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.

Christine E. Hallett

6 The war nurse as free agent Introduction: the rewards of professional nursing In the second decade of the twentieth century, the nursing professions in both Britain and the USA had attained a level of recognition that permitted their members considerable personal and professional autonomy. During training their lives were circumscribed by the patriarchal hierarchies of early-twentieth-century hospital life; but, once they had attained the level of ‘senior probationer’, nurses exercised high levels of responsibility – often running wards and supervising junior

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
Christine E. Hallett

5 American nurses in Europe Introduction: American nurses and the war in Europe Some nurse writers focused determinedly on the positive elements of military nursing, emphasising their own roles as effective humanitarian workers providing a highly professional service. Among these were Julia Stimson, a senior US nurse, and Helen Dore Boylston, a sister with the Harvard Unit. Yet the decision of such nurses to engage in the war ran counter to a powerful strain of pacifism in the writings of others. In August 1915, when Britain had been at war for a year, a BJN

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
Christine E. Hallett

most highly trained clinical personnel.2 Many American volunteer nurses enlisted with the French Red Cross and found themselves posted to field hospitals where fully trained nurses were scarce. The development of a nursing profession in France had been slow and uneven. There were very few secular training schools, and much of the country’s civilian nursing care was in the hands of religious nuns who, even though they were often 175 Volunteer girls highly competent carers, had very little technical training.3 The outset of the war also saw the recruitment of large

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
Christine E. Hallett

9 Epic romance on Western and Eastern Fronts Introduction: the romance of volunteer work Most volunteer nurses of the First World War were female, young, and – within the limits of their time – well educated. They were more likely than trained nurses to publish memoirs of the war. Somewhat paradoxically, they were also more likely to write about the intricacies of nursing practice. While the writings of trained nurses focused on the courage and endurance of patients, those of volunteers emphasised the drama of nursing itself. Chapter  8 explored the ways in

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
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Christine E. Hallett

through the head while staring through a loophole.1 Nurses, too, could write with authority. Although only a combatant like Blunden could faithfully describe a sudden death or the emotional turmoil of trench life, a nurse such as Alice Fitzgerald could write of the horror of witnessing slow death from wound sepsis or the anxiety of lying in a bell tent during a bombardment with a steel helmet over her face. Some nurse writers were careful observers and relentless truth-tellers. Others wrote with purpose, some with pacifist intent – to show that war was horrific, not

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
Christine E. Hallett

4 In France with the British Expeditionary Force Introduction: the power of professional nursing In the second decade of the twentieth century, a British nursing reform movement, which had begun more than seventy years previously, was reaching its zenith. In the 1840s, small and isolated groups of British nurses, inspired by Continental examples and working under the patronage of the Church, had begun to demonstrate the value of a disciplined nursing workforce. Their achievements had been catapulted into the public consciousness by Florence Nightingale’s highly

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
Christine E. Hallett

1 Heroines in Belgium and Serbia Introduction: plucky nurses At the outbreak of the First World War British women volunteered for war service in such numbers that organisations such as the Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem found themselves, initially, overwhelmed. Many of those who offered to nurse the wounded held no nursing qualifications of any kind, and had to wait until they had passed VAD examinations, or acquired full nurse-training in recognised training hospitals, before they could gain acceptance for military service. American women, too

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
Open Access (free)
Christine E. Hallett

voices of trained nurses remained mostly silent. This book offers an analysis of the published war memoirs of nurses – both trained and volunteer. It examines the ways in which the cultural and social backgrounds of nurse writers influenced the ways in which they wrote. It is both a collective biography of a small but significant group, and an exploration of a particular type of cultural output. It asks: What were the experiences of nurses who wrote war memoirs? What motivated them to write? What images of themselves and their work did they project? What meanings did

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
Christine E. Hallett

3 The hell at the heart of paradise Introduction: more writings from L’Hôpital Chirurgical Mobile No. 1 Mary Borden published The Forbidden Zone in 1929, more than ten years after the armistice.1 Long before this  – indeed, even before the war itself had ended  – Agnes Warner’s My Beloved Poilus had appeared in her home town of Saint John, New Brunswick.2 But it was one of Borden’s trained nurses, Ellen La Motte, who produced the earliest memoir of L’Hôpital Chirurgical Mobile No. 1. The Backwash of War was published by Putnam’s in New York in 1916.3 The book

in Nurse Writers of the Great War