Caring for the wounded of the First World War was challenging work, demanding extensive knowledge, technical skill, and high levels of commitment.
Although allied nurses were admired in their own time for their altruism and courage, their image was distorted by the lens of popular mythology. They came to be seen as self-sacrificing heroines, romantic foils to the male combatant and doctors' handmaidens, rather than being appreciated as trained professionals performing significant work in their own right.
Christine Hallett cuts through the mythology of the times to tell a different story. Nurses believed they were involved in a multi-layered battle. Primarily, they were fighting for the lives of their patients on the 'second battlefield' of casualty clearing stations, transports, and military hospitals. Beyond this, they were an integral component of the allied military machine, putting their own lives at risk in field hospitals, hospital ships and base hospitals.
Allied nurses were also fighting to gain recognition for their profession and political rights for their sex. For them, military nursing might help to win not only the war itself, but also a more powerful voice for women in the post-war world.
Christine Hallett is Professor of History at the University of Huddersfield, Chair of the UK Association for the History of Nursing, and President of the European Association for the History of Nursing. She is a trained nurse and health visitor, and holds PhDs in both Nursing and History. Christine holds Fellowships of the Royal Society of Medicine, UK, and the Royal Society for the Arts, UK.