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Project aims to highlight sacrifice of nursing workforce in First World War

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An amateur researcher is seeking to catalogue the names and resting places of nurses killed in action during the First World War.

Tanya Birnie, who lives nearby the Somme Battlefields in northern France, has visited many cemeteries over the last year in her quest.

“The nurses played a huge role in the day to day life and survival of the men fighting… as so often said, they were the unsung heroines,” she told Nursing Times.

“The nurses played a huge role in the day to day life and survival of the men fighting… as so often said, they were the unsung heroines”

Tanya Birnie

Ms Birnie started the list using some information given to be her by a historian friend, but said “more and more names are being suggested to me all the time”.

She has currently logged the names of 1,500 nurses killed during WWI and has taken around 200 photos of their graves and memorials.

“At this very point in time, I am gathering pictures of nurses headstones, along with photos of the nurses themselves if I can find them,” she told Nursing Times.

“What I would eventually like to do, when I have gathered all of this is do a very small write up on each of the nurses, their age, service, where they are buried etc.

Ms Birnie said she wanted to complete the project by the end of 2018, to coincide with the centenary of the end of WWI, when she hopes to have enough material to publish in some form.

“As you can imagine, it is a slow process, as there were so many nurses who served during WWI,” she told Nursing Times.

She said: “I was swayed towards WWI after my first visit to the Somme and the horrors of what the men and women went through.

“I was deeply moved and taken in by the serenity and peacefulness of the cemeteries and the area in which we are,” she added.

Ms Birnie has begun to upload some of the information and pictures she has gathered so far on a website. Anyone wishing to help with her research, can contact her via


Some of the First World War nurses that Tanya Birnie has identified:

Caroline Maud Edwards, a sister in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Navy Nursing Service. She died on 30 December 1915 when an internal explosion took hold of the ship HMS Natal while it was an anchor in part of the Moray Firth in Scotland. She was serving on board the hospital ship Drina but had been invited aboard the nearby warship for a party hosted by the captain.

First World War

Caroline Edwards

First World War

A memorial stone for Caroline Edwards

Mary Elizabeth Wills, a staff nurse in the Territorial Nursing Service. She died on 30 March 1918, aged 33, and is buried in Jarrow Cemetery. Her name is also recorded on a marble tablet in the Royal Garrison Church in Aldershot. Her brother John George Wills was also killed during the war.

First World War

Mary Wills

First World War

The grave of Mary Wills

Kathleen Adele Brennan, who served in the Australian Army Nursing Service. She died in Leicester on 24 November 1918 during the influenza outbreak that immediately followed the war. She is buried in the city’s Welford Road Cemetery.

First World War

Kathleen Brennan

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