Florence Nightingale: A New Look at a Victorian Heroine, was the title of the curtain raiser at the 10 July lecture meeting. The speaker was Marjorie Dean, who stressed that the real genius of Florence Nightingale, remembered in history chiefly as a pioneer in nursing sick and wounded British soldiers in the Crimean War of 1854-56, was in organising health care and collecting statistics.
Florence was born in 1820 in the Italian city from which she took her name. Her parents were English, Protestant and well to do, and particularly her semi-neurotic mother expected her to adopt the customary, purposeless, lifestyle of a woman of her age and class. Instead, she developed an interest in care of the sick, which was reinforced by a religious experience she had undergone at the age of 17 that instilled in her the principle of selfless service to God.
By the time the Crimean War broke out Florence was 34 and had educated herself thoroughly in all the current aspects of health care. She had also nursed in the famous German medical institution at Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, and had turned down an offer of marriage. Her interest in the Crimean War arose through newspaper reports of the appalling treatment accorded the sick and wounded British soldiers. At her own request she was invited by the Secretary for War, Sydney Herbert, to see what could be done to alleviate the situation. Florence established herself, along with her small 39-strong team of trained nurses, at the British military hospital at Scutari, a former Turkish Army barracks situated on the Bosphorus. It accommodated only the casualties that could not be treated on the battlefield, and who were able to survive the 325km journey by open boat, cart and wooden sled.
Florence found Scutari infested with vermin, lacking supplies, with no furniture or cooking equipment, and reeking from the sewers that ran underneath. The flood of casualties, that got worse after the Battle of Inkerman, had overwhelmed the medical staff. With the help of supporters back in Britain, she and her team set about scrubbing, organising, improving diet, and re-equipping the hospital. She soon found that deaths from cholera and typhoid easily outnumbered those from wounds.
Her care of the military patients in Scutari earned her the sobriquet: The Lady with the Lamp.
The experience gained at Scutari enabled Florence to propagate and popularise her ideas of how the sick should be treated and hospitals organised in Britain itself. These led to the reform of medical care in the British Army, and the establishment of the Royal Army Medical Corp. They also established nursing as a respectable profession for women. Her appetite for collecting statistics propelled the movement towards improved public health care in late 19th century Britain. For the rest of her long life she continued to gather facts and figures to support concepts of health reform. Florence Nightingale died in 1910 aged 90 and full of honours.
The main lecture of the evening was given by Paul Chappe on the PRAW, the Police Reserve Air Wing in Rhodesia, which played such an important role in the war against communist-sponsored terrorism in that country.
The PRAW was the volunteer air wing of the British South African Police. Its aircraft were small and economical, and mainly commandeered from private owners. Paul had considerable tracking skills, and became involved in anti-terrorism following a successful experiment to find out whether tracking could be done from the air. On his first flight he established that it was easy enough to track people walking over grass by the shine they left on it - easier in fact than it was from the ground. As a bonus he was able, in company with his pilot friend Gerry, to locate a group of terrorists in time to prevent the ambush of a party of armed police.
This success led to the establishment of the PRAW as a unit of Rhodesian defence. The pair began frequent reconnaissance flights to check likely hideouts, such as rocky hilltops. Occasionally there were visual sightings of terrorists, and security force patrols were able to follow up on the radioed messages from aircraft. The terrorists frequently obliged by wearing boots with easily identifiable patterns on the soles of their boots. Their main terrorist effort was directed at the civilian population. On one occasion the flying duo were able to rescue two Native Department employees who had been taken prisoner after their vehicle was blown up by a mine. They were tied up in a hut and waiting to be fried alive, a favourite punishment for anybody caught working for the Rhodesian Government. Their place of captivity was discovered from the air through the behaviour of a young woman carrying water. It was noticed that she failed to Konzela to two groups of women she walked through. Such uncharacteristic impoliteness was enough to identify her as a terrorist, and her destination as the hut where the two men were being held. Ground support was called up and the men rescued.
It was soon realised that the PRAW had to be armed. Paul's father had told his son how air gunners of the Royal Flying Corp in WW1, had been taught how to fire their machine guns at right angles to the direction of the aircraft. A heavy-barrelled FN rifle was obtained, and after suitable practice reasonable accuracy was achieved. This proved exceptionally useful in rescuing two members of a motor cycle reaction unit who had been fired on when approaching a suspect house, and had become pinned down. Using a home made, bent-wire sight, the roof of the building was soon penetrated and the terrorists flushed out into the open.
Later they acquired a Cessna 186, along with a brand new machine gun and a much-improved sight. This was mounted in the open doorway of the aircraft and proved much more effective. The enemy frequently returned fire, which generally missed the aircraft owing to the difficulty of hitting a circling object. However, eventually the inevitable happened and the plane was hit. Fortunately for Paul, who was handling the gun, the bullet went straight into the ammunition box on which he was leaning. It was deflected and slowed by the unused rounds to such an extent that although it hit his jacket, it did not penetrate.
Various other adventures rounded off an exciting career as an air-born terrorist fighter of the Rhodesian police reserve.
George Barrell (Scribe) (011) 791-2581For Durban details contact Ingrid Machin (031) 201-3983
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