Thursday, 19 July 2012

More than Bombs and Bandages

Australian Army nurses at work in World War 1
Kirsty Harris
Big Sky Publishing, Australia, 2011

     There is relatively little written about nursing during the Great War particularly from the British angle. A few memoirs and diaries exist, but considering their large numbers, British trained military nurses rarely put pen to paper and if they did, most of the most of their efforts no longer survive.  Looking further afield, accounts from members of the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand nursing services are not only much more common, but there exists a continuing national pride in their contribution and a wish to ensure it doesn’t get forgotten as time goes by. A long overdue history of the British military nursing services has been commissioned and is underway, but at present there remains a huge gap crying out to be filled.

     Although this new book by Kirsty Harris deals exclusively with members of the Australian Army Nursing Service during the Great War, it also helps to fill a void in knowledge that surrounds British military nurses. It describes nurse training in Australia before the war, and then tracks the women through mobilisation; exploring new environments, roles and relationships; coping with wounds and diseases rarely encountered before, and the development of surgery and procedures made necessary by a protracted and violent war. The book makes no effort to spin out long tales of heavy convoys, blood, gangrene and death, although of course they get a mention.  It lays out a comprehensive, clear and concise account of how nurses worked during the war; how they learnt and applied new skills; their need to improvise in almost every area of life and work, and how lives were changed by their experiences, both in positive and negative ways. It also describes the manner in which military hospitals were organised and managed, and how varied and sometimes difficult surroundings affected the nursing staff.  It draws on many personal accounts by members of the AANS employed in military hospitals worldwide, including Egypt, India, Salonika, the United Kingdom, East Africa, on board hospital ships and of course in France and Flanders. And despite the star of the book being the Australian nurse, much of what’s inside also relates to her British counterpart.  There is a great deal here to be learnt, indirectly, about how the British nurse lived and worked; the way in which their nursing experience was expanded by new innovations in medicine and surgery; the types of problem they faced on a daily basis and how they coped with new and often troublesome obstacles.  This book is recommended reading for those looking for information about the Australian Army Nursing Service, but more importantly it demonstrates a wider picture of nurses and nursing during wartime, whoever and wherever they were, and is therefore a vital source for anyone wanting to learn more about all military nurses during the Great War.
     The book has been published in the UK for Kindle only, making the extensive and valuable notes and sources a little more difficult to negotiate, but it has been well edited for the format, with accompanying images appearing as clearly as the small page size allows, and they remain a helpful and worthwhile addition.  It takes a good nursing history to get me excited these days, but this one is thoroughly recommended for interested readers of all nationalities.

Hard copies can be obtained from the publisher in Australia:

Or on Kindle from Amazon
More than Bombs and Bandages

1 comment:

  1. Hello there, I am so excited I found your site, I really found you by error, while I was researching on google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a fantastic post and a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all at the moment but I have saved it and also included your RSS feeds.