Tuesday, 21 June 2011


NURSES - The Rose in No Mans Land

Some of the war’s bravest women have been nurses. War and nurses do not by their very nature go together, yet the need for these gentle women was never greater. This is our tribute to their bravery.

There's a rose that grows in no-man's land
And it's wonderful to see,
Tho' it's sprayed with tears
It will live for years
In my garden of memory
It's the one red rose the soldier knows,
It's the work of the Master's hand;
In the War's great curse,
Stands the Red Cross nurse
She's the rose of no-mans land.

The Rose of No Man's Land
There's a Rose that grows in No Man's Land and it's wonderful to see. Midst the War's Great curse stands a Red Cross Nurse, She's the Rose of No Man's Land and she means the world to me. Out of that Heavenly splendour down to the trail of woe, God in his Mercy has sent her Cheering the world below . We call her the Rose of Heaven and we've learned to love her so.

The influence of women is an essential factor in the welfare of humanity, and it will become more valuable as time proceeds” (Jean Henri Dunant Founder of the Red Cross Movement)

By the start of the First World War, all the prudery of the Victorian and Edwardian era was put aside as women chose to care for the sick and wounded and nursing became very fashionable again.

Women, except those who were wealthy, rarely travelled, so the idea of travelling abroad appealed to the QA sisters and most of them had no idea where they were being posted to.

World War I saw hospitals and casualty clearing stations in Egypt, Gaza, Jerusalem, in Baghdad and Basra, Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Nurses were found in Dar Es Salaam with mosquito boots, veils and the much needed quinine, they were found in the sub arctic waters on hospital ships.

The sisters from the QA’s were the vanguard for the first few weeks, followed in large numbers by the territorial nurses.

In Britain several thousand women volunteered for the Voluntary Aid Detachments, they were trained by the British Red Cross or St John Ambulance; many were society women who flocked to local hospitals intent on doing their bit for the war effort, though VAD’s did serve abroad (as will be discovered later).

My tribute starts with nurses, and some of the saddest and most barbaric acts, especially by the Japanese Imperial Army, were inflicted on these gentle and brave women. As I was typing in data, I was interested to know why so many nurses died on the same day – I could envisage a battle somewhere and a hospital attacked; what I couldn’t envisage was
the barbarity of Banka Island and the fate of the 65 nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service on the 14th February 1942, or the torpedoing of hospital ships sealing the fate of many brave nurses.

In both world wars, nurses have been there in the front line, caring so lovingly for their patients, enduring not only battle, but hunger and disease, working in conditions alien to their very training, doing an almost impossible job.

These were nurses from various hospitals in the commonwealth drafted in to the services and also the voluntary nurses who joined the VAD (voluntary aid detachment) of British Red Cross Society or St John Ambulance. War does not respect age, qualification nor gender. I think of all the women in this tribute my utmost respect is for these nurses.

Nurses are not by nature combatant and under the Geneva conventions were protected, it must have been very difficult for them to undertake their vocation in such circumstances. As you read their stories elsewhere you will see how the Geneva Conventions were disregarded and in some circumstances women abandoned by the powers that be.

I don’t think any tribute to nurses could be done without mentioning the pioneer of army nursing, Florence Nightingale, whose work in the Crimean War inspired so many as to how important nurses are in wartime.

In March 1854 the Crimean War began. Britain, France and Turkey declared war on Russia and invaded the Crimean Peninsula. The allies defeated the Russians in September at the battle of the Alma but reports in The Times newspaper criticised the British Army’s medical treatment of the wounded soldiers.

In response, Sidney Herbert, the Minister of War, who knew Florence Nightingale socially and through her work as a nurse, appointed her to supervise the introduction of female nurses into the military hospitals in Turkey. (The British Army fought the Russians in the Crimean Peninsula but the wounded were taken across the Black Sea to hospitals in Turkey.)
On 4 November 1854 Florence Nightingale and her party of 38 nurses arrived at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari. Conditions were very bad. The men were unwashed and were sleeping in overcrowded, dirty rooms without blankets or decent food. In these conditions diseases such as typhus, cholera and dysentery spread quickly. As a result, the death rate amongst wounded soldiers was very high.

Only one in six died from their war wounds; the other five in six died from infections and disease. To begin with the army doctors did not want the nurses there and did not ask for their help, but within ten days more wounded soldiers arrived from the battle of Inkermann and the nurses were very busy.
Florence Nightingale realised that if female nurses were to be accepted then they had to do a very good job. It was very important that the women recruited to become nurses should be well suited to the work.

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