From best selling author Jo-Ann Power:
American Nurses Slept in Hammocks, Washed Hair in Helmets…and nursed thousands of Doughboys!
In 1917, more than 22,400 American women left their homes, their families and their positions in hospitals and private homes to join the Army Nurse Corps. More than 10,000 of them sailed to foreign countries, slept in hammocks, trudged through knee-deep mud, washed their hair in their own helmets to nurse more than a million American soldiers wounded and sick from battle.
This autumn on the 99th anniversary of the declarations of war, HEROIC MEASURES by Jo-Ann Power debuts and tells the story of these women’s dedication. Their hardships were many. (See http://www.jo-annpower.com and http://theyalsofought.blogspot.com)
Women recruited for Army Nurse Corps and for American Red Cross all had field training by the American Expeditionary Forces. Army Nurse Corps recruits were all registered nurses, or the equivalent, having had two to three years professional nurses training. American Red Cross recruits, on average, had only a few months training (and as a result took on lesser responsibility in the wards). But all of them went through medical training specific to the care and treatment of those with wounds, or suffering from trench foot, trench fever, dysentery and Spanish flu.
Army Nurse Corps recruits went to Army posts for training and many of them had French and British instructors. All were considered contract labor, without rank and yet were expected to act like regular Army recruits, “falling into line.”
They were housed in separate barracks, ate in mess halls separate from officers. When ready to ship out, they were housed in hotels near their embarkation points. A few of these were in Hoboken, New Jersey and others in Manhattan. Sometimes depending on the Navy’s warnings of U-boat activities, nurses waited for more than 2 months in these hotels ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And what could they take with them? One steamer truck (no larger than 36″ wide), one small suitcase and a blanket roll!
Once on board ships, they slept in hammocks or cots. And once in France, they were ordered onto rickety trains to ride to the front lines. But their travails did not end there. They worked 12 to 24 hour shifts, especially as the fighting intensified. They had one afternoon off, which they usually took and either slept or walked into the local village.
But during their service, they had no rank. Privates who worked supposedly for them, did not follow their orders, creating many conflicts that resulted in soldiers’ deaths. After the war, many nurses demanded equal rank and pay for their service—and got it.
For nurse Gwen Spencer, fighting battles is nothing new. An orphan sent to live with a vengeful aunt, Gwen picked coal and scrubbed floors to earn a living. But when she decides to become a nurse, she steps outside the boundaries of her aunt’s demands…and into a world of her own making.
Leaving her hometown for France, she helps doctors mend thousands of brutally injured Doughboys under primitive conditions. Amid the chaos, she volunteers to go ever forward to the front lines. Braving bombings and the madness of men crazed by the hell of war, she is stunned to discover one man she can love. A man she can share her life with.
But in the insanity and bloodshed she learns the measures of her own desires. Dare she attempt to become a woman of accomplishment? Or has looking into the face of war and death given her the courage to live her life to the fullest?
Excerpt: Copyright, Jo-Ann Power, 2013. All rights reserved.
After a blissful minute of silence, Gwen faced Pearl. “So you really are thinking of volunteering?”
Pearl stared over the rims of her glasses. “I am. Want to come? It’s a set of uniforms, an overcoat, two pairs of boots, a trip to France and all the work you can get until the war ends and all the men in the entire world are dead. Oh, and especially for you, Spencer, a raincoat. The one you never afforded for yourself because you gave half your pay to that ungrateful aunt of yours.”
“A raincoat. Golly,” Gwen mused half-seriously. “A worthy reason to join. Plus, if I go with you, I could listen to you complain all the time.”
Markham threw a pillow at her.
“I might look into this, just to learn what it’s got to offer,” Gwen teased her, but inside a seed of interest grew roots.
“Ask Dalton. She knows more.”
“She’s going. O’Bryan persuaded her.”
“Doc is going to France?” Gwen couldn’t believe it. O’Bryan didn’t seem like the adventurous type, nor the noble type, either. She misjudged him. Why would he volunteer?
“For a million soldiers,” Anna chimed in. “You need thousands of doctors and nurses. Dentists, too.”
“Of course,” Gwen murmured. How many people do you need to care for millions of men? How many scalpels and needles? How much ether and debridement solution? How many sterilizers and…just how do you get all that where it’s needed to save lives of men in pain and bleeding? “I want to learn more.”
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