company nursesEdinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2014
ISBN: 9780748679119
£22.00

Yvonne McEwen ((Official Historian of the British Army Nursing Service and Director of 'Scotland's War 1914-1919' the University of Edinburgh Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict)

This is a seminal text for anyone studying or interested in nursing and medical practices during the First World War. It seeks to break the myths and romantic nonsense that has seeped into so much of the writing on the topic in recent years. In particular it discusses at length the work of the professional, trained nurses of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAs), the Reserve and the Territorials, who undertook the vast majority of nursing and care giving overseas.

It has an excellent index and bibliography to assist further research, while the list of abbreviations means the non specialist can follow and understand the complex "Learning Curve" that the nursing service underwent during the course of the war, making excellent use of quotes. The working professional relationships between the nurses, the Royal Army Medical Corp, stretcher-bearers and orderlies has been missing from other texts. For the first time we have a sense of how all elements worked together to help the sick and wounded in the "Chain of Evacuation", in particular on the Western Front.

The early working conditions for nurses on trains and hospital ships reflect their professionalism and duty towards the men in their care. The narrative is clear and very well written, the different roles of the QA's, the Reserves, the Territorials and the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) who nursed primarily at home is placed in context, with detailed examples and footnotes. The structure allows the reader to analyse the social, political and cultural changes as the war progresses, together with rapid nursing and medical developments.

Both Home and Overseas service is discussed but of particular note is the chapter on Gallipoli and the wider Dardanelles Campaign. Appendix 1 lists the nurses awarded the Military Medal, together with citations. These simple accounts show the danger that so many worked in and accepted as part of their usual working conditions, in particular the QAs.

Appendix 2 Disabilities and Pensionable Years details the cost many of these nurses paid for their dedication and responsibility. The whole text reflect the highest level of academic research but it is both accessible and readable, being exceptional value for money and written by a renowned expert in the area of military nursing. Yvonne McEwen has given the women who served as QAs or VADs, whether at home or overseas, their identity back as individuals and placed their work within the political framework of nursing and the wider context of the First World War.

I very much look forward to a Second Volume, which will continue to tell the story of the British Army Nursing Service.

Dr Phylomena Badsey MA

Project Manager / Visiting Lecturer
First World War Research Group
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Wolverhampton

 

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