Negotiating nursing explores how the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (Q.A.s) salvaged men within the sensitive gender negotiations of what should and could constitute nursing work and where that work could occur. The book argues that the Q.A.s, an entirely female force during the Second World War, were essential to recovering men physically, emotionally and spiritually from the battlefield and for the war, despite concerns about their presence on the frontline. The book maps the developments in nurses’ work as the Q.A.s created a legitimate space for themselves in war zones and established nurses’ position as the expert at the bedside. Using a range of personal testimony the book demonstrates how the exigencies of war demanded nurses alter the methods of nursing practice and the professional boundaries in which they had traditionally worked, in order to care for their soldier-patients in the challenging environments of a war zone. Although they may have transformed practice, their position in war was highly gendered and it was gender in the post-war era that prevented their considerable skills from being transferred to the new welfare state, as the women of Britain were returned to the home and hearth. The aftermath of war may therefore have augured professional disappointment for some nursing sisters, yet their contribution to nursing knowledge and practice was, and remains, significant.
British popular fiction and post-war uncertainties
war effort. The Irish, despite the 1916 Easter Rising, provided a
supply of brave volunteers; they were also used as comic relief in British
After the Armistice, it was clear that the social problems of the
Edwardian age had not been swept away. Women’swarwork had
strengthened the case for the female vote, so the militant suffragism
of the Edwardian period was no longer necessary, but the position of
women in the post-war world would need to be renegotiated. In novels
ranging from bestsellers like A. S. M. Hutchinson’s If Winter Comes
(1921) to Parade
breaching of gender lines in leisure. In repeatedly portraying women’swarwork as a product of a national emergency, officialdom directly addressed
societal fears of females sacrificing their femininity through transgressing strict
prewar gender boundaries by entering masculine territory.33 Commentators
Women drinking out in Britain
and officials alike implicitly sanctioned women’s drinking in pubs – another
incursion into male territory – as an extension of new gender working roles,
while simultaneously conveying to
Understanding museum collections and other repositories
following the First World War. The social context of this era included the effects of the Great War on British society, the destabilising of gender roles through women’swarwork, a prevailing concern with upholding traditional standards, and much moral outrage in the press about the ‘painted boy menace’. As Houlbrook concludes, thinking in these terms highlights the intersection between discrete historical processes – the emergence of the ‘cosmetics industry’, a particular understanding of sexual difference, the contentious politics of policing, and worries over the
it is understandable that their reluctance to devote themselves
whole-heartedly to the war effort aroused resentment from the
hard-pressed British population. 72
Officially, the government of India tried to project
an upbeat attitude on women’swarwork, emphasizing
Anglo-Indian women’s willingness to volunteer and the racial
harmony purportedly characteristic of wartime
Gender modernity and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry
that women could assume behaviours more commonly associated with men, an anxiety about the need to preserve conventional passive femininity can be detected. During the war, editors and journalists acting out of patriotism underscored the positive features of women’swarwork. This was blatant propaganda. Membership of the Corps thus brought women into the public gaze in a novel and highly visible way.
Bringing both public and personal representations into dialogue, Women of War sits at the crossroads of British, social, gender and women’s history, drawing upon
:1973 (21 March 1917)).
46 Below, pp. 114–115.
47 NRO X197, Appeals Tribunal meeting notes, as dated.
48 NRO Quarter-Sessions, misc., 368, file ‘Military: Women’sWarwork/Boot and
Shoe Trade, 1–11’.
49 NRO X198/2037–2061.
50 Arnold Brothers operated a number of welting machines; the argument regarding the laying-off of female labour for want of male machinists was particularly
relevant to the welting process.
51 NRO X198/2062–2493.
52 NRO X197: Appeals Tribunal meeting notes, as dated; Mercury, 2 March 1917.
53 Both the Rushden and Kettering branches of the NUBSO
in terms of women’s ‘warwork’,
undertaken for ‘the duration’ only and in relation to a feminine duty to
serve the nation. Certainly wartime conditions and experiences facilitated
women’s move into policing, demonstrating their utility and creating
precedents that could be drawn upon by ‘pioneers’; to some degree, therefore, war was an accelerator of social change. As the Higonnets have
argued, however, the process of gender transformation during wartime
was in part illusory; while women appeared to advance, gender lines were
redrawn as war
direction into war work
from April 1941 and (if they were aged 19–31 and single) to conscription
from December 1941. Women’swarwork options included service in the
auxiliary forces, for which they wore military uniform full-time and were
required to undertake military training, albeit not for combatant roles.
Although there was much continuity of gendered work allocation, jobs
were available in and out of the military that were novel for women and
that challenged traditional assumptions. Both the militarised feminine
identities of women in war service and the insecure
The French units and the convoy at St Omer 1917–18
ofﬁcially incorporated into
the armed forces with the establishment of the WAAC, WRNS and WRAF,
the public became increasingly curious about these gendered adaptations and
reversals and eagerly consumed stories about them. The Women’sWarWork
Committee held an exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and FANY
activities were well-represented in this display with photographs, buttons and
badges, and medals and decorations, as well as fragments of shells and the
famous aerial torpedo that fell in the camp of the British convoy in Calais.29
At the beginning of 1918 the