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New exhibition to mark contribution of nurses in WWI

A new exhibition marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is to be opened next month by the Royal College of Nursing.

‘Frontline Nurses: British Nurses of the First World War’ will open at the RCN’s Library and Heritage Centre on 4 August, precisely a century after Britain declared war on Germany in 1914.

“The conflict brought about many changes in nursing”

Christine Hallett

The exhibition explores the contribution of nurses to the allied war effort between 1914 and 1918. Nursing was a popular route to war service and women came forward in their thousands.

Items on display will include an autograph album kept by nurse Mabel Pearce. Compiled during her time with the Territorial Force Nursing Service in Greece and Italy, it is signed by soldiers she cared for and features many drawings and poems.

Another item on show will be a copy of the Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, which was written by Kate Luard and published in 1915. Kate Luard served on one of the earliest hospital trains on the Western Front and then several casualty clearing stations.

Professor Christine Hallett, director of the UK Centre for the History of Nursing and Midwifery and a committee member of the RCN History of Nursing Society, said the exhibition explored a “significant period in nursing history”.

“Caring for the wounded was very challenging work and required high levels of knowledge and commitment on the part of nursing staff,” she said.

“Among all the death and destruction of the First World War, the conflict brought about many changes in nursing and had a major impact on the development of the profession,” she added.

The RCN History of Nursing Society has also planned a series of seminars on nursing during the First World War, which will start in the autumn.

The library and heritage centre itself celebrated its first birthday on 11 July. The centre, which is based in the RCN’s central London headquarters, opened last summer and is home to Europe’s largest nursing-specific collection of books and other items.

  • ‘Frontline Nurses: British Nurses of the First World War’ runs from 4 August 2014 to 31 March 2015. Entrance is free and the Library and Heritage Centre is open to the public

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