Book Review: Sisters In Arms: British Army Nurses Tell Their Story by Nicola Tyrer

Amazing book looking at the work of the unsung and unspoken of heroes of the Second World War.

The Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Services (often shortened to QAs) endured the bloody battles of the First World War (known then as the Great War) and would see their finest hour during World War 2. From the harsh climates of Africa, being shipwrecked and captured by Japanese soldiers,  the invasion and fall of Hong Kong and Singapore by the Japanese again (this would prove to be their darkest hour, especially in light of the Christmas Day massacre), the hospitals of Sicily and Italy and would board the ships who went on possibly the grestest adventure (and and greatest display of British Bulldog spirit) of rescuing those injured during the Normandy landings of 1944.

They would nurse the prisoners of the Japanese (even when they were prisoners and suffering from the same problems themselves) and the survivors of the Concentration Camps who were liberated at the end of the war. They were the first to enter Belsen amongst other concentration camps and gave back the prisoners their human dignity and showed them the decency they would not have seen in years.

Despite the horrowing experiences they endured and saw, they were women. They slept in curlers, dreamt of baths in the African deserts and always washed their veils the best they could. They even groaned when their traditional grey dresses and white veils had to be exchanged for khaki battledress, as the uniforms had never been adjusted to account for feminine curves!

Wherever the British Army and it’s boys went, the proud women, the proud QA nurses also went, having the same experiences that the British Army soldiers went through and yet nothing is ever said about them. These are their stories.

I read this book in my first year of university whilst researching and making decisions on what I should do for an assignment and I fell in love with the book (I later did something else for the assignment). I was unable to put it down as I read through it, marvelling and gaining a new respect for the nurses and their work. It made me proud of these overlooked heroes of the World Wars. It was because of this that I also found myself slightly disgusted that the National Curriculum never mentions the amazing work of these women and I do hope that it is changed in the future to include the brave work of these amazing women.

The National Curriculum focuses on the conditions of the Concentration Camps, the war in Europe, the evacuation of children, mums with very young children and babe in arms and pregnant women and the bombings of Pearl Harbour and how the Americans came into battle. I agree that this should be learnt along with SOME of the politics of the war but nothing is mentioned of the events in the Far East, the battle grounds of Africa, the liberation of the camps and the events in the Mediterranean and Italy or of any of the support that went with the forces wherever they went.

If the Curriculum wants us to remember the happenings of the war, shouldn’t an all round view be given, as well as learning of the incredible actions of brave persons like the QA’s?

This book makes me proud. It let me learn of new events and new information of the war and I would highly recommend this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made want to learn more. After all, isn’t knowledge power?

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