Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Smart Girls in Long Skirts

Doesn't she look like she could be Lady Sybil's best friend?

Today I'd like to talk about a particular Smart Girls in Long Skirts icon: the WWI Nurse.  I have to admit that most of my knowledge about WWI nursing comes from Downton Abbey.  But while I was doing some internet reading about the history of WWI nurses, I found the most fascinating stories were those told through letters.  Don't you love learning about history that way?  I found this collection on the British Red Cross Blog, and thought I'd share some of the more upbeat highlights from Miss. Dorothy M. Robinson a nurse at 
Waverley Abbey Military Hospital in Farnham, Surrey.
I am sleeping in what is known as the Cubicles. It is a large room divided into seven cubicles and is just above the stables. Now the stables are used as a laundry, so you can imagine there is no fear of my being cold at night. They really are awfully nice cubicles, and the bed is a very comfy one, but I’m exceedingly glad I had the electric torch with me that Daddy gave me on my birthday as you have to find your way in the dark across a very cobbly and at present very puddly courtyard, through the wash tubs of the laundry and up a sort of wooden staircase! The fun comes when you want a bath and have to run across the afore said courtyard in your nightdress (I usually put on a coat!) with your towels etc. Jamie is sleeping in the house and would have asked if I could be up in her room, only the spare bed there was so very lumpy, she thought she could not commit me to it!
Yesterday an officer brought over some men of his regiment and they gave a variety entertainment. They were most clever. A conjuror, a musician and a ventriloquist came. All the patients were taken into the Monastry Hall. The ones that could not move were put on stretchers on the floor and the others were in chairs etc. They enjoyed themselves most awfully. Jamie and I only saw a small part at the end as we had a whole lot of dressings etc to prepare, but to judge from the cheering and laughing that went on it must have been a most brilliant performance. I think it was a very good idea of the officer’s myself as he could select the most suitable men, and they naturally know exactly the sort of thing that amuses Tommies.
I found some lovely letters on this website as well, about Nurse Hellen Fairchild  Here's an excerpt:
August 1917
 Dear Mother,
...I am with an operating team about 100 miles from our own Base Hospital, closer to the fighting lines. I'll sure have a lot to tell about this experience when I get home. I have been here three weeks and see no signs of going back yet, altho when we came we only expected to be here a few days. Of course, I didn't bring much with me. Had two white dresses and two aprons, and two combinations. Now can you imagine trying to keep decent with that much clothing in a place where it rains nearly every day. We all live in tents and wade through mud to and from the operating room where we stand in mud higher than our ankles. It was some task, but dear old Major Harte, who I am up here with, got a car and a man; to go down to our hospital and get us some things. He brought me six clean uniforms and aprons, beside heaps of notes from all the nurses, letters from home and all kinds of fruit and cake.
We made the trip up to this place in an auto-ambulance 100 miles through France. Oh I shall have books to tell when I get home.

I really love that part- "Oh I shall have books to tell when I get home."  Unfortunately, Nurse Fairchild never made it home, she died from complications during surgery while serving.  However, I love what her niece writes on her website: "through her letters written to her family, which have been so lovingly preserved, Nurse Fairchild is at last telling her story"

For more Smart Girls in Long Skirts posts, click here!  And don't forget to check out my Smart Girls Pinterst board!

PS- Remember when Lady Sybil says that if a princess or queen could be a nurse, why can't she? Here's her inspiration! Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood


  1. Wow. I really enjoyed reading these. There is so much history, but I also enjoy simply comparing the differences in their voices and my own, it's such a different language.

    1. I know! That's what I love about letters so much. It really gives you a feel for a different time.