The Humane Work Of Nurses

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The Humane Work Of Nurses & Voluntary Aid Detachments During WW1 Essay, Research Paper The dictionary describes the word ? humane ? as ? ??humane adj. Kind, compassionate, merciful.? and this was indeed so in the case of the volunteers who worked tirelessly to ease the suffering of the wounded soldiers of all combatants in the fields of northern France and Belgium, during the First World War. In the early days of the war, army nursing was strictly a male preserve, until it was necessary to recruit female nurses from the ranks of middle and upper class ladies. The warm summer days preceding the outbreak of war lent an air of adventure to the proceedings, and the feeling was that the coming conflict would be fought in a similar fashion to the previous cavalry and infantry-

based battles of the nineteenth century. A few months intensive combat would be sufficient and everyone would be back in time for Christmas dinner. Similarly, these ladies were caught up in the initial fervour of patriotism, and being prohibited from fighting at the Front, were keen to ?do their bit? for their country and their soldiers. Tired of knitting items of clothing destined for the trenches, they wanted to do something a little more substantial. The concept of `noblesse oblige` was suddenly revived as many stately homes and country houses opened their doors to wounded officers in need of convalescence, and everyone wanted to be seen in a nurse`s uniform. Indeed there were many well- connected aristocratic ladies who set up their own private ambulance groups, much to

governmental consternation. The Dowager Duchess of Sutherland, through her contacts and single-minded determination, assisted the wounded at Namur, and used the fact that she was previously acquainted with both the German commandant and aide-de-camp to pester them for safe passage to Maubeuge. She wanted to get through the enemy lines to tend the Allied troops, but the commandant of Maubeuge put an escorted charabanc at her disposal and sent her to Ostend. The Millicent Sutherland Ambulance reached Renaix where the officer in charge sent them with a military escort to Brussels, where the American Ambassador, arranged for an American journalist to escort the party, with two German soldiers, to The Hague and thence Flushing and home. The publicity generated by her escapades set up

an efficient and much- needed Red Cross hospital outside Calais. Women especially were keen to take up ?the great adventure? because, for them, that` s exactly what it was. Many ladies lived very stifling lives, barred by society `s Edwardian ideals of conventional female behaviour, ?The Angel of the Hearth? became ?The Angel of The Trenches?. These women now possessed a measure of economic and social independence away from home, and the awareness that they were performing dangerous and arduous tasks, thus gaining a sense of self-consciousness and status. This fact did not find favour with the older generation, who feared that the experiences of war would ?de-flower? their daughters, in all senses of the word. So it was that many middle and upper class daughters found themselves

as VAD s (Voluntary Aid Detachments), learning to assist medical staff as best they could. ?Now the VAD s , whose hands `this time last year` had seldom touched anything so down to earth as a dish cloth or sweeping brush, were scrubbing and polishing until their arms ached; running at the beck and call of harassed nurses and sisters until their feet swelled through the laces of their sensible shoes; emptying bedpans with hardly a wrinkle of their dainty noses; sterilising instruments in operating theatres ; holding kidney trays of instruments, and looking on as nurses and doctors probed wounds so terrible that only the most hardened of stomachs could look on them with equanimity. Now they were accepted in war hospitals that were desperately short of staff- though not always with