The First World War was the first ‘total war’. Its industrial weaponry damaged millions of men, and drove whole armies underground into dangerously unhealthy trenches. Many were killed. Others suffered from massive, life-threatening injuries; wound infections such as gas gangrene and tetanus; exposure to extremes of temperature; emotional trauma; and systemic disease. Tens of thousands of women volunteered to serve as nurses to alleviate their suffering. Some were fully-trained professionals; others had minimal preparation, and served as volunteer-nurses. Their motivations were a combination of compassion, patriotism, professional pride and a desire for engagement in the ‘great enterprise’ of war. The war led to an outpouring of war-memoirs, produced mostly by soldier-writers whose works came to be seen as a ‘literary canon’ of war-writing. But nurses had offered immediate and long-term care, life-saving expertise, and comfort to the war’s wounded, and their experiences had given them a perspective on industrial warfare which was unique. Until recently, their contributions, both to the saving of lives and to our understanding of warfare have remained largely hidden from view. ‘Nurse Writers of the Great War’ examines these nurses’ memoirs and explores the insights they offer into the nature of nursing and the impact of warfare. The book combines close biographical research with textual analysis, in order to offer an understanding of both nurses’ wartime experiences and the ways in which their lives and backgrounds contributed to the style and content of their writing.

vivid, but carefully anonymised account of what appears to be the same hospital. Note 1 Claire Tylee, The Great War and Women’s Consciousness: Images of Militarism and Womanhood in Women’s Writings, 1914–64 (Houndmills and London: Macmillan, 1990): 7. 28

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Introduction The Great War remembered The First World War was known in its own time as the Great War; its protagonists believed that it would be ‘the war to end all wars’.1 The earliest attempts to recapture it  – either as memoir or as history – struggled to put into words a reality that was so complex that it defied expression. Later generations created their own collective cultural understandings but most of these were based on the male, combatant experience. It was not until the 1980s that the perspectives of women gained public attention; even then, the

in Nurse Writers of the Great War

, 1854–1914, rev. edn (Newbury: Threshold Press, 2000). 2 Anon., Twenty Months a VAD (Sheffield:  J. Northen, n.d.), 96/317:  13, Red Cross Archive Library, London. 172 Volunteer girls 3 The majority of VADs served on the ‘Home Front’. On VADs, see: Sue Light, ‘British Military Nurses and the Great War:  A  Guide to the Services’, The Western Front Association Forum (7 February 2010):  4, available at www.­ westernfrontassociation.com (accessed 30 October 2012). 4 Christine E. Hallett, ‘ “Emotional Nursing”:  Involvement, Engagement, and Detachment in the Writings

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through the writings of women who served as nurses during the Great War. The grand ideas that fed those writings, and the exemplars on which they were modelled, suffused the culture of the British and Allied nations in the decades prior to 1914 and provided the fuel that drove whole nations to participate in one of the most destructive conflicts of modern times. They were the ideas of empire, and, for women, they found an outlet in nursing.16 Some nurses’ narratives are full of danger and adventure. Some involve freedom of movement on a scale previously unknown for most

in Nurse Writers of the Great War

, no-one understood that what they were eventually to term the ‘Great War’ had no precedents. As historian Paul Fussell points out, terms such as ‘the race to the sea’ had ‘the advantage of a familiar sportsmanlike Explorer Club overtone, suggesting that what was happening was not too far distant from playing games, running races, and competing in a thoroughly decent way’.19 This ‘sportsmanlike’ tone also pervades Luard’s early writings. Women’s historian Claire Tylee has commented on the susceptibility of British women to war propaganda.20 It is difficult to see

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, is more important than the most charming patient (except, of course, a warded M.O.).62 Yet, Angela Smith has identified a contradiction at the heart of Bagnold’s text. Like many women’s writings of the Great War, A Diary without Dates identifies the strange role reversal that permits female nurses to hold power over their male soldier-patients, and in which there is a ‘constant dehumanization and infantilisation’ of wounded 199 Volunteer girls combatants.63 Bagnold both dissociates herself from this power and expresses a fascination with it. Bagnold retains her

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’Serclaes, Flanders and Other Fields: 62–3. 10 T’Serclaes, Flanders and Other Fields: 66–7. 11 T’Serclaes, Flanders and Other Fields: 69. 12 Arthur Gleason and Helen Hayes Gleason, Golden Lads:  A  Thrilling Account of How the Invading War Machine Crushed Belgium (New York: A. L. Burt, 1916). 13 T’Serclaes, Flanders and Other Fields: 78–9. 14 Baroness de T’Serclaes, MS diary; 9029-2, Imperial War Museum, London. 15 T’Serclaes, Flanders and Other Fields: 63–4. 163 Professional women 16 Claire Tylee: The Great War and Women’s Consciousness: Images of Militarism and Womanhood in

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her death, she accepted the award of ‘Lady Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem’. On her gravestone at Chart Sutton are carved the words: In the Great War, by Word and Deed, at Home and Abroad. She served her Country even unto Death.64 Conclusion: heroines on Western and Eastern Fronts Some of the earliest published accounts of wartime hospital work were written by wealthy women belonging to Britain’s social elite. Very few were trained nurses, but all were fascinated by what they saw as the power of nursing to act as a vehicle through which women might make

in Nurse Writers of the Great War

work was a transformative process, which, if approached with a genuine desire to alleviate suffering, could have a profoundly positive effect not only on the patient, but on the nurse herself. Notes  1 Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000 [1975]):  135–44. See also:  Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991).  2 Michelle Smith, ‘Adventurous Girls of the British Empire: The Pre-War Novels of Bessie Marchant’, The Lion and the Unicorn, 33.1 (2009

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