Those of us that attend Christ Church Portsdown regularly, are aware of the Military Cemetery to the east of the church. The cemetery was established in 1924 by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission & has been maintained by them ever since. The cemetery contains the Commonwealth dead from both World Wars & other conflicts, many having spent their last days in Alexandra Military Hospital not far from Christ Church near the former small village of Cosham. Before the cemetery was established, military casualties & family members were buried & marked by a simple wooden cross. During the spring of 1916 the funeral and burial took place at Christ Church of a Staff Nurse from Alexandra Military Hospital, as it was then known. Staff Nurse Bridget Donovan died on 3rd April 1916 after contracting Cerebos – Spinal Fever from patients she was nursing, an epidemic occurred during 1915/16 affecting among others, troops from Eastney Barracks in Portsmouth.
Bridget was a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) the forerunner of what is now Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC).
Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward the Seventh, was the first president of QAIMNS when it formed in 1902 until her death in 1925 and her name was given to the red brick Military Hospital built at Cosham in 1904.
Bridget Donovan was born in Tullogher a small rural village in County Kilkenny in the South East of Ireland on 3rd April 1878. She had a younger sister who married and moved to mainland Britain to live in the Oldham area of Lancashire where Bridget as a single lady also moved. During March 1910 Bridget commenced a three year course of training to be a nurse at The Oldham Union Infirmary and on completion of training she remained at the Infirmary employed on the nursing staff.
No doubt influenced by the wartime government appeals for more military nursing sisters, Bridget enlisted into Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve on 12th November 1915. She was posted to Alexandra Military Hospital at Cosham which would have been under extreme pressure at that time dealing with casualties from the front line as well as the Cerebra-Spinal Fever. It is sad to note that she only served at that hospital for a few short months before her death on her 38th birthday from the fever. From the relative safety of Oldham she had lost her life doing her patriotic duty. The gravestone erected in her memory by the Staff of Alexandra Hospital bears an inscription from Job 29 “The ear that heard me blessed me and the eye that saw me gave witness to me: because I had delivered the poor man that cried out. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me.”
On Sunday 3rd April 2016, the centenary of Bridget Donovan’s death, a short commemoration will take place at her grave in the Military Cemetery at Portsdown. This will follow on after the 10:30am service in the church which will be attended that day by QARANC staff from Queen Alexandra Hospital Defence Medical Group. It is also an opportunity for QARANC to celebrate their Corps Day and they look forward to sharing it with the Christ Church congregation in church and afterwards in the church hall.
Acknowledgements to Revd Andy Wilson and Mrs Tracey Harvey a QARANC veteran for assistance in producing this item.
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