:

"I know that women can be brave, but I never dreamed they could rise to such heights of cool, unflinching courage as those nurses did when under Miss Dowse, the matron, they lined up on deck like so many soldiers, and unconcernedly and calmly waited their turn to enter the boats. We men are proud of them, and we can only hope England will hear of their courage. They were magnificent."

 For these actions she was awarded aBar to her R.R.C in 1918 (on the occasion of the King's birthday) "... in recognition of valuable services with the British Forces on the Mediterranean Line of Communications". This is a rare achievement, considering the limited number of Bars issued to R.R.C holders after December 15, 1917 (when the Bar was instituted as a military decoration). After her service in the Mediterranean, Miss Dowse was sent to France and was appointed Matron of a hospital unit which was later sent to Taranto, Italy. Her carrer was finally terminated in November, 1919.

She died in the summer of 1941.


Researched  byMichail Michailakis. No unauthorized usage allowed.


The British Journal of Nursing (July 1941 & June 1918)