The Florence Nightingale Commemoration Service - why it is so special

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The Florence Nightingale Commemoration Service is an important day in the annual FNF calendar and, indeed, for nursing and midwifery communities worldwide as we come together – to give thanks and to celebrate nurses and midwives everywhere who continue Florence Nightingale’s legacy today. But what happens at the service, this year on 16 May, and why is it such a special event?  

Since 1965, Florence Nightingale Foundation has hosted this annual service in Westminster Abbey. It has been cancelled only once in 58 years, in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla in Westminster Abbey requires the Service to be relocated to St Paul’s Cathedral this year. On 20th August 1910, a public memorial service was held at St Paul’s whilst Florence’s funeral took place at in Hampshire, and a memorial stone is dedicated to her in the crypt of St Paul’s.

Central to the Commemoration Service is the Lamp. Florence Nightingale was known as “The Lady with The Lamp” as she made her rounds at night tending to the soldiers wounded in the Crimean War.

During this service, a burning lamp will be carried through the Cathedral by a chosen FNF Scholar. It will be placed on the altar to represent ‘the undying spirit of the service displayed by Florence Nightingale’, demonstrated by nurses and midwives today. The current lamp was first used for the service in 1970, the 150th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. The Lamp Carrier will be followed by two Lamp Escorts, who lead a procession of other esteemed Scholars of the Foundation, followed by student nurses and midwives. This signifies the transfer of nursing and midwifery knowledge to future nurses and midwives.  

We will also remember nurses and midwives named in two rolls of honour. The Covid-19 Pandemic Roll of Honour, introduced in 2022, is dedicated to all nurses, midwives, nursing associates and health care support workers who courageously and selflessly provided care during the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be carried through the Cathedral by the Chief Nursing Officers and representatives of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The Commonwealth Roll of Honour, introduced in 1965, commemorates nurses who lost their lives on active service in the Second World War and was compiled by the British Commonwealth Nurses’ War Memorial Fund. It will be carried in silence through the Cathedral by a military nurse and escorted by the Chief Nursing Officers of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force.

Both Rolls of Honour are kept in the Florence Nightingale and Nurses’ Chapel, Westminster Abbey.

In addition to observing these historic and poignant processions, our 2,000 guests will hear reflections, biddings and prayers read by Officers and friends of the charity.

We welcome global and UK based representatives from across all nursing and midwifery organisations and communities to the Service, sponsors and supporters of the charity, our recently graduated Scholars, alumni who have attended our leadership programmes in the past twelve months, and FNF Academy Members. 

Greta Westwood

“During my role as CEO this service will be my second full service, and third including the very Covid restricted service in 2021. I also attended as a scholar in 2012. Every service so moving, so reflective and so different, the common thread is the sublime music. It is an honour to host this celebration of nurses and midwives, always a highlight in my year, always wondering what Florence would say!” Professor Greta Westwood CBE, CEO, Florence Nightingale Foundation

We host an FNF Students’ Day that same day: a unique opportunity for student nurses and midwives from across the UK to network with peers and established leaders, learn from our educational programme, participate in debates, and celebrate our professions. Attendees then attend the Commemoration Service. Highlighting again the importance of the transfer of knowledge and innovation from one generation to the next. 

We are delighted to reveal to you this year’s lamp carrier and the two lamp escorts, chosen from our recently graduated FNF Scholars. Hear how they are feeling in the days leading up to the service:

“I feel extremely honoured and privileged to be the lamp carrier at the Florence Nightingale Commemoration event. A similar lamp is given when you graduate as a nurse in the Philippines and I still kept mine after 25 years! For me the lamp is a symbol of compassion, vocation and credibility of all nurses. It felt special being highlighted, clapped and celebrated during the pandemic but it is more special knowing that we can be the light for each patient, and I would like to carry the lamp for all the dedicated and selfless nurses in the UK and the world.” Louie Horne

“I am truly honoured to be one of the escorts for the Lamp at the 58th Annual Florence Nightingale Commemoration Service. This year I celebrate and give thanks to 30 years in nursing, a profession that I am immensely proud to call family. As a recently graduated Florence Nightingale Foundation Leadership Scholar, I am indebted to the support of the Foundation and my fellow Scholars, the experience has been both personally and professionally nourishing for the mind and soul.” Professor Steven Hams MBE

“It’s a huge privilege and honour to be selected after graduating as a Florence Nightingale Foundation scholar last year. The scholarship has helped me really challenge myself and develop my skills as a leader. I’m so proud to represent the Digital Midwifery community, and looking forward to using my skills, experience, and knowledge to continue to drive the digital agenda in my profession.” Misbah Mahmood

The event is an opportunity to gather to pause, reflect, and rededicate ourselves to the professions in the 203rd anniversary year of Florence Nightingale’s birth on 12th May 1820. We give thanks to all nurses and midwives everywhere as they support health systems to recover and rebuild following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

For those of you attending on the day, we very much look forward to welcoming you at St Paul’s Cathedral. The event is free to attend and, as a charity, we are asking those going to help us to support the next generation of nursing and midwifery leaders by donating what they can, either via the collection being organised by military student nurses at the end of the service or on our website. 

We are unfortunately unable to invite all our nurses and midwives and supporters. For those unable to attend but we will be live-streaming the event here, and the recording will also be available for a short while afterwards. Please visit our website on the 16 May in advance of 5pm to view the event. 

The event is sponsored by Nuffield Health, a strategic partner to FNF, and all flowers are gifted by Freddie’s Flowers.