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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.

posting, many nursing sisters had some experience of the horror of wounds caused by industrial weaponry. However, as suggested in the quotation above, the exigencies of active service, including the often limited access to medical officers, demanded innovative and rapid nursing responses to the life-­threatening injuries of an increasingly technological war.2 Using surgical nursing in war as a ‘case study’ for developments in nursing practices and professional autonomy, the chapter examines the changes to the domain of their work by nursing sisters on active service

in Negotiating nursing

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

5 Reasserting work, space and gender boundaries at the end of the Second World War When you come out of the Forces you will have eight weeks’ leave in which to look round and take stock of your position … You have seen much, and you will bring to civilian life a broadened outlook. It may be that during your period of service you concentrated on one special branch of nursing work, while possibly losing touch with developments in other fields. Perhaps you held posts of great responsibility … While you have been away, those at home have had to carry on as best they

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
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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

2 Challenging nursing spaces In June 1944, Sister Agnes Morgan wrote to her mother from a CCS near Rome: We are frightfully short staffed as a lot of the girls are working at forward F.D.S.s (field dressing stations) and we work like a C.C.S. except that we still think of ourselves as a Hospital and strive to do the ‘little extra’ that makes a difference between a C.C.S. and a Hospital! It is all impossible and rather hopeless, as the tide of human misery and suffering streams in too fast for us to do more than the bare necessities ... under canvas and all the

in Negotiating nursing
So what went wrong?

5 Training the ‘natives’ as nurses in Australia: so what went wrong? Odette Best Introduction The story of the Aboriginal women who participated in Australia’s nursing history remains largely untold. In the first six decades of the twentieth century, Aboriginal people were confronted with harsh exclusionary practices that forced them to live in settlements, reserves and missions.1 While many Aboriginal women worked in domestic roles (in white people’s homes and on rural properties), small numbers were trained at public hospitals and some Aboriginal women

in Colonial caring
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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

European physicians voiced their complaints at standards of nursing available; thus, the head of the Health Service, J. Haga, wrote: ‘With coolies picked up from the street [to work in hospitals] and babus [female servants] stealing from the 146 Nursing in the Dutch East Indies Government and merely staying in their job until they can get a better position, it is impossible to look after sick and injured patients properly.’9 Their nickname ‘hospital hyenas’ does not leave much doubt as to staff attitudes and practices.10 At the 1898 exhibition on Women’s Work in The

in Colonial caring