Taking a trip to visit Florence Nightingale
With both her grandmother and son as nurses, Christine has always appreciated the sacrifice nurses make. She took this appreciation with her as she made the journey to Turkey to visit the barracks where Florence Nightingale worked over 150 years ago:
In October 2013, I was able to visit the First Army and Florence Nightingale Museum Selimiye barracks in Istanbul, Turkey. As it is a secure barracks, there is a procedure to follow to gain permission to enter. Entry is by arrangement only. Turkish friends in Sydney had translated the two page letter written in English requesting entry.
On arrival in Istanbul, to stay in the old city, Sultahnamet, I faxed the letters in English and Turkish, along with the required identification documentation to the barracks.
I received a polite and helpful response by phone from an official in less than forty eight hours.
I was asked to be at the barracks at 2pm the next day. Travelling by tram down to the main ferry terminal, crossing the powerful Bospherous from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side, I was approaching Scutari (Uskudar). I noted the vast, enormous land of the impressive barracks and University dominating the skyline.
Passing through airport-like security screening, along with a surgeon from Milan, we were greeted and driven inside the barracks in an army car.
A reception committee standing to attention waiting, comprising of a colonel and two aides-de-camp welcomed us warmly and enthusiastically.
The colonel quietly said my name aloud and said the letter was the most perfect he had ever received. We were escorted along a most highly polished, fifty metre long corridor, which Florence Nightingale had used to house all her patients in, instead of separate wards. She could stand at the end of the corridor and see all the patients and nurses.
Thirty seven nurses and caretakers had travelled with Florence Nightingale from England, landing on 4th November 1854. The Selimiye barracks had been allocated to the British soldiers in January 1853, when the Crimean war broke out.
The Museum of the First Army and the Florence Nightingale Museum comprises of two parts.
The First Army Museum is small but exquisitely presented.
There are Turkish Army emblems, the Turkish Flag and pictures, bas life-sized relief and statues along the walls depicting soldiers from various major wars and covering eras of the Turkish military, including the Crimean War, the Gallipoli Campaign 1915, the Balkan Wars 1 and 2 (1912, 1913) and the Independence War of 1919-1922. In the middle of this immaculately presented room, there is an artillery piece and an artillery machine gun nest on display.
In the corner of the northwest tower from this main room of the First Army museum, there is a spiral staircase, leading up to the Florence Nightingale museum and her living quarters.
For me, the best part was ascending to stand amid her original items for example her desk, chair, chaise lounge and pictures she chose to decorate the walls.
The treatment room contained a primitive chest tube for draining wounds.
There were books and letters which, most importantly, outlined the first mention of ‘ The Principles of Nursing”. One letter from her to a British MP requests him to explain to her why a widow, whose husband fell in the Crimean War, was not getting the pension to which was entitled.
I stood at the enormous window she used to stand at in her sitting room, looking across the Bospherous, where she watched the next load of the wounded arriving in trucks to then be put on the ferry to be brought across. Then she would marshal her ‘troops’ to prepare to receive the wounded from the wharf to be transferred to the hospital. The shoreline has vastly changed since then, it would have been closer to the hospital to immediately help the wounded men. Now it looks desolate and run down with industrial work being carried out.
It was such a privilege and a real honour to be able to make this extremely rare visit, as so few people are given permission each year. I was very appreciative and grateful to the colonel, who was wonderful to meet and such an ambassador for his country. He and his staff accompanied us for the entire visit.