Many will be familiar with the Great War biographical memoire of Vera Brittain—Testament of Youth—in which she recounts her experiences as a VAD in England, Malta and France. The image of the doughty VAD from a well-to-do family, doing her bit—Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey—is how most people see the nurses of the Great War. This caricature was certainly my view for a long time, although I was aware of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, and the Royal Navy’s equivalent, Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service.
No-one has done more to enlighten me about the reality of nursing in the Great War than Sue Light, a nurse who has spent many years studying her profession, in particular military nursing in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Her work is extensive, thorough, detailed and fascinating.
The first of her three on-line information depositories is Scarlet Finders, which provides a wealth of information on British military nurses. Particularly interesting is the transcribed war diary of the Matron-in-Chief, British Expeditionary Force, France And Flanders. Continue reading