SISTERS OF MERCY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR EXHIBIT OPENS AT TSARSKOYE SELO

Royal Russia – May 2016

On 5th May, the Sisters of Mercy of the First World War exhibition, opened at the Russia in the Great War Museum in the Sovereign’s Martial Chamber at Tsarskoye Selo. The exhibit features cards and postcards dating from 1914-1918, from the private collection of Victor Palagnyuk, a member of the St. Petersburg History Club. Also on display are items from the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve.

On 3 May (O.S.) 1867, Emperor Alexander II approved the charter of the “Society for the care of wounded and sick soldiers.” In 1879 the company was renamed the Russian Red Cross. Its honorary members included the emperor, the grand dukes and grand duchesses, many high-ranking secular officials and representatives of the higher clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In accordance with a tradition which dated back to the time of Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Emperor Paul I, Maria Alexandrovna became patroness of many charitable organisations in Russia, including the Red Cross.

During the First World War, the image of nurses was actively used to raise the spirit of national patriotism and anti-German propaganda. In an atmosphere of patriotic enthusiasm the Sisters of Mercy service to the Red Cross on January 1, 1917 consisted of about 20 thousand nurses.

The most famous Sisters of Mercy were the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her eldest daughters Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana. “The women of the Imperial family served as examples of appropriate wartime service for Russian womanhood and were meant to inspire enlistment in the Red Cross,” says Laurie Stoff of Louisiana Tech University.

For their courage and selflessness in the rescue and care of wounded soldiers on the battlefields many nurses received the St. George medal with the inscription of the Red Cross. The only woman to be awarded the Order of St. George “For Courage”, was Rimma Ivanova.

The cards and postcards presented at the exhibition reflect the image of a nurse in a variety of circumstances of war: providing first aid to the wounded at the war front, to help protect them from the line of fire, nursing the sick and wounded soldiers in the hospitals, the hospital trains, etc.

Many of the cards and postcards depict the artwork of famous artists of the time: Mikhail Nesterov, Sergei Yaguzhinsky, Peter Heller, Timofey Mozgov, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky and their contemporaries.

Photographs are imprinted with activities of the medical service with the participation of nurses at the war fronts.

The exhibition presents the cards and postcards of various charities, the texts of which called for the care and compassion towards the sick and wounded soldiers.

True rarities of the exhibit include photographs of members of the Sisters of Mercy with dedications to their relatives and loved ones, as well as postcards sent by mail to the nurses themselves.

The collection of cards and postcards is complemented with unique items from the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Together, they unite the theme of the Red Cross in Russia during World War I. The exhibition highlights the heroic role in which the nurses are reflected not only in various fields of life, but also art.

In June 2016 a monument to the Sisters of Mercy of the First World War will be unveiled in Moscow. Two draft models of the monument, by the sculptors Lev Beybutyanom and Jan Neumann, are currently on display during the exhibition in the Sovereign’s Martial Chamber at Tsarskoye Selo.

The monument will be installed in the 3rd Central Military Clinical Hospital, the grand opening will take place on 23 June, 2016.

The Sisters of Mercy of the First World exhibition runs from 5 May to 5 September 2016 in the Sovereign’s Martial Chamber at Tsarskoye Selo

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