Defence nursing exhibition opens at RCN Library

New history display highlights role of nurses from the first world war through to modern conflicts

New history display highlights role of nurses from the first world war through to modern conflicts


Patrol commander Corporal Stuart Robinson was rattling across the Afghan desert on a routine mission for the RAF when he asked the gunner at the back of the vehicle to pass him a bottle of water.

Seconds later an improvised explosive device detonated under their vehicle. The man reaching down to get a water bottle was protected by armour around the gun and lost only a tooth. Stuart, who was sitting in the passenger’s seat, felt the full force of the blast and was thrown 30 feet from the vehicle.

Stuart Robinson, Janet Davies, Chris Carter
RAF veteran Stuart Robinson, RCN general secretary Janet Davies and chair of the RCN Defence Nursing Forum Major Chris Carter at the launch of the exhibition 'For Queen and Country: Nursing Trauma and War'

Airlifted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, he awoke from a coma to a catalogue of horrific injuries that, but for rapid advances in battlefield medicine, would have been fatal.

Stuart’s wife Amy, who was by his side at the Queen Elizabeth, praised the nursing care received, not only by her husband but by the family as well.

Stuart and Amy were guest speakers at the launch of the RCN’s defence nursing exhibition ‘For Queen and Country: Nursing, Trauma and War’ at the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

The exhibition, which runs until September 23, highlights stories of defence nurses from the first world war through to modern conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and includes artefacts, diaries and postcards.

Stuart explained that he lost his left leg in the blast and suffered more than 30 other separate injuries, including an injury to his right leg that meant it had to be amputated.

‘But I don’t remember being on the patrol. I remember being in Afghanistan at some point. My next memory is waking up in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.’

‘To hear the full extent of my husband’s injuries, was horrendous,’ Amy said. ‘To sit through that was quite harsh. This was where the nurses really made a difference.

‘They didn’t feel the need to sound important. They dumbed it down for me, they explained everything in English.’

She praised the ‘personal side’ of the nursing care.

Amy and Stuart Robinson speaking at the launch of the RCN defence nursing exhibition

‘Stuart was in a coma for six or seven weeks and the nurses became my best friends. They were talking to me and him while they were changing his dressings. They talked me through all the operations he had. The nurses made a difference, not just to the patient - my husband - but to me.’

Stuart related his patient journey from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital through the rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, and eventual discharge to NHS care.

He praised the care he has received under the NHS and told of the role of sport in his recovery.

‘I always had a vision of what I wanted to do … finally I found wheelchair rugby. It’s a massively violent sport but it’s right up my street.’

And some of the ITU nurses from Birmingham were in the crowd at the inaugural Invictus Games where Stuart was part of the gold medal-winning Great Britain team.

Chair of the RCN Defence Nursing Forum, Major Chris Carter said: ‘It is important to tell a patient’s story because that is what makes us do our job, regardless of what uniform we wear.

‘We bring care and compassion and that is timeless, regardless of what time or era we have nursed in.’

He said the exhibition would help the public to understand the role played by the defence nurses.

Claire Chatterton, chair of the RCN History of Nursing Society, said: ‘It is important to relate nursing history to current nursing practice and these exhibitions give us the chance to do that.'

Furher information

For Queen and Country: Nursing Trauma and War runs at the RCN Library and Heritage Centre until September 23, and at RCN Scotland from October 2017 to March 2018. A seminar series is also being held in conjunction with the exhibit. More information here.


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