Fully-trained professional nurses worked on hospital ships during the First World War, caring for the wounded during their transfer from the Gallipoli Peninsula to military hospitals on the Island of Lemnos and in Egypt. Many wrote accounts of their experiences, including diaries, official narratives for inclusion in Arthur Butlers ‘Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914–1918’, and published memoirs. The paper explores the mythical prism through which they interpreted their experiences. Following an analysis of the ‘romance trope' upon which they drew, the paper identifies themes of ‘ordeal’ and ‘struggle’ which formed the central elements of their writings. It also identifies the ambivalence inherent in these writings, which focus on both the ‘heroism’ of soldier-patients and the pressures nurses appear to have felt to behave ‘heroically’ themselves. It concludes that behind the lines of nurses’ narratives there is a sense that, in doing such extraordinary work, these women believed they were both carving out an identity for themselves as female professionals on a world stage, and discovering their own strength and power as individuals.
KEYWORDS: First World War nursing, nurses personal writings, nursing work, Australian and New Zealand nurses
Additional author information
Christine E. Hallett
Christine E. Hallett is Professor of Nursing History at the University of Manchester, and President of the European Association for the History of Nursing.