26 May 2015

Review of War Diaries: A Nurse at the Front - The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton

I read War Diaries: A Nurse at the Front - The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton in the lead up to ANZAC Day last month and it certainly was a meaningful preparation in the lead up to the centenary.

This, the first in a series of four unique War Diaries produced in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum, will tell a story that is rarely heard: the experiences of a nurse working close to the Western Front in the First World War. 

Incredibly, Edith Appleton served in France for the whole of the conflict. Her bravery and dedication won her the Military OBE, the Royal Red Cross and the Belgian Queen Elizabeth medal among others. Her diary details with compassion all the horrors of the 'war to end wars', including the first use of poison gas and the terrible cost of battles such as Ypres, but she also records what life was like for nurses and how she spent her time off-duty. 

There are moments of humour amongst the tragedy, and even lyrical accounts of the natural beauty that still existed amidst all the destruction. 

My Review
Reading Edith's diary entries gave me a glimpse into the life of a nurse at the Western front including her living conditions in France and the hospitals and medical centres she worked in.

Edith's accounts are filled with touching observations, intimate moments with patients, her efforts to honour the dead and write to the families of her patients as well as comments about the conflict and her thoughts about the enemy and German patients she was ordered to treat. 

She also records important holidays and milestones and the ways in which the medical staff and soldiers celebrated them (Christmas) and kept up their morale with skits and concerts.

An overarching theme throughout Edith's diaries is an amazing appreciation for mother nature and the passing of the seasons. Amidst the death and destruction going on around her, it was surprising to learn that Edith enjoyed nothing more than 'tramping about the landscape' and was deeply in touch with her surroundings. While other nurses preferred to go into town and go shopping during their rare hours off, Edith always preferred to take tea somewhere quiet or go for a swim in the ocean.

Her writing is indicative of the time which I thoroughly enjoyed (our language and phraseology has changed so much in the last 100 years) and I was charmed by her delightful sense of humour and admired her strength of character.

Since the publication of these diaries, much work has been done by Edith's ancestors and fellow historians to formally identify as many of the patients mentioned in Edith's diaries as possible; an impressive feat of research in my opinion.

I thoroughly recommend reading Edith Appleton's war diaries, and for more information, you can visit the website created by Edith's great nephew here, A Nurse At The Front.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

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