If we think of her at all, most people imagine her as being gentle and easily led. In actual fact, Florence Nightingale was of sturdy stuff.
She was sixteen the first time she heard God’s voice.
“On 7 February,1837,” she wrote, “God spoke to me and called me to His service.” The wealthy and fashionable Nightingale family was horrified. To be a nurse was no occupation for a lady in the early years of the 19th century. Hospitals were dangerously infectious places, and the only women who were prepared to work in them were regarded as being coarse and promiscuous.
But God kept telling Florence what He wanted, and she recorded the instructions in her honest private notes and diaries.
At the age of 33, she took a job as superintendent of the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances in London’s Harley Street.
Then in October 1854 the war correspondents started writing home from the Crimea.
“It is with feelings of surprise and anger,” wrote the Constantinople correspondent of The Times, “that the public will learn that no sufficient medical preparations have been made for the proper care of the wounded. Not only are there not sufficient surgeons… there are no dressers or nurses to carry out the surgeon’s directions.”
Florence immediately contacted the Secretary of War, offering to take a group of English nurses to Turkey.
He wrote a letter to Florence, saying: “There is but one person in England that I know who would be capable of organizing and superintending such a scheme.”
Florence and 38 nurses landed in November 1854, just weeks after the Battle of Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade. The first order of Florence was for the supply of 200 hard scrubbing brushes.
The hospital was filthy and disease-prone. More soldiers were killed by insanitary conditions than by what they encountered on the battlefield.
Florence and her army of nurses soon righted things. She was hailed as a hero, but she rejected attempts to idealize her. She lived a long life, and tomorrow the worldwide Church will thank God for her. Reg Nicholson