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Veiled Warriors: Allied Nurses of the First World War

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Title: Veiled Warriors: Allied Nurses of the First World War       

Author: Christine E Hallett

Publisher:  Oxford University Press

Reviewer:  Jane Brocksom, urology & continence nurse specialist, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

What was it like?

Written by a Professor and the Director of the UK Centre for the History of Nursing and Midwifery and Chair of the UK Association for the History of Nursing, it doesn’t read like an educational or academic manuscript. This book is not a dry read. Published in such a timely and poignant year it’s a readable, logical and significant. Professor Hallett has published extensively on World War One Nursing and you can tell she knows her subject. It is so comprehensive, plus the bibliography is exhaustive in offering additional reading material. Included are historical writings and first hand accounts, sometimes these can distract when reading but in this book they add to the books logical format, they make the book as brilliant as it is.

What were the highlights? 

For me, who has an interest in History of Nursing, I was submersed by page one, in the introduction an apology is mage for the “angliocentric” perspective but this doesn’t detract it adds an extra interest. The most interesting aspects were the VAD’s v trained nursing perspectives, the conflict whether myth or reality is discussed here at length and really makes you reflect on your perceptions of Nursing in the early 1900’s. In the Introduction Professor Hallett does much to set the scene of the period and lays down a lot of the history of this era – professional Nursing v Voluntary Aid Detachment – heroine, courageous or romantic? Another aspect carried throughout the book is the nature of published books from the period recalling first hand accounts, these are books published by VAD’s and I think by the end of the book you can understand this far better. An excellent argument is presented here about writing and voicing from the western front, you begin to understand why Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth was read so greatly and how trained nurses didn’t publish their accounts but used nursing journals to convey messages. Yes there was NT (and BJN) in 1914! Another huge aspect of the book is the understanding of how the injured were ferried from the front line through the “lines of evacuation” in itself a feat of organisation, due to the complex injuries and numbers of men involved.

Strengths & weaknesses:

I can find no weaknesses, I have only positives. The biggest compliment I can pay to this book is its readable and fascinating, published timely and is relevant to today’s struggles of being a trained nurse. 100years on we continue to struggle with professionalism, registration and failing to voice and address our significance in healthcare.The nurses within the war zones were practising within specialities and working closely with all many of HCP’s long before it became the norm, trained nurses were taking on extended roles and pushing boundaries, yet this was hidden from view “writing about oneself was considered taboo” and was possibly toned down to protect family back home. An interesting comment is made in the introduction regarding the number of first hand accounts, which sit in archives and remain unread, sadly. The book contains many pictures of nurses looking professional and taken reflecting work rather than “posed” or reflecting “patriotic femininity”. The index is exhaustive as the book is broken down into sub chapters and all chapters end with a conclusion.

Who should read it?

This book adds vastly to our body of knowledge, research and understanding of historical nursing, First World War nursing either from nurses within the UK or abroad. It would make a wonderful addition to all nurses’ bookcase – with a ripped dustcover, broken spine and well thumbed. At least mine is!

Veiled Warriors


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