mrsbloggsbooks in Book Reviews
5 September 2016
UNKNOWN WARRIORS by Kate Luard
My review, also posted on Amazon US & UK and Goodreads
Kate Luard was in her forties in 1914 with experience of nursing during the Second Boer War when she enlisted in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve on August 6, 1914, two days after war was declared.
She served in France & Belgium until 1918, first on the ambulance trains and then in Casualty Clearing Stations. She was awarded the RRC (Royal Red Cross) and Bar (rare distinction) and was twice mentioned in Dispatches for gallant and distinguished service in the field. The book tells her remarkable story through her own war diary and the prolific amount of letters to her family at home.
One of 13 children, Kate came from a loving and close-knit family. She wasn’t a dewy eyed young girl shocked or overwhelmed by her experiences and what she was witnessing as some First World War nurses have been depicted in recent TV drama. This is really how it was and the family of Kate Luard have done a remarkable job in re-publishing Unknown Warriors, first published in 1930, now virtually impossible to obtain a copy of and this book includes an extra chapter.
Kate Luard was without doubt a talented writer. The book is so rich in descriptive detail, making it a most fascinating read. The scarcity of diaries or accounts written by trained military nurses during the 14-18 conflict means that this a rare and quite unique record chronicling the events of the lives, work and off duty of nurses on the Western Front.
Anyone studying or researching the war would find this book to be an invaluable read and it should be on the required reading list for any student of First World War history, either in school or higher education.
I was given a copy of the book by the publishers, in exchange for an honest review.
A Tribute about the book from Sue Light
Sue Light, a former nurse and midwife who had served as a military midwife, was an expert in nursing during the First World War.
Due to common interests, Sue had become a close and personal friend of mine over the past five years or so. We exchanged daily emails and sometimes more back and forth each day. Sadly Sue died recently and is missed very much. Never forgotten.
Essex Writers: News and book reviews 16 march 2016
Essex Life columnist Jane Lambert shares book reviews and author interviews as she turns the pages of the local literary world.
Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard edited by John and Caroline Stevens.
Kate Luard was born in 1872, the daughter of a reverend, and spent her childhood at Aveley Vicarage and Birch Rectory. In her later years she lived in Wickham Bishops, where she is buried.
Unknown Warriors is the perfect title for a book that shines a light on a woman who led an extraordinary life. Already in her forties, and a matron when World War 1 broke out, Kate Luard joined the Military Nursing Service and was sent to France.
This book, expertly edited, is a collection of her letters home, detailing her day-to-day experiences of life at war. It’s a rare account of a military nurse’s wartime service and while it constantly reminds you of the brutality of war, it’s also an uplifting reads that is sure to bring joy.
Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard
Posted by Ibadete Fetahu
16 October, 2015
Title: Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard
Editors: John and Caroline Stevens
Publisher: The History Press
Reviewer: Lynne Partington
What was it like?
Kate Evelyn Luard has been described as the “ultimate bee worker of nurses” in the Great War and was only one of the minority of trained military nurses who worked on the edge of the battle fields during the First World War. Yet Kate Luard remains relatively unknown.
What were the highlights?
Unknown Warriors comprises of extracts of letters written by Kate and sent to her family during her time spent on the front between 1914 and 1918. It highlights not only the courageous actions of a nurse putting herself at risk day after day, but pays tribute to those soldiers involved with and affected by the war.
The letters give a personal glimpse into the horrors of the First World War through the eyes of Kate. The style is often matter of fact, given the horrendous conditions Kate portrays, yet the compassion shines through. The appalling situations that Kate describes are sometimes hard to read but are somehow made heartening due to the care and dedication of the nurses, doctors and orderlies that comes through this account.
Strengths & weaknesses:
This new edition of Unknown Warriors has been published exactly as the 1930 text but with a new introduction by Christine Hallett, Professor of Nursing History at the University of Manchester, and Tim Luard, great-nephew of Kate Luard. The new edition also has a postscript, which includes unpublished letters both from Kate to her family and those to her in France. It is unknown if these letters were originally unpublished because of their personal nature or controversial contents, but provide a fascinating addition to the main text. The postscript also has a glossary and indexes.
In the postscript, one of the letters to Kate from her brother Percy says, “Your letters are absolutely IT … and they fill me with awe and wonder and admiration and joy …” He couldn’t have been any nearer the truth!
Who should read it?
This book could be of relevance to a wide audience but especially recommended forthose with an interest in the history of World War One and nursing.
S.O.T.Q. Soldiers of the Queen Journal
Issue 161 September 2015
UNKNOWN WARRIORS: THE LETTERS OF KATE LUARD, RRC AND BAR, NURSING SISTER IN FRANCE 1914-1918
Edited by John and Caroline Stevens,
BRITISH ARMY NURSING STARTED WITH FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE AND, AS Professor Lynn Macdonald and Major Colin Robins have reminded us, not with the now notoriously misrepresented Mary Seacole. The Army Nursing Service started in 1881, initially very small. In 1902 it became the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, and in 1908 it was supplemented by the QAIMNS Reserve. Today the most remembered Great War nurses are the VADs. Relations between them and the career nurses were not always easy, partly because the VADs tended to be socially and educationally superior. Vera Brittain, a VAD from Somerville College, Oxford, considered the career nurses ‘a singularly backward profession’, some of them ‘almost frantic with jealousy and suspicion’. However one professional nurse who was socially and educationally the equal of a VAD was Katherine Evelyn Luard (1872-1962), known to her family as Evelyn or Evie, the daughter of a country rector of Huguenot descent, and herself educated at Croydon High School. In the 1890s she trained as a nurse. She served in the Boer War, and in August 1914 joined the QAIMNSR. She served on the Western Front to the end of the war, and was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Royal Red Cross and bar. She wrote frequently to her family, and in 1915 a selection of her letters was published anonymously as Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front. After the war she returned to civilian nursing, latterly as matron at a boys’ public school. Like so many of her generation, she never married. In 1930 she published another book of her wartime letters, with a short laudatory preface by Allenby. Now, presumably because of the Great War centenary, a new edition has been published, Unknown Warriors: the letters of Kate Luard, RRC and bar, nursing sister in France 1914-1918, edited by Caroline and John Stevens, Miss Luard’s great niece and her husband. It has a new introduction, photographs, and a postscript with more letters (from the family papers now in the Essex Record Office), a glossary and a short bibliography.
Unknown Warriors was compiled from letters about periods of Miss Luard’s Western Front casualty clearing station (CCS) experiences from October 1915 to August 1918, successively with the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 4th Armies. Although there are short interludes of picnics and rambles, it is mostly about her CCS work. She and her colleagues endured shelling, bombing, and the suffering and deaths of their patients, and also long hours, cold, discomfort, rain, mud, mosquitoes and lice. In addition to her administration and nursing, she wrote to the families of the patients, including ‘break-the-news’ letters of their deaths. She was sustained by patriotism, professional purpose, the soldiers’ appreciation and gratitude, her family’s support, and not least, her Christianity. Hers is not a pious book of the earlier Evangelical type, but her faith shows in her references to church services and to dead soldiers waking in heaven. Any overt criticism of the government and the generals would have been censored, and there is none. However she condemned the war as ‘insane and immoral beyond description’, and a 1916 offensive as an ‘utter waste of life and suffering … wasted self sacrifice’.
Unknown Warriors conveys not so much facts – names and places were omitted or censored – as experience, attitudes and atmosphere. One cannot know what Miss Luard omitted, or how typical her responses were. Her letters were largely about her patients, their courage, endurance and consideration of their families at home. Terribly wounded and dying soldiers asked the nurses to write to their families that they were fine. She often referred to her patients as ‘boys’. This may have been a colloquial custom, but it was appropriate. Many of the soldiers were young, some only seventeen – ‘such infants to be fighting for their country’ – and she, in her forties, was old enough to be their mother. In 1915 she wrote to her sister that it was ‘a great privilege to be mother to these young heroes’. She also mentioned over-age soldiers who had lied in order to enlist: ‘old Daddies … who ought never to have been allowed to come out’. There is some interesting detail: for example, the description of a RFA battery with ‘very smart teams of six big mules’. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the term ‘camouflage’ in its modern military meaning, appeared in 1917. However the book does not use it, but ‘scene painted’.
The new introduction provides necessary information on Miss Luard and her family, but it is short and sparse, leaving questions unanswered. For example, there is almost no information on her father (in fact he lived from 1835 to 1919 and was a graduate of Peterhouse, Cambridge), no mention of her schooling before her only three years at Croydon, no explanation of why she had to earn money to pay for her probationary nursing training, and almost nothing on her Boer War service. The new glossary is helpful but not entirely accurate: see, for example, the entries on ‘army formations’ and ‘shrapnel’.
Nevertheless, the new edition of Unknown Warriors is a most welcome addition to the available literature on the Great War. It is informative, sad, moving and inspiring.
Dr. Roger T. Stearn
SOLDIER June 2015
HISTORY OF NURSING SOCIETY newsletter
Royal College of Nursing: Spring 2015
CLAIRE CHATTERTON recommends Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918
Katherine Evelyn Luard (known to her family as Kate) was a trained military nurse who worked on ambulance trains and in casualty clearing stations in France throughout the First World War, resigning in November 1918 to return to the UK to nurse her father. Aged 42 when the war began, she was already a veteran of the Second Boer War. She was mentioned twice in dispatches and awarded the Royal Red Cross and later the Bar for her service during the Great War.
During her time in France she wrote home regularly to her family in a rural Essex village and in 1915 a volume of these letters was published anonymously as Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914- 1915. In 1930 a further volume of these letters was published, with the encouragement of her family, under the title Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918.
Long out of print, the latter volume has recently been republished in a revised edition by The History Press. Edited by Caroline and John Stevens (Miss Luard’s great niece and her husband) and with an introduction by her great nephew, Tim Luard, and Professor ChristineHallett (HoNS committee member), it gives a fascinating insight into her experiences. For example, at the height of the Battle of Passchendaele she was in charge of a casualty clearing station with a staff of 40 nurses and nearly 100 orderlies. On 2 August 1917 she wrote: “The men are brought in with mud over their eyes and mouths and 126 have died in 3½ days”; and on 22 August: “This has been a very bad day. Big shells began coming over … one burst … killed a Night Sister asleep in bed in her tent and knocked three others out with concussion and shellshock.”
Described in the introduction as a “long-lost jewel of First Word War reportage”, this new edition will introduce a wider audience to this remarkable woman and her vivid accounts of her nursing work near the Western Front.
I was pleased to meet Caroline and John Stevens recently when they visited RCN headquarters in London to see the exhibition in the Library and Heritage Centre, Front Line Nurses: British Nurses of the First World War, in which Miss Luard features.
REVIEW FROM Doris and Peter Cutmore February 2015
This book of Kate Luard`s Diaries gives real insight into the horrors faced daily and the work done by the nurses on the front line during WW1. The quiet courage, kindness and caring displayed by Kate, despite the hideous injuries sustained by the young men she encountered daily, comes over so vividly. Her focus was on her patients and what she could do to alleviate their suffering in every way. Her formidable strength of character shows through the diary and can only be admired.
With the horror of the trenches and the blood and guts injuries suffered by the troops, it is a tribute to Kate for her dedication and hard work as an Army Nurse and it seems likely that some of the troops who survived owed this to Kate. One wonders, in fact, how she retained her sanity during and after her war service.
The entries in the diary of walks in the woods and enjoying the flowers shows the gentle side of Kate and no doubt ‘recharged her batteries’ to give her the strength to face the grim reality of the daily task ahead of her.
A truly wonderful person. This collection of diary entries is a unique record and gives such a vivid description of the work of a WW1 Nurse. ‘Unknown Warriors’ is a valuable addition to the history of the time and also provides an insight into the unimaginable horrors of war, and WW1 in particular.”
Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps
Review and extracts of the Great War book Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918
Sister Luard has several distinctions as a QA. She served in the second Boer War in the Army Nursing Service, then at the outbreak of the Great War she volunteered for the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve and was at the frontline in France with the British Expeditionary Force within days and served there for the duration of the First World War with the exception of only a few weeks home leave. She nursed in a variety of locations and posts like 32 Casualty Clearing Station at the third battle of Ypres where she was promoted to Head Sister, No 4 Field Ambulance, General Hospitals, No 2 Stationary Hospital, Hospital Trains and then rising to be in charge at the CCS in Nampes. She was in the thick of the action, witnessing the carnage of war and the immediate emergency care troops needed, including the Battle of Passchendaele. She was Mentioned in Despatches twice, was awarded the Royal Red Cross decoration in 1916 and was one of a few military nurses to be awarded its Bar. We learn so much from her work and are fortunate that her account has been published.
Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918 tells her remarkable story through her own war journal and family letters, capturing the feelings of a frontline nurse and the realities of war and trying to live day by day in extreme circumstances. Taken from her original 1930 published book and updated by family members it is a must for retired and modern day QAs or those with an interest in the history of WWI and nursing. Her original intention was to tell the story of how war affected soldiers. Through Kate’s words at a CCS at Lilliers on the 3 November 1915 we read of the sacrifice many made:
A lad had to have his leg off this morning for gas gangrene. He says he ‘feels all right’ and hasn’t had to have any morphia all day. You’d think he’d merely had his boot taken off. Some of them are such infants to be fighting for their country. One has a bullet through his liver and tried to say through his tears ‘there’s some much worse that what I am’.
The sacrifices of families and the heartbreak at home of mothers and fathers learning of their losses is written about throughout her war diary and she often talks about what she calls break-the-news letters home that she regularly writes.
Captain W. is dying to-night of gas gangrene. His younger brother was a posthumous V.C. and I think another brother has been killed, so it won’t make a pretty letter to write to his mother to-morrow. He is a particularly charming boy.
Sadly it was not only military personnel who suffered injuries as she writes:
Last night three small children were brought in wounded. They had found an unexploded bomb in a field and took it home to play with – one was killed in this game of play, one severely wounded and two more wounded.
Throughout she gives a fascinating insight into nursing techniques and medical interventions of the time. For example:
A dying boy in the Medical is putting up a tremendous fight and Captain S. and Sister J. and Craig the Orderly are slaving over him. He has Vapour Baths, and Oyygen-through-Absolute-Alcohol, and Atropin and Digitalin and Pilocarpin and Eserin and everything ending in ‘in’ that could floor the various diseases that have got him in their grip: nephritis, uraemic fits, oedema of lungs and pneumonia.
Observations about members of The Royal Army Medical Corps and their experiences as seen through Kate’s eyes are recorded, such as:
One of our new M.O.’s has come from fifteen months with the Irish Rifles in the front line; they were wiped out on July 1st at Gommecourt, and all his friends were killed or wounded. The enemy batteries were massed there and we never got beyond our own front lines. He said we were treading on our own dead four or five deep in a communication trench that was pulped by 8-inch shells
A later moving section tells of Captain Noel Chavasse RAMC who had the distinction of being awarded the Victoria Cross and Bar for his actions in tending to the wounded in battle. He himself had been mortally wounded and Sister Luard tells of the many people who came to visit him as he lay dying and of his funeral.
Life in Casualty Clearing Stations was not easy for military nurses of the Great War, often tented, sometimes in whatever buildings were nearby. Rare photograph examples are included in the book to assist the reader visually. In March 1917 she was at Warlencourt during the Battle of Arras where she had to endure the elements:
Woke up this morning with half an inch of snow on our beds inside our huts, and 6 inches outside. Melting now and a terrible mess. We shan’t see what our weak points are till we begin, but if unity is strength it ought to pull well, as no one is clashing anywhere.
Other diary entries records the difficulties in securing rations for her patients and food for her fellow Sisters, difficulties with local cooks and staff employed to look after the nurses and the variety of beds and bedding staff had to sleep on. Rare insights not often acknowledged in other published war nursing diaries.
Anyone looking for information about nursing in a Casualty Clearing Station will learn so much from Unknown Warriors:
The 3rd Army went over the top yesterday and a wire came through by mid-day that we’d taken Vimy and 4,000 prisoners and, Sir Anthony Bowlby says this morning, 30 guns. The Cavalry are after them, and the Tanks leading the Infantry, and all is splendid. But here are horrors all day and night. The three C.C.S.’s filled up in turn and then each filled up again, without any break in the Convoys: we take in and evacuate at the same time. The Theatre, Dressing Hut, Preparation Hut and Wards and Tents are all humming – the kitchen goes on cooking with a Day Staff and a Night Staff, and the stretcher-bearers go on stretcher-bearing, and the Mortuary Corporal goes on sewing up corpses in canvas. The Colonel carries the lame walking-cases on his broad back, and I look after the moribunds in every spare second from the Preparation Hut, which is (during take-in) the stiffest corner of all, and Sisters, M.O’s, N.C.O.’s Orderlies, Convalescent Men and Permanent Base Men, all peg into it like navvies. We meet for snatching meals and five-minute snacks of rest and begin again. All are doing 16 hours on and 8 off and some of us 18 on and 6 off.
Though she writes starkly about the horrors of war and the resulting injuries to people and many deaths Sister Luard remains upbeat, an optimism that must have helped her to continue to nurse at the frontline for the duration of the War. Sentiments that are best summed up in her paragraph:
On the right of this wood, the other side of the Germans’ wire, is the No-Man’s Land, where the Salvage men are busy burying our skeletons who have been there since July 1st. The Prince of Wales and every Brass Hat have been to see the awful place. The village we and the Germans have been shelling for 2 years made you feel dazed. But the battlefield made you feel sick. We got some snowdrop roots with the flowers out, from under a boulder at Gommecourt.
The dangers of war did not escape any members of the QAIMNS and the QAIMNS(R) and she describes frequent bombing and several injuries and deaths amongst her colleagues. Again she describes things calmly, even when her own life was at peril:
A boy with his face nearly in half, who couldn’t talk, and whom I was feeding, was trying to explain that he was lying on something hard in his trouser pocket. It was a live Mills bomb! I extracted it with some care, as the pins catch easily.
As with all armed conflicts there was brief interludes of peace which must have restored her strength and belief in the importance of her work:
We had a whole week without snow or rain – lots of sun and blue sky. I went for a ramble after tea yesterday to a darling narrow wood with a stream at the bottom between two hills, a quarter of an hour’s walk from here. Two sets of shy, polite boys thrust their bunches of cowslips and daffodils into my hand with ‘Would these be any use to you?’ Also banks of small blue periwinkles like ours, and flowering palm; absolutely no leaves yet anywhere and it’s May Day to-morrow.
The section of family letters reveals more about the hardships she and her colleagues faced, such as lice and the difficulty in removing them, of the injuries and death of her beloved brother at Gallipoli and the effects of the war back in Britain. One rather moving letter was a reply from the Victoria League at Millbank House in London to a break the news letter proving how important these letters, often written during rare periods of off duty, were important and gave some comfort to the bereaved.
I would urge everyone, in this Centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, to read Unknown Warriors The Letters of Kate Luard, published by The History Press, so that this aspect of warfare is acknowledged and remembered.
Read more about Kate and extracts from her diaries at www.kateluard.co.uk and at twitter.com/Unknownwarriors which follows the events of 100 years ago when Kate was working on the ambulance trains with extracts from the Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915.
Review by Margot Lindsay, University College London for the Nursing Standard published 8 October 2014
Sister Kate Luard’s letters home bear witness to the suffering of ordinary soldiers in the casualty clearing stations of the first world war. A trained military nurse, she was already a war veteran when mobilised to France in 1914, aged 42, having served in the second Boer war in South Africa. At the height of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, she was in charge of a staff of 40 nurses and nearly 100 orderlies.
She was awarded the rare military distinction of Royal Red Cross and bar, and was mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished service in the field.
For Sister Luard, the way the soldiers coped with their experiences in the trenches made them hero warriors. A boy whose right arm was blown clean off said: ‘Mustn’t make a fuss about trifles.’ A gunner who had one leg amputated had to decide whether to lose the other one or die. He ‘couldn’t face his wife with both legs gone’.
Sister Luard writes vividly about trench foot and shell shock, and their effects on the men and morale. I recommend this book as an inspiration for today’s nurses and nursing students.
Review by Lucy London, poet, writer and broadcaster
Lucy is leading a new multi-strand international research project to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
If you think that the women who were nurses on the Western Front during the First World War were all safely tucked up well behind the lines and out of the line of fire, think again! Many of them were awarded the Military Medal only ‘earned under fire’ as Kate Luard’s book of her WW1 experiences tells us.
Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, who wrote the prefect to the first edition, met Kate on a visit to her Casualty Clearing Station during the later stages of the Battle of Arras. The Arras account (Chapter4) is of particular interest to me because my Great Uncle was killed there on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917.
In the introduction to the new edition of the book written specially by Christine Hallett and Tim Luard, we learn that Kate, who attended Croydon High School, was already a decorated war nurse by 1914, having trained in the 1890s at The East London Hospital for Children and King’s College Hospital in London, joined the Army Nursing Service in 1900 and served for two years in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899 – 1902). Kate was in her 40s and Matron of the Berks and Bucks County Sanatorium when she joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service on 6th August 1914. She was mobilised and sent to France.
The book begins on 17th October 1917 when Kate was with the British 1st Army commanded by Sir Douglas Haig. The first letter in the book was sent from Lillers. All of Kate’s letters contain a great deal of information about what it was like for the soldiers and the nurses of the Western Front. There is not one word of complaint and one cannot help but admire those nurses and the wonderful job they did saving lives under terrible conditions, without many resources. It is interesting to contrast today’s NHS with all our modern equipment, medication, hygiene and safety laws with what Kate and her fellow nurses had to put up with during WW1.
During moments of relative calm and occasional well-earned breaks from nursing, Kate describes picnics, tea parties and trips to visit the surrounding countryside and mentions the variety of flora and fauna (snowdrops, fly orchis, ferns, ox-eye daisies, birds, mosquitos) that provide welcome relief to the “waste of life and suffering” and “the mud that out-muds itself everywhere” that Kate dealt with daily.
Wherever they went “les Dames Anglaises” (the English women) in their nurses’ uniform caused a stir – whether among the local population – the children following them about – or with the soldiers serving at the front who invited them to tea, showed them round, filled them in about the progress of the war and took them flowers.
Caroline and John Stevens have done a wonderful job putting together the letters Kate Luard wrote to her family while she was on the Western Front and preparing them to be read in the 21st Century. This book is fantastic – it is as though Kate is with us today as we commemorate the centenary of the first global conflict (‘insane and immoral’ as Kate calls it) t that changed the world for ever. I cannot help but agree with Kate’s feeling on the war – she was after all called upon to try to help repair the damage done to many of the humans involved.
I do urge you to read this book – it has a map of the Western Front drawn by Kate and lots of notes to help the reader to greater understanding. It is outstanding and answered many of my own questions regarding conditions on the Western Front. Her family must be very proud of Kate.
“Unknown Warriors The Letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914 – 1918″, edited by Caroline and John Stevens, including the Preface to the1930 edition written by Field Marshall Viscount Allenby and an introduction to the modern version by Christine Hallett and Tim Luard, published by The History Press, Stroud, Glos, 2014.
Review by Sue Light – Saturday, 16 August 2014
When Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front* was published by William Blackwood in 1915, the author, Kate (Evelyn) Luard, had to remain anonymous. As a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve it was not acceptable for her to comment publicly on her work with the British Expeditionary Force in France. As a result, the book shed its copyright restraints some time ago, allowing thousands of readers to enjoy one of the few accurate accounts of the work of a trained military nurse during the Great War. In 1930 Kate Luard published her second book, Unknown Warriors, under her own name, picking up where she left off in 1915 and completing her wartime story. That book only appeared in one edition and over time has become a rare entity, difficult to track down and increasingly costly to buy. In this Great War Centenary year, members of the author’s family decided to take up the challenge and re-publish Unknown Warriors and by doing so bring joy to many people who have so far been denied the pleasure of this further account.
The typesetting of the new edition matches the original and gives it an old-fashioned authenticity, but there are also many additions which offer extra detail and information. A new introduction by Professor Christine Hallett and Tim Luard explains the background to the author’s personal and working life and also to her family connections in Essex. An index and bibliography have been added together with photographs and a glossary of terms which may otherwise be unfamiliar to readers.
The book is composed of letters sent by Kate Luard to her family in Essex, recounting her life and experiences during wartime on the Western Front. She was an exemplary nurse, admired and appreciated by her colleagues and with the resilience to cope with everything that war threw up. Although there are now a number of diaries and accounts available written by the untrained nurse – the ‘VAD’ – those of trained military nurses are rare and must be valued. This book describes in plain terms the difficulties of both nurses and patients, the desperate conditions, and also the periods of rest and pleasure. Much of her wartime service was in Casualty Clearing Stations including the Advanced Abdominal Centre (No.32 CCS) at Brandhoek during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, working in both the busiest and most dangerous conditions that a nurse could encounter. Her words are never exaggerated or overblown, nor do they underplay the personal and professional difficulties that she faced. It is perhaps one of the very best examples among First World War nursing accounts of ‘How it really was.’
The final ‘Postscript’ chapter is a wonderful extra and includes previously unpublished letters both from the author to family members and also from her close relatives in reply which provide a keen insight into how the war was viewed in rural England. On one occasion her brother Percy wrote, ‘Your letters continue to be thrilling …’ and suggests they would make an excellent book, and later, ‘Your letters are absolutely IT … and they fill me with awe and wonder and admiration and joy …’.
I have to agree with him!
*Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914-1915
If you’ve never read it, then probably a good idea to start at the beginning with this first book, available in many inexpensive printed editions and also as a free download on the web via the link.
Review by Jamila Gavin www.jamilagavin.co.uk
In these days of questioning “what are British values?”, to read the letters of Kate Luard is to learn about the extraordinary values, virtues, and codes of conduct which must have been engrained before she and her colleagues found themselves embroiled in the horrors of the First World War. But my goodness did they emerge as the mainstay of those field hospitals.
At first, one might think Kate Luard’s letters read almost like a ship’s log, until we realise that at the same time as she describes a boy lying on his front with his spinal cord exposed, with the most deft sleight of hand she will mention a wood full of bluebells, and bugloss, and stitchwort; or “ a translucent night , stars, and moon and aeroplanes.”
Was this ability to raise her eyes and still see the beauty of the world, the clue to her unfailing humanity? Because this is what is so remarkable about Sister Luard: the lack of self-pity, complaining, or regret; the endurance, the sleeplessness, the coping night after day after night, with the unimaginable pain and suffering of soldiers of all classes, brought in to be classified as abdominals, spinals, GGGs (German Gas Gangrene,) blasted brains, and limbs fractured, broken, or blown off. She runs the wards, the supplies, makes sure the equipment is in order, yet with time to hold a dying man’s hand, and write home to his mother. She says of her wounded soldiers: “it is marvellous to find practically the same spirit, the same detached acceptance of their injuries, and the same blind, unquestioning obedience to every order, and the same alacrity to give up their pillows, their time, or their pudding to each other, as in the beginning of this war, when all the men were of the old regular Army. And they are all like that – the Londoners, the Scots, the Counties, the Irish, the Canadians, and the Aussies and the New Zealanders.”
Her account, though an appalling testament to the utter brutality of war, is permeated with words such as tenderness, kindness, generosity, and willingness to help – even the “Fritzies”. Perhaps these are the values that we should be proud to claim as British, and hope to pass on to our children.
Review by Geoff RG on 27 Aug 2014
I live in the village where long ago Kate’s father was Rector, so I can relate to these writings. They are a remarkable family, some 13 children and several with very distinguished careers. Quite unusual for women then. I’ve read the Diary, and these Letters serve to endorse the Diary. A really brilliant record of life and death.(if brilliant’s the right word. I think so, as she tells it how it was, she illuminates her experiences in the light of hope, not as an unbearable catalogue of horror or a catalogue of facts) One can only marvel at Kate’s calm authority, and wonder how her sheer humanity and care for others survived intact through such events. She was, of course, in her early forties in 1914, with war experience, but even so…. This one you have to read. Her gravestone is in another village, not imposing, about 2 foot high with her name on it; she did not see herself as ‘special’. That accolade was reserved for those she helped.
Review by Peter Stevens on 1 Sep 2014
A remarkable book, written by a very remarkable person caught up in the tragedy of First World War. She is reporting on an almost daily basis what is going on very close, sometimes too close, behind the front line in her Casualty Clearing Station. All pretty depressing one would think, and yet her lightness of touch and the unassuming way she writes gives it an uplifting quality. It is a great tribute to all those nurses, doctors and orderlies who worked in such appalling conditions to save at least some of the countless thousands of injured servicemen passing through their hands.