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Army nurses unveil Mary Seacole memorial

01 July 2016

She has been hailed as the Greatest Black Briton and now Mary Seacole's memory has been immortalised in bronze with the first statue to a named British black woman, in recognition of her dedication in caring for injured British army officers and soldiers in the Crimean War.

The statue, featuring a memorial disc created from an imprint of the ground in Crimea near to the battlefield where Mary based herself, was unveiled outside St Thomas's Hospital opposite the Houses of Parliament yesterday (30 June 16), by Baroness Floella Benjamin and Army Reserve nurses from 256 (City of London) Field Hospital, who all work in London NHS hospitals.

Lance Corporal Bodden-Whisker is an Army Reserve nurse with 256 Field Hospital, and is a theatre nurse in civilian life a the Royal Middlesex Hospital. She said: "It's a great feeling to be involved in this. It's a unique, one-time experience. It's good, and the sun came out just for us."

Permanent memorial

Born in 1805 to a Jamaican woman and Scottish Army officer Mary was already well travelled by the time she came to England requesting to volunteer for Florence Nightingale's official nursing contingent. She was refused on the grounds of race. So she decided she would go anyway and funded the trip herself.

Mary's contribution to the care of wounded troops in the Crimea during the war (1854–56) included the establishment of The British Hotel, near Balaclava, from where she provided quarters to sick and injured officers, and visited the battlefields to nurse the wounded.

The statue was created by sculptor Martin Jennings following a 12-year £500,000 campaign, led by Lord Clive Soley of Hammersmith, chair of the fundraising committee, who was determined to see Mary's contribution to the care of Army personnel on the Crimean battlefield recognised with a permanent memorial. Lord Soley said: "I am absolutely delighted we've done it, as it really is a powerful message about Britain and the world. It's humbling.

"I'm delighted by the contribution of the British military to this, both in the early days when I was trying to get started, with the encouragement and some contributions from Army units who had their forebears at the Crimea; but also the contribution today, which I think is just wonderful."

Mary is an early example of a front line nurse using her skills and compassion to help injured and dying soldiers on the battlefield, and providing rudimentary facilities for the sick and the dying.

In 2004 Mary was voted the greatest black Briton, for her humanitarian work at that time. And, today she is recognised as a woman who successfully combated racial prejudice.

 

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