Nursing at the Front: The Forgotten Heroes of the Great War

Trawling through the newspaper archives from 1914 to 1918 I came across the occasional story of awards for nurses, for their courage under fire at the front. Given the current global situation we find ourselves in, and all the praise rightfully directed at the amazing doctors and nurses of the NHS, I decided that this was worth a little more investigation.

Nurses at the Front

Stories of courage and gallantry from the fighting men at the front are easy to find and are so numerous that it would be impossible to research and write about them all. Was I did find rather odd was the lack of stories about the red cross nurses, who worked tirelessly all along the front, rarely complaining, just quietly getting on with their vital work. The stories that did find their way to print very rarely named the nurses who were to be commended officially.

There is the story of a Scottish physician, Doctor Elsie Inglis, who set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service. Field hospitals staffed by volunteers, and set up on the battlefields of Belgium, France, Serbia, and Russia. At the outbreak of war Dr Inglis offered her services to the war office and was reportedly told to “go home and sit still!” Undeterred Dr Inglis set up her field hospital.

Dr Elsie Inglis

Where the British government had shunned the offer of support, the French government gratefully accepted, and the first hospital was set up in France. Another unit was set up in Serbia, which Inglis would lead herself. Volunteer nurses arrived in their hundreds, and eventually around fourteen teams were sent to battlefronts right across the continent.

Unarmed, often working under canvas which gave no protection from enemy air attack, and dealing with the most horrendous injuries, and diseases brought about by most unsanitary conditions in which they would also live and work, these courageous nurses, who rarely slept, would spend hours treating physical and mental injuries, comforting the men at their lowest points, and watching men die. Some of the nurses would succumb to the very diseases they were trying to treat.

Nurse Louisa Jordan

One of the volunteers for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals was Louisa Jordan from Glasgow. Jordan had worked at several hospitals in Scotland before volunteering for foreign service. She travelled to Serbia and joined the 1st Serbian unit. In 1915 Serbia suffered from a typhus epidemic, and Jordan was placed in charge of the typhus ward that was set up in response. She volunteered to look after Doctor Elizabeth Ross, who had answered an appeal by the Serbian Government for Doctors. While treating patients she had contracted typhus. Tragically both died of typhus; they knew there was the risk of this when they volunteered, and they volunteered all the same.

Dr Elizabeth Ross

This article is dedicated to all the Doctors and Nurses, past and present who have worked, and continue to work in hospitals, both civilian and military, all around the globe.

Simple Skills Save Lives! Lesson 2 – Defibrillators and the Recovery Position

Before reading this lesson you should have already worked through lesson 1

Public Access Defibrillators are popping up everywhere. You can find them on the side of public buildings such as restaurants, cinemas, and public houses; most town centres will now have one somewhere. The thing that puts people off using one or stopping to help is the misconception that they are difficult to use, or you must be trained to use one.

Public Access Defibrilator

Automatic, or semi-automatic external defibrillators are extremely simple to use and designed in such a way that they cannot deliver a shock to someone who doesn’t need one. You simply open the lid and stick the pads to the casualties bare chest; the device evens shows and tells you where to put them.

Most ambulance service trusts will have a register of these defibrillators, including the location and access code. When you phone 999 and explain that someone has collapsed and is not breathing they will give you the location of the nearest unit and the access code to get into the cabinet. If someone else is available then send them for it, otherwise you will need to get it yourself.

Defibrillator Pads Placement

As soon as a defibrillator is available you should attach it to the patient.

  1. Open the lid and listen carefully to the audio information;
  2. Locate the pads and attach one to the upper right hand side of the patient’s chest;
  3. Take the second pad and place it on the lower left hand side of the chest, underneath the armpit;
  4. The unit should detect that the pads have been applied and carry out an assessment of the patient’s heart;
  5. It will either advise a shock and tell you to stay clear of the patient and push a flashing button, you, or ask you to continue CPR.  

If the patient’s chest is excessively hairy then the pads will not stick properly. You will need to shave the area where the pads are to be applied. The Defibrillator should come with a safety razor for this purpose. There should also be a pair of tough cut scissors and a cloth for wiping away excessive perspiration.

Every couple of cycles of CPR or at a pre-set interval the device will assess the heart rhythm. It is important that while this is happening everybody remains still and does not touch the patient. Movement may cause a false reading within the device and it will have to start the assessment again, wasting valuable minutes.

Important Excessive chest hair will need to be shaved before applying the pads to the patient’s chest.Excessive perspiration will need to be wiped from the patient’s chest before attaching the electrodes. Defibrillators should not be used in pools of standing water, or flammable atmospheres. Before administering a shock make sure that nobody is touching the patient.  

The Recovery Position

Should the patient recover, the device will ask you to check for a pulse. You should do this, and check to see if they are breathing normally.

If they are breathing again we need to put the patient in the recovery position and LEAVE THE PADS ON just in case they go back into cardiac arrest.

The Recovery Position

To place someone in the recovery position:

  1. Kneel down next to the patient;
  2. Move the arm nearest to you so that it is pointing towards you, at a right angle to the body;
  3. Take the arm that is furthest away from you and fold it over the casualty so that the back of their hand is resting against the cheek closest to you;
  4. Lift the knee furthest away from you and use the patient’s leg as a lever to roll them over towards you;

The patient should now be lying on their side facing towards you. Continue to monitor the patients breathing