Friday, July 8, 2016

Anzac Girls: The Extraordinary Story of our WWI Nurses by Peter Rees

genre: non-fiction, war history

When we think of war, we generally think of soldiers.  In World War I, we imagine them in the trenches, drowning in mud and the immense suffering of those who were exposed to lethal gasses. What I don't think about as much is those who eased the suffering of these soldiers.  Women who weren't even particularly welcome, sometimes at all, at the front, who risked their lives to work in field hospitals, dressing stations and the countless other hospitals that saw to the unthinkable numbers of wounded.

This book tells the story of the nurses who left their comfortable homes in Australia and New Zealand and fought in a war.   Fought with the same amount of courage as any other soldier.  Maybe they weren't holding a gun but they were tending to wounded on the same ships that were getting torpedoed and they drowned just like any other soldier.  They tended to the wounded in hospitals that got shelled and they were killed like any other soldier.  They caught the Spanish flu, got shell shock and they had to don their gas masks when the gasses reached them.  They lived in horrendous conditions and had to work under duress just like any other soldier.

Of course, they witnessed a horror and carnage that I can't even comprehend.  Women spent actual YEARS of their lives focused on the care of "their boys."   And of course it wasn't ALL completely horrible.  People flirted and fell in love.  Especially at the beginning of the war, there was time for exploring and sightseeing between battles and nearly all nurses saw the world for the first time.  I learned a little about Australian politics and a lot about the war.  Some sections moved a little slower than others but I thought that more factual history was tied in very nicely with diary entries and the personal experiences of specific nurses.  It has certainly given me a much great appreciation for nursing and the role that they played for those in their care.

War is horrible.  Actually and completely horrible.  The numbers of lives lost in The Great War makes me feel physically ill.  I think this book is important because it puts a human face on the numbers we can't even comprehend.

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