War-Torn Exchanges
268 pages, 6 x 9
20 b&w photos, 2 maps
Release Date:01 Nov 2016
Release Date:15 May 2016
Release Date:15 May 2016
Release Date:15 May 2016

War-Torn Exchanges

The Lives and Letters of Nursing Sisters Laura Holland and Mildred Forbes

Edited by Andrea McKenzie
UBC Press

In June 1915, Laura Holland and Mildred Forbes sailed from Montreal to serve as nursing sisters in the Great War. In a letter written on the voyage, Mildred promised Laura’s mother, “I will always take the best care I can of Lollie ... I would rather be torpedoed than ... separated.”

This letter, the first of dozens that Laura and Mildred wrote to friends and relatives over the following four years, hints at the nurses’ remarkable friendship. An inseparable duo, they cared for each other through sickness and health, air raids and bombings, unrelenting work and adventurous leaves.

Unfolding like an epistolary novel, these carefully curated and contextualized letters transport readers from the dire conditions of hospitals in Greece to the efficiency of casualty clearing stations in France, from camel rides in Egypt to the royal palaces of Britain. Together, Laura and Mildred’s words offer unprecedented insight into the daily lives of Canada’s First World War nurses, from the privations of Gallipoli to the heavy casualties of Passchendaele and beyond.

Mildred and Laura’s war-torn exchanges challenge the popular myth of nurses as wartime angels. Instead, their letters are filled with the nurses’ fears and frustrations, humour and keen observations, revealing how they relied on friendship, wry wit, and professional ethics to carry on in the face of mismanagement, discrimination, illness, deprivation, and trauma.

This captivating book will be of particular interest to students and scholars of Canadian history, military history, nursing history, and women’s history and gender studies.

Andrea McKenzie provides as indispensable a service to contemporary readers as the women no doubt did for their friends and family during the war. As Mildred exclaimed, in the absence of such accounts, ‘the people at home have no idea what the soldiers [and nurses, we might now add] … went through for them.’ C.M. Haney, BC Studies
Laura’s letters to her mother and Mildred’s to her friend Cairine Wilson document a side of the war not found in more formal accounts … [and] close the artificial divide between battle front and home front … McKenzie’s narratives, annotations and deft editing … [make] War-Torn Exchanges an insightful contribution to understanding another aspect of the war. Great War 100 Reads
Of this cadre of women most – but not all, for some were killed in action – returned from war. Some became our leaders in nursing, hospital management, and social services. Some left nursing and became our grandmothers or great grandmothers. We are in their debt, for their work and for their legacy. In their articulation of war, framed by diligent writers and researchers like Cynthia Toman [author of Sister Soldiers, UBC Press 2016] and McKenzie, we discover anew, from Canadian nursing sisters in the First World War, just what war is. From such articulation, we have much to learn. Margaret Horsfield, The Ormsby Review
The letters [of Holland and Forbes] document close links between Canada's home and war fronts. Ties taught lessons about the atrocities of combat and, no doubt, helped inspire subsequent anti-war activity and support for refugees … In short, War-Torn Exchanges provides inspiration in plenty for both friendship and engagement. Herizons
A vivid, fascinating account of two experienced nurses who served on various fronts during the First World War. Their letters illuminate not only the strength of their personalities and the enduring importance of their close friendship but also the war, its legacies, and its impact on women’s lives. Alison Fell, co-editor of First World War Nursing: New Perspectives
Andrea McKenzie is an associate professor in the Writing Department and the Graduate Program in History at York University. Her publications on war narratives have been printed in Other Fronts, Other Wars? First World War Studies on the Eve of the Centennial; The Lion and the Unicorn; and the Canadian Journal of Communications. She also co-edited and introduced, with Benjamin Lefebvre, the restored text of L.M. Montgomery’s war novel, Rilla of Ingleside, and has published chapters about Montgomery’s works in The L.M. Montgomery Reader, Vol. 2, A Critical Heritage; Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature: Adaptations, Translations, Reconsiderations; and Making Avonlea: L.M. Montgomery and Popular Culture.

Introduction: Friendship and War

1 Journeying to War

2 Lemnos: “Poor Souls” and “Pathetic Sights”

3 Alexandria and Cairo: Mosques and Minarets

4 Salonika: In the Shadow of Olympus

5 England: Officers and Honours

6 France: Trauma and Taking Charge

Conclusion and Epilogue

Appendix: Laura Holland’s Travel Diary, 1907

Bibliography; Notes; Index

Find what you’re looking for...

Free shipping on online orders over $40

Stay Informed

Receive the latest UBC Press news, including events, catalogues, and announcements.

Read past newsletters

Publishers Represented
UBC Press is the Canadian agent for several international publishers. Visit our Publishers Represented page to learn more.