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British Army sisters and soldiers in the Second World War

Negotiating nursing explores how the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (Q.A.s) salvaged men within the sensitive gender negotiations of what should and could constitute nursing work and where that work could occur. The book argues that the Q.A.s, an entirely female force during the Second World War, were essential to recovering men physically, emotionally and spiritually from the battlefield and for the war, despite concerns about their presence on the frontline. The book maps the developments in nurses’ work as the Q.A.s created a legitimate space for themselves in war zones and established nurses’ position as the expert at the bedside. Using a range of personal testimony the book demonstrates how the exigencies of war demanded nurses alter the methods of nursing practice and the professional boundaries in which they had traditionally worked, in order to care for their soldier-patients in the challenging environments of a war zone. Although they may have transformed practice, their position in war was highly gendered and it was gender in the post-war era that prevented their considerable skills from being transferred to the new welfare state, as the women of Britain were returned to the home and hearth. The aftermath of war may therefore have augured professional disappointment for some nursing sisters, yet their contribution to nursing knowledge and practice was, and remains, significant.

sisters of the British Army were eventually posted to all war zones of the Second World War to care for combatants. The chapter maps the nursing practices on active service overseas that recovered men, including body care, feeding work, the management of pain and support for the dying. These four areas of nursing practice are commonly associated with nursing work, yet, in war zones, they demanded complex gendered brokery. The intimacy of body care, the moment when the single young female nurse meets the young male patient, required skilful negotiations in order to

in Negotiating nursing
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a ‘new world’, and the knowledge of infectious diseases she acquired in her local hospital’s isolation block left her with hands like ‘raw meat from constant soaking in perchloride’.2 Most VADs began their brief nursing ‘careers’ on civilian wards, and many found this a source of frustration, because their primary motivation for undertaking nursing work had been to offer direct assistance to the ‘war effort’. Some offered their services to auxiliary hospitals belonging to the Red Cross or the Order of St John of Jerusalem. From the early spring of 1915, VADs were

in Nurse Writers of the Great War
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the most honourable memorial to the suffering of their fellow countrymen. In writing of their nursing work during the First World War, nurses were also composing portraits of themselves. Whilst some seem to have wanted to remain shadowy figures in the background, foregrounding the courage and resilience of their patients, others chose to depict themselves as actors on a world stage.3 When they wrote, British women such as the Baroness de T’Serclaes, Sarah Macnaughtan, and Millicent Sutherland were drawing upon narrative tropes current in their own culture. The

in Nurse Writers of the Great War

overseas. The first section explores extensions to the nursing role, most particularly in the care of wounds and burns. Both of 129 Negotiating nursing these areas of practice were part of the inventory of traditional nursing work, but the pressures of war demanded that all nurses should become adept at dealing with ever more complex treatments. Crucially for nursing sisters on active service, they were increasingly in charge of treatment regimes without medical supervision. The second section explores the expansion of nursing duties, those that had hitherto been the

in Negotiating nursing
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first book to analyse the engagement of British Army nursing sisters with their combatant patients in the Second World War. By focusing on the psychological tactics that the sisters employed in negotiating the care of their patients, it demonstrates the beginnings of a transformation of nurses from the obedient servants of the hospital to the experts by the bedside, and therefore critical to the healing of the sick. Through the examination of nursing work, this book also extends the historiography of the soldier, the critical cog in the machinery of war. The

in Negotiating nursing
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Nursing work and nurses’ space in the Second World War: a gendered construction

Introduction Nursing work and nurses’ space in the Second World War: a gendered construction The Second World War was a new type of war; it was a global, mobile and unpredictable war. It was ‘among the most destructive conflicts in human history’, in which over forty-­six million people perished, often in the most frightening and inhuman conditions.1 The latter years of the inter-­war period witnessed a modernisation of the military technologies that had been used in the First World War. These developments created tanks, submarines and aeroplanes that could

in Negotiating nursing

compulsion to offer their services to the wounded, through volunteer units acting under the auspices of the French and Belgian Societies of the Red Cross. Many were totally unprepared for nursing work. The memoir of an inexperienced and untrained volunteer such as Shirley Millard offers an oblique perspective on the intricacies and challenges of nursing, and illustrates, more vividly than any professional nursing treatise, the importance of formal training. Rebecca West’s rendition of the diary of ‘Corinne Andrews’ is more complex. It has some of the qualities of feminist

in Nurse Writers of the Great War

publicised mission to the Crimea in the 1850s.1 By raising the profile of the lady-nurse who acted as both compassionate carer and ‘sanitary missioner’, Nightingale had opened up nursing work as a field for women from the higher social echelons on both sides of the Atlantic. In the USA, the message that significant work could be performed in military settings by female nurses was further emphasised by the achievements of Civil War ‘nurses’ such as Clara Barton, Harriet Eaton, and Mary Chesnut.2 The high-profile nursing achievements of elite women encouraged the development

in Nurse Writers of the Great War

not answer any longer.’15 Part of her purpose in writing seems to be to present the French military hospital as the strange, spellbinding place of legend and romance: ‘It is all like a weird dream, laughter (for they laugh well, the soldiers) and blood and death and funny episodes, and sublime also, all under the autumn stars.’16 Most volunteer nurses had had minimal prior experience of ward work; their entry into the military hospital was preceded by only a few months’ nursing work in a civilian or auxiliary hospital. It is probably because of their naivety and

in Nurse Writers of the Great War