RCN centenary

District nursing in the Great War: a challenge on all fronts

The experiences of healthcare workers during the first world war are brought to life in Joanna Boughtflower’s review of the Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine of 100 years ago

The experiences of healthcare workers during the first world war are brought to life in Joanna Boughtflower’s review of the Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine of 100 years ago.

Abstract

At the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, district nurses were faced with extreme challenges. With a much needed skill set, they were expected to make a significant contribution to the war effort. Excerpts from the Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine from the early months of the war and as it had ended illustrate the pressure nurses experienced, and photographs published at the time give an indication of the situation they faced. Using words published during and after the war, this article shows the role district nurses played at home and abroad.

‘Greater efforts and sacrifices may be demanded from each one of us before this crisis is at an end… now is the moment to prove that we do really put country before selves,’ instructed the editor of Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine (QNM) in October 1914.

Many nurses found that, with so much to be done, they were conflicted as to how they could be most useful. They were torn between travelling to the intensively different, yet dangerous, front line or remaining behind in their districts to continue caring for the community. They understood the gravity of what they were facing, as the following quote from the magazine in January 1915 illustrates: ‘The new year has begun in anxiety and sorrow, affecting almost the whole of the civilised world, for there is hardly a part of the globe that is not feeling in one way or another something of the tremendous struggle now convulsing Europe.’

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This article was first published in print in Primary Health Care: volume 24, issue 8

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