Guerrilla nursing with the Friends Ambulance Unit, 1946–48
This chapter draws upon a rich collection of untapped private and public papers held in Canada, the USA, and Great Britain. With the promise to “go anywhere, do anything”, British surgical nurse Elizabeth Hughes and American public health nurse Margaret Stanley were cast into unexpected adventures punctuated by danger and unremitting demands to care. As part of ‘Medical Team 19’, they joined Mao Zedong’s Eighth Route Army when the International Peace Hospital evacuated after the fall of Yennan in 1947. They illuminate ‘complex entanglements of nursing as it was imagined and practiced on the liminal frontiers between war and peace’ that have characterised the post-colonial era. This article is attentive to how multi-faceted power relations intersect with faith, gender, race, place and nation to shape nursing imperial exchanges. Their experiences question post-colonialists’ prevailing portrait of Western nurses as cultural imperialists and reinforce the need for a multidisciplinary framework to critically analyse the agency, assimilation and accommodation of both Western nurses and their Chinese colleagues. Recovering their stories suggests there may be more continuity with the major contemporary challenges for collective humanitarian responses to conflict-ridden complex crises than previously acknowledged.
American colonial and missionary nurses in Puerto Rico, 1900–30
Winifred C. Connerton
This chapter explores intersections between nurse education and Americanisation in colonial Puerto Rico. It examines overlapping messages of Protestant missionaries and the U.S. colonial government, highlighting U.S. nurses’ active participation in those messages. Nurses’ letters to nursing journals, annual mission reports and colonial government’s annual reports to the Department of War, reveal strong connections between evangelical mission goals and the colonial government’s goals. Trained nursing, gradually became incorporated into ideas of proper American health care. Prior to the American occupation, there was no tradition of trained nursing in these colonies; rather, care was provided by family members, hired nurses with no formal training, or Roman Catholic nursing sisters. The U.S. government promoted the nursing profession as contributing towards successful self-governance for the territories because trained native nurses would minister to their countrymen and demonstrate proper sanitation and health practices. Similarly Protestant missions expected that nurses trained in the mission hospitals would offer health care to their communities, while also evangelising the Protestant understanding of Christianity in the predominantly Roman Catholic colonies. Nurses’ correspondence demonstrates they could not (and did not want to) separate the ‘American’ from the nursing, no matter whether in secular colonial or mission settings.
Women such as Julia Stimson and Helen Dore Boylston were motivated by both a desire for travel and adventure and a wish to prove themselves as professional women. They met the challenge of wartime nursing service, and the sometimes-chauvinistic responses of medical men to their presence in the ‘zone of the armies’, with a combination of diplomacy and indifference.
Young and inexperienced volunteer nurses, such as Shirley Millard discovered the complexities of war-nursing during their service in France. Millard wrote an honest account of her feelings of inadequacy and disillusionment. In a similar vein, Rebecca West ghost-wrote the memoir of a young American volunteer nurse known only by the pseudonym, Corinne Andrews. These memoirs both reveal the powerful desire of some women to participate in their country’s war-effort, and the realities of war-service for untrained and inexperienced volunteer-nurses.
The so-called ‘VAD’ – the British volunteer nurse – received much public attention both during and after the First World War. VADs’ writings were powerful because they were produced by well-educated and articulate young women who were moved by the power of their experience in the military hospitals of the First World War. Their memoirs provide witness-statements to the realities of war-injury and to the significance of nursing work in alleviating the trauma of war. They do also, however, offer a harsh critique of the discipline of military nursing
Nurses’ First World War memoirs offer significant insights into the suffering endured by the war’s wounded and document the power of professional nursing in alleviating such suffering. They reveal both the tensions inherent in the relationship between professional and volunteer nurses and the ways in which these were often overcome to permit a close and supportive partnership. The social and professional backgrounds of nurses and volunteers had a significant impact on the ways in which they wrote about their wartime nursing experiences. Professionals were more likely to write about their patients than themselves; while volunteers offered sometimes harsh critiques of professional discipline while, at the same time, revealing their fascination with the power of nursing practice. Nurses wrote about their travels and adventures as well as about their nursing work, and some of their texts can be seen to have a ‘heretical’ quality: a few offer powerful exposes of the horror and futility of war.
Some of the writings of soldier-memoirists have been likened to epic romances, because they describe the way in which the so-called ‘hero’ faces ordeal and achieves ‘apotheosis’, or personal transformation. Some nurses’ writings adopt a similar style. The romance trope was particularly powerful for writers on the Eastern Front. The memoirs of Florence Farmborough and Mary Britnieva reveal their authors’ attachment to the idea that nurses were transformed by the ‘ordeal’ of their experience.
One of the nursing sisters who served at L’Hopital Chirurgical Mobile No. 1, Ellen La Motte, was a prestigious yet radical American nurse, who had trained at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Her memoir, The Backwash of War has been celebrated as an example of literary modernism. Alongside her work stands that of Maud Mortimer, who wrote a carefully-encoded memoir of L’Hopital Chirurgical Mobile No. 1, which incorporates an oblique critique of La Motte’s perspective.
Some wealthy early-twentieth-century British ladies contributed to the war-effort by providing fully-funded, equipped hospital units. Although rejected by the official military medical services of their own nation, these were accepted by nations with less well-developed medical services, notably Belgium and Serbia. Significant wealthy volunteer-nurses included Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland, Mabel St Clair Stobart and Sarah Macnaughtan.
Professional British nurse, Kate Luard, and highly-trained US nurse, Alice Fitzgerald, both served with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service during the First World War. Both wrote powerful memoirs of their experiences. Their very different perspectives combine to offer an overview of the British military nursing services on the Western Front, which captures both a sense of their dedication to military nursing and the nature of the trauma they witnessed – and experienced themselves.