This Small Army of Women
Canadian Volunteer Nurses and the First World War
With her soft linen head scarf and white apron emblazoned with a red cross, the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, or VAD, has become a romantic emblem of the First World War. This Small Army of Women draws on letters, diaries, and interviews to tell the forgotten story of the nearly two thousand women from Canada and Newfoundland who volunteered to “do their bit” at home and overseas.
Middle-class and well-educated but largely untrained, VADs were excluded from Canadian military hospitals overseas (the realm of the professional nurse) but helped solve Britain’s nursing deficit and filled gaps in Canada’s domestic nursing ranks. Although their willingness to take up unpaid work for the sake of home and country challenged the professional aspirations of qualified nurses and conformed with traditional notions of women as caregivers, Linda Quiney argues that their dedication and service also broadened the debate about who could be a nurse.
This richly illustrated history of the VADs and their struggle to secure a place at their brothers’ bedsides reveals much about women’s contributions to the war effort, the tensions between amateur and professional nurses, and women’s evolving role outside the home.
This Small Army of Women will appeal to anyone interested in nursing history, women’s history, Canadian history, and military history.
Histories of the First World War focus predominantly on men’s activities and experiences. The lives, experiences, and work of women have remained relatively invisible largely because of the lack of “official” documents and records. Linda Quiney uses a unique set of sources to bring the stories of Canadian and Newfoundland women volunteers from the margins of history to the centre of the action, filling a significant gap on women, war, work, and volunteerism.
It is generally understood that it is men who make history in wartime. This Small Army of Women uncovers the adventures and sacrifices of a special group of women volunteers. By thoroughly exploring these women’s backgrounds, Quiney offers a more nuanced portrait of the VADs, who have long been understood as “well-born ladies” wiping fevered brows, an image perpetuated by Vera Brittain’s enduring memoir.
1 This Ardent Band of Ladies: Birth of the Canadian VAD Movement
2 Enthusiastic and Anxious: Mobilizing the Voluntary Nursing Service
3 Every Woman Is a Nurse: Framing the Image of the VAD
4 No Time for Sentiment: Making a Useful Contribution
5 Saying Goodbye: Forgetting, Remembering, and Moving On
Notes; Bibliography; Index
Place and Practice in Canadian Nursing History
A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service
Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland during the First World War
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