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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.

. Shifting work and gender boundaries As nurses extended and expanded their work beyond the ‘normal’ remit of nursing practice,7 the gender and professional boundaries between medicine and nursing blurred. On active service overseas nurses increasingly ‘stood in’ for their medical colleagues as the exigencies of war demanded. One sister, part of the BEF evacuating Marseilles in June 1940, wrote that the colonel of her unit asked her about the medical fitness or otherwise of the patients: ‘He said he could not find the M.O. to ask him. I gave my opinion.’8 Sister Mary

in Negotiating nursing
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project. The College and its leading figures were keen proponents of structured general practice and shared care schemes, and received support from significant specialists in the field. Moreover, they collaborated with the other Royal Colleges, and with specialists in the BDA, to create guidelines and conduct service reviews of new programmes, highlighting how shared interests could transcend professional boundaries. The coalescing of these institutions around technologies of management suggests that this period saw the emergence of new visions of

in Managing diabetes, managing medicine
Guerrilla nursing with the Friends Ambulance Unit, 1946–48

prepared to breach traditional professional boundaries and/or societal expectations that contravened her Quaker beliefs – a pattern that would precipitate tensions when, in March 1947, she joined MT19, at the International Peace Hospital (IPH) in Yenan, deep within Communist territory. Elizabeth Hughes, already assigned there in late November, welcomed the opportunity to work and live with her husband more permanently. As for Stanley, it meant severing the important female and romantic relationships that had mitigated her loneliness and professional adjustment since

in Colonial caring
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environment and increased their understanding and respect of the nurses’ clinical and recovery skills. These renegotiated relationships enabled a more fluid set of professional boundaries and a greater sense of trust. Nurses and doctors developed new therapeutic methods to recover men together, as colleagues bound by the exigencies of a highly mobile and technological war. It is these extended, expanded and new nursing roles that will be examined in the following chapter. Notes 1 Agnes Kathleen Dunbar Morgan, ‘My dearest mother’, letter 87 (September 1944), CMF, 2, IWM

in Negotiating nursing

the attendant need for nurses to live in.3 Many nurses had married on active service overseas, or planned to marry at war’s end. Unlike the social expectations of the men who became their husbands, for women, marriage was not expected to be combined with work outside the home, and this was only partly because of the professional boundaries placed on them. The reassertion of traditional gender rules post-­ war re-­ established discomfort with married women’s work,4 although in reality this never fell to pre-­war figures.5 It was considered highly desirable that

in Negotiating nursing