Thursday, 16 August 2007

On the Horizon

Over the last three or four years I've spent a lot of time transcribing original, unpublished documents relating to the nursing services during the Great War, which are held at The National Archives, Kew. Most of these documents were originally stored at the War Office, and transferred to TNA over the past twenty years; since then the majority have never been looked at [except by me]. A year ago I decided to undertake a massive project by transcribing the official war diary of the Matron-in-Chief with the British Expeditionary Force during the war, Maud McCarthy, which runs to well over three thousand pages, and almost a million words. It took over my life for twelve months, and knowing what a treasure house it is, I intended to edit and publish as much of the content as I could fit between two covers. I really wanted to show what the basics of life were like for the women who served in France and Flanders - not the blood and bandages bits necessarily - but the ordinary comings and goings, and minutiae of their day to day existence. However, as I started to edit, and cut large chunks out, I realised that because of the size of the complete work, too much would end up on the cutting room floor, and I wouldn't achieve what I set out to do.

So I've recently taken the decision to publish many of these documents, including the diary, on the web, and am just in the process of trying to work out what form they will take, and how to get them into readable shape. Because they are Crown Copyright documents, I'm free to do with them what I wish [more or less], as long as I don't use any actual images of them, and I acknowledge their source in full. Besides the diary, there are many accounts of the various nursing services during the Great War, including all the overseas nursing services who worked alongside the British. In addition, I've recently acquired copies of many WW2 personal accounts, written by members of QAIMNS and the Territorial Army Nursing Service, and one document giving the locations of all British General Hospitals at home and abroad between 1939-46. I'm not sure how long it will be before the first bit appears online, but hopefully not too long - in view of both the length and depth of the work, it will be a long, ongoing process, but I feel very excited at the thought that the documents will be available for all to read, learn from, and enjoy.

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