Archive for January, 2011

The RIEVs, as they are fondly called, have played a key part in the history of nursing and care in some of Edinburgh’s hospitals for the last 73 years. We will be interviewing a number of the  RIEVs as part of the project and look forward to posting their memories on the blog and tracking down a badge for the collection.

After so many years of dedicated voluntary service and fundraising, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Volunteers met for the last time for a celebratory farewell tea at the Roxburghe Hotel in December 2010. Having heard some of their stories and fascinating memories, we have been able to persuade a number to record their experiences for the ‘Unsung Heroes’ Project, for along with the nursing staff, these mainly ladies are very much the unsung heroes of some of Edinburgh’s medical institutions.

Ranging in age up to 87 years – the longest serving member has worked as a volunteer for 41 years and seen many changes in Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, the Eye Pavilion and the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion.

A Brief History

The Beginnings. Volunteers started out life as ‘the RIE Ladies’ Extension Appeal Committee’, which held its inaugural meeting at the City Chambers on 26th July 1937. This was in response to an appeal launched by the managers of the Infirmary which aimed to raise funds to build an extension to the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh – to build the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion (SMMP) and the Florence Nightingale Nurses’ Home. These were the days before the NHS when the Royal Infirmary was funded entirely by donations.

The committee consisted of many well known Edinburgh ladies and countesses, and was headed by the Countess of Minto. As stated in the first minutes, they aimed to raise £30,000 towards the extension appeal fund, a not inconsiderable sum in the 1930s. The early minutes show that the ladies had many ideas about how to go about raising the funds which included: an auction, a bridge drive, a badminton tournament, a period ball (to be held at the BBC), a cookery book and concerts at the Usher Hall.

Once the funds for the extension had been raised, it was felt that the original name no longer reflected the aims of the organisation and the name was changed in 1938 to the Women’s Maintenance Council (WMC). Their first undertaking was to supply the Maternity Pavilion (about to open in 1939) with nightdresses, baby vests and cot linings. It was estimated that 3,000 baby garments would be required each year; by March 1939, the WMC had made 3,599!
They also started going into the RIE with books, bandages, bed jackets and towels and soon were also meeting daily to make swabs, dressings and garments.

World War 2. During WW2, the work of the WMC was increased as swabs were made for the war effort.Marjory Maw, Honourable Secretary, wrote in the publication ‘Women’s Maintenance Council 21 years 1938 – 1959’.

“All through the war, the Work Room was open all day, three evenings a week and Sunday afternoons, filled with workers cutting and folding gauze, making huge quantities of spagnum moss dressings and rolling plaster bandages. Help was given making dressings for the Skin Department, cutting bread for the Nurse’s Dining Room and even padding Thomas’ splints. Coats, dresses, siren suits and other garments were made in the Work Room for blitzed areas.”

Another wartime activity, inaugurated in 1940, was a very successful second hand market. There goods of every conceivable kind were gathered. This continued until the end of clothes rationing in 1950.

It was also at this time that some of the longstanding services began with the popular canteen and the tea trolley service to the out-patients’ departments.

Post War. By the mid 1960s the WMC had introduced a library, a trolley service to the wards, a telephone trolley and the Santa Claus fund which provided Christmas presents for young and elderly patients. The popular hospital shop opened at the SMMP, with a turnover of £4k per month and an automatic and very popular stocking vending machine was provided for the Florence Nightingale Nurse’s Home.

In 1976 it was felt that the word ‘maintenance’ no longer applied to the breadth of activities that the WMC were involved in and the name was changed to the ‘RIE Volunteers’ (RIEVs).
The 1980s saw further increases in services such as the purchase of a bus for geriatric patients, whilst at the same time trying to cope with reduced revenues, largely as a result of a decision to stop selling cigarettes in the hospital shop!

The 1990s saw further changes: there was a continued increase in takings from the café, the Eye Pavilion buffet, the shop, buffet and trolleys to outpatient departments. In 1993, a new audiology service started to assist with the distribution of hearing aid batteries. However, by 2000 the number of volunteers had fallen to 284, of whom, 50% were over 70 years old.
Since 1981, the RIEVs have donated over £1 million to the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, including funds to help collect their history as part of this project.

1.With thanks to the Lothian Health Services Archives for the research that they provided.

2. Images: Above – Nurses at Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Shop, c.1960s. © Lothian Health Services Archive. Below- Trolley Service, c.1960s © Lothian Health Services Archive


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Unsung Heroes

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