Read all about it!


     If you would like to read more about the history of nursing, particularly the military nursing services, the following list should give some ideas.  Many of the books are available through libraries, second-hand bookshops across the country, and online.   Most of the books relate specifically to the history of nursing in general,  and the military nursing services in particular.  I've included some memoirs and private accounts, but be warned that a few of these contain a lot of one-sided comment and inaccuracy - reader enjoy, but beware!


Kirsty Harris
Big Sky Publishing, 2012

     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:

Big Sky Publishing

And on Kindle from

More than Bombs and Bandages on Kindle


Mary Ingham
Pen and Sword, 2012
204 pages, with black and white illustrations throughout the text
ISBN: 978 1 84884 173 4

     This book is the latest in Pen and Sword’s series of family history guides and will prove a welcome addition to the series. Although not confined solely to the Great War, much of the content concentrates on women who saw service during that period. It covers all the main organisations that were active in supporting the armed forces between the Crimean War and the 1920s, and includes some groups that have been sorely neglected in the past and remain poorly researched or understood.

     The book is divided into eighteen themed chapters, each concentrating on one particular aspect of women’s service. In addition to the more familiar military nurses, there are sections on less well-known groups including army schoolmistresses, military masseuses, the Women’s Forage Corps and the Indian Army Nursing Service. Each chapter works as a stand-alone research guide, giving a short background and history of the service, with details of printed and online sources, and of archives who hold relevant material. Individual catalogue references are supplied throughout, which cuts through many difficulties and helps make what could be a lengthy search very simple indeed. Descriptions of uniform, badges and insignia are accompanied by contemporary photos, providing an easy guide to distinguishing the different groups. Each chapter also includes some details of honours and awards, and of casualties suffered.

     There is so little written on women’s work during the Great War, and what exists often takes the form of memoirs, reminiscences and diaries. Until now there has been a dearth of factual information and detail to help the family historian uncover the working life of their female ancestors, with other military sources often failing to recognise how many of them served alongside, or gave support to, our grandfathers, cousins and uncles. Mary Ingham has used her extensive knowledge and meticulous research skills to produce a comprehensive guide that is unique in supplying a wealth of information previously unpublished. It will prove an invaluable aid both to those taking their first steps in family history, and also to the experienced researcher approaching a new and previously untrodden path.
I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in women’s history.


Nursing in Wartime

Angels and Citizens - British Women as Military Nurses 1854-1914;  Anne Summers; Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988

Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps;  Juliet Piggott;  Famous Regiments Series, Leo Cooper Ltd., 1975

One Hundred Years of Army Nursing ;  Ian Hay [Sir John Hay Beith, CBE MC]  Cassell and Co., 1953

Sub Cruce Candida - A celebration of one hundred years of Army Nursing 1902-2002;  QARANC Association 2002

Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service;  Kathleen Harland;  G. Shepherd (Portsmouth) Ltd.

The British Nurse in Peace and War;  Elizabeth S. Haldane;  J. Murray, 1913

For Dauntless France - An Account of Britain's Aid to the French Wounded and Victims of War; Laurence Binyon; Hodder and Stoughton, 1918

The Women of Royaumont - A Scottish Women's Hospital on the Western Front; Eileen Crofton; Tuckwell Press, 1997

The Quality of Mercy - Women at War Serbia 1915-18;  Monica Krippner;  David & Charles, 1980

The Roses of No Man's Land;  Lyn Macdonald;  Michael Joseph Ltd., 1980

Fighting Different Wars - Experience, Memory and the First World War in Britain; Janet S. K. Watson; Cambridge University Press, 2004

While You're Away - New Zealand Nurses at War 1899-1948; Anna Rogers; Auckland University Press, 2003

Great Days in New Zealand Nursing; Joan Rattray; A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1961

The Other ANZACS - Nurses at War, 1914-1918; Peter Rees; Allen and Unwin, 2008

Working for Victory? - Images of women in the First World War 1914-1918; Diana Condell and Jean Liddiard; Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987

Women at War 1914-1918;  Arthur Marwick;  Fontana, 1977

The Story of British V.A.D. Work in the Great War; Thekla Bowser; Andrew Melrose, 1917, and the Imperial War Museum, 2003

Wartime Nurse - One Hundred Years from the Crimea to Korea 1854-1954; Eric Taylor Robert Hale  2001

Front-Line Nurse - British Nurses in World War II;  Eric Taylor; Robert Hale 1997

Nurses at War;  Women on the Frontline 1939-45;  Penny Starns;  Sutton Publishing, 2000

Grey and Scarlet - Letters from the war areas by army sisters on active service;  Hodder and Stoughton, 1944



History of the Great War based on Official Documents: Medical Services (Volumes 1 to 4); Major-General Sir W. G. Macpherson; HMSO 1931; reprinted by The Naval and Military Press in association with the Army Medical Services Museum

History of the Great War based on Official Documents: Medical Services, Casualties and Medical Statistics; HMSO 1931; reprinted by The Battery Press, Nashville, in association with the Imperial War Museum

Reports by the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England on Voluntary Aid Rendered to the Sick and Wounded at Home and Abroad and to British Prisoners of War, 1914-1919; HMSO 1921 and reprinted by The Naval and Military Press in association with the Imperial War Museum

British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers 1914-1918; British Red Cross Society 1918 and reprinted by Savannah Press, 2004

Honours and Awards to Women to 1914; Norman Gooding; Savannah Press, 2007


History of Nursing

A History of the Nursing Profession;  Brian Abel-Smith;  Heinemann, 1960

A General History of Nursing;  Lucy Seymer;  Faber & Faber 1932

The Story of the Growth of Nursing;  Agnes E. Pavey; Faber & Faber 1938

The Lamp and the Book - The Story of the Royal College of Nursing: 1916-1966; Gerald Bowman; Queen Anne Press, 1967

Nursing and Social Change;  Monica Baly;  William Heinemann Medical, Ltd., 1973

New Zealand Military Nursing - A History of the RNZNC Boer War to Present Day;         Sherayl Kendall & David Corbett; pub. by the authors, 1990


Personal Accounts and Memoirs

Reminiscent Sketches 1914 to 1919 - by members of Her Majesty Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service;  John Bale, Sons & Danielsson, Ltd., 1922

Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915;  published anonymously by William Blackwood in 1915, but since attributed to Katherine Luard.  As a member of the Army Nursing Service Reserve, Kate Luard was mobilised on the outbreak of war, and this account details those early days of confusion and movement, and her life as a nursing sister on an ambulance train during 1914 and 1915.

Unknown Warriors;  Katherine [Kate] Luard;  Chatto & Windus;  1930.  A continuation of the book above, taken from letters and diaries.  It covers her period as a nurse in some of the most exposed Casualty Clearing Stations during the most difficult days.

In All Those Lines; The diary of Sister Elsie Tranter 1916-1919:  Edited by J. M. Gillings and J. Richards; Published by the Editors 2008.  Edited diaries of a member of the Australian Army Nursing Service, which gives a wonderful insight into the lives of nurses in France. 

Edith Appleton's Diary:  Edith Appleton was a trained nurse who kept a diary throughout her time in France and Flanders, and it has been edited and put online by members of her family.  Another account that gives an all-round and balanced view of life both on and off duty during the war. As the book has been recently published (details below) some of the web content has been reduced, but a lot of information and news remains here:

Edith Appleton's diary  has recently been published by Simon and Schuster in conjuction with the Imperial War Museum as 'A Nurse at the Front'. (March 2012), and sympathetically edited by Ruth Cowen. The book page on Amazon can be found here:

Testament of Youth - An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-25; Vera Brittain Various publishers over many editions

Chronicle of Youth - Vera Brittain's War Diary 1913-1917; Ed. Alan Bishop and Terry Smart;  Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1981

A V.A.D. in France,  Olive Dent;  Grant Richards Ltd., 1917.  An account of Olive Dent's experiences as a nursing VAD at No.9 General Hospital in Rouen. 

A Diary Without Dates;  Enid Bagnold; William Heinemann, 1917.  A beautifully written account of Enid Bagnold's life as a nursing VAD at the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich.  Shamelessly biased in places against the trained nurse and Army methods, and the publication of which resulted in her dismissal from army service.

Hearts and Pomegranates - The Story of forty-five years 1875-1920; Dame Katharine Furse, GBE, RRC; Peter Davies, 1940

The Personal Diary of Nurse de Trafford 1916-1920;  [Moor Park Hospital, Preston]; Martin Kevill (Editor); The Book Guild, 2001

The Forbidden Zone - A Nurse's Impressions of the First World War; Mary Borden; William Heinemann, 1929 and Hesperus Press, 2008

We That Were Young; Irene Rathbone; Chatto and Windus, 1932:  A novel, though strongly based on Irene Rathbones own experiences in France as both a YMCA canteen worker, and also as a nursing VAD.

Not So Quiet ... Stepdaughters of War; Helen Zenna Smith;  A feminist novel based on the diaries of a member of an ambulance convoy, who later saw service as a member of the women's army (not the author herself).  This is definitely fiction, and combines sets of circumstances which could never have happened to one person, but well-written and an enjoyable read.

King's Nurse, Beggar's Nurse; Sister Catherine Black (Blackie); Hurst and Blackett Ltd., 1939


World War Two and Later

The Maturing Sun - An Army Nurse in India, 1942-45;  Angela Bolton;  Imperial War Museum, 1986

Many Coloured Glass - A Nurse in War; Mary Wrangham Hardy; The Pentland Press, 1989

The Will to Live - The Story of Dame Margot Turner, D.B.E., R.R.C.; Sir John Smyth; Cassell, 1970

A Nurse's War -  Brenda McBryde; Chatto and Windus, 1979

Quiet Heroines - Brenda McBryde; Chatto and Windus, 1985

Once Upon a Ward - V.A.D.s own stories and pictures of service at home and overseas 1939-1946; Doreen Boys, 1980

Spike Island - The Memory of a Military Hospital;  Philip Hoare;  Fourth Estate, 2001