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My novel, Angel of Mercy, focuses on a young woman serving during the First World War with the Canadian Army Nursing Service. While her experiences are fictional, she and her colleagues are based on the brave nurses who served overseas during nearly five years of war.
“In his much-admired book published in 1975,” Baroness Williams of Crosby, the daughter of Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse Vera Brittain says, “The Great War and Modern Memory, the American literary critic and historian, Paul Fussell, wrote about the pervasive myths and legends of WW1, so powerful they became indistinguishable from fact in many minds. Surprisingly, Fussell hardly mentioned nurses. There is no reference to Edith Cavell, let alone Florence Nightingale.”
As we commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the war, much attention is being paid to the soldiers who served and the men who died. However, let us not forget those who served in the medical corps. Their sacrifice and dedication saved many lives.
10 Facts About World War One Nurses
- Nurses were not treated on equal terms with doctors, the majority of whom were men.
- There was a rift between professional nurses and untrained volunteers. The professionals felt the volunteers undermined the legitimacy of the profession.
- Many early British hospitals were run by aristocratic women who felt they were entitled to the position because of their experiences running grand estates.
- Nurses worked long hours, often dealing with insects, rats, and the weather, and their positions close to the front placed them in danger.
- Many women’s decisions to serve caused conflict in their families.
- New medical techniques had be to learned quickly, such as blood transfusions and wound disinfection.
- Nurses had strict rules of conduct, and breaking the rules could lead to dismissal.
- The Endell Street Military Hospital in London was run and staffed entirely by women. It cared for 24,000 patients during the war.
- Nurses served not just on the Western Front but in North Africa, Greece and Romania, on the Italian front and at military base hospitals.
- Nurses put duty first, no matter the peril. A prime example is Edith Cavell.
Did any of your ancestors serve in the medical corps during World War One? Leave a comment below.
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Updated: 2 August 2018