Nurse's Crimean Courage Back in Spotlight; Wales' Florence Nightingale Honoured after 150 Years

Article excerpt

Byline: Madeleine Brindley

SHE is regarded as Wales' own Florence Nightingale, and yet the contribution made by Betsi Cadwaladr has almost been lost from our history.

On the 150th anniversary of her decision to nurse in the harsh battlefields of the Crimea at the age of 65, steps are now being taken to honour the Bala nurse's achievements.

As her portrait in the heart of the University Hospital of Wales suggests, despite the passage of time, those who remember Betsi regard her as a modern role model for today's Welsh nurses in much the same way that Nightingale became the face of British nursing.

Liz Hewett, director of the Royal College of Nursing Wales said, 'It is unfortunate that Betsi is not as well known as her peer Florence Nightingale.

'However, anyone who reads nursing history would know the wonderful work she carried out at Balaclava. Betsy was known for overcoming obstacles to ensure that medical supplies reached the patients.

'Even though nursing has changed, the core values of nursing inspired by Betsi is essential to the practice today.

'She is one of the unsung heroines of nursing in Wales.'

Betsi was born in 1789 and brought up near Bala, the daughter of a Calvinistic Methodist preacher and poet. Her mother died when she was five.

At the age of nine, Betsi ran away from home and entered the service of Mrs Lloyd - the wife of a clergyman and her father Dafydd's landlord. There she learned to speak English, read and write and play the harp.

By the age of 14 she had left Wales for Liverpool, and later London, to work as a domestic servant. She also changed her named to Elizabeth Davis - Cadwaladr being too much of a mouthful for English speakers.

Betsi later travelled the world on a number of ships, providing support for the captains and their families, visiting Africa, Asia, South America and Australia.

She had at least two offers of marriage, according to the account of her life by L Twiston Davies and Averyl Edwards - one to an Indian prince, which she declined, another to a Captain Harris, which she accepted - only for him to be lost at sea aboard the Perseverance.

While in London Betsi, by then middle-aged, trained as a nurse at Guy's Hospital.

While living with her sister, she read an account of the battle of the Alma in 1854 in The Times, and decided to go to Crimea to help the British soldiers who were dying in their hundreds of cholera, exposure and untreated wounds. She was 65 years old.

Initially posted to Scutari under the leadership of Florence Nightingale, Betsi did not take to the Lady of the Lamp, writing in her autobiography, 'I did not like the name Nightingale. When I first hear a name I am very apt to know by my feelings whether I shall like the person who bears it.'

She left Scutari to work at Balaclava Hospital, about which she said, 'The sights I saw, I shall never forget as long as I live.'

Twiston Davies and Edwards, in their article Elizabeth Davis: A Balaclava Nurse said, 'The men were in their last stages of exhaustion, verminous, filthy, clothed only in rags...

'Many of the wounds had received no attention for as much as six weeks and consequently they were full of maggots.

'The hand of one man fell off at the wrist as Elizabeth was about to dress it.

'A dying boy, whose clothes were literally crawling upon him and whose body was almost in pieces, expressed his most earnest gratitude to a nurse when she sponged his face. …