The RCN has launched a new website that uses personal scrapbooks, diaries and photograph albums to bring to life the experiences of wartime nurses.
Service Scrapbooks: Nursing, Storytelling and the First World War showcases material from the College’s archive collection to describe how nurses travelled overseas to work in military hospitals or treated injured soldiers evacuated back to Britain from the frontline.
More than 15,000 nurses served during the First World War as part of the Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service and the Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS).
One of the nurses featured on the site is Mabel Pearce who served in the TFNS, first in Lincoln and later in Greece and Italy.
Her scrapbooks contain sketches and poems by soldiers, among whom she was clearly popular. One wrote: “With never to be forgotten gratitude for helpful sympathy in my life’s greatest trial.”
Dianne Yarwood, Deputy Chair of the RCN History of Nursing Society, said: “Being able to handle and read a diary written by a fellow nurse more than 100 ago was a moving and informative experience.
“These first-hand accounts make a significant contribution to our understanding of the professionalism and skill of these women who were actively engaged in caring both for the wounded and for those who were sick as a direct result of their engagement in the war.”
She added: “As we digitised and transcribed their diaries, autograph books and photograph albums, we were also able to catch a glimpse of their personal lives, such as taking tea at Lyon’s Corner
House, trips home to visit family, and of singing with patients and colleagues.”
The project to digitise, transcribe and research nearly 2,000 pages of photographs, poems, diary entries and illustrations dating from 1909 to 1919 was supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.