They didn’t fire a shot or fight on the front line, but nurses of all the Allied nations contributed to defeating the Germans and Japanese by their behind-the-scene efforts. Many British aristocratic young women wanted to do their bit by volunteering for nursing. Nurse Ann Reid was so cossetted that when she was asked to sweep the floor in the hospital, she didn’t know how to do it and had to be shown. Girls from grander backgrounds were often given the most disagreeable jobs. A senior nurse told Penny Woosnam, on her first day on the ward to bandage up a soldiers private parts where glass had been embedded. These young ladies survived their ordeals. But many of the privileged young ladies found themselves in the thick of the horrors of war. Sheila Parish drove an ambulance during the evacuation of Dunkirk. During the blitz Nurse Virginia Forbes Adam recalled times when the ambulance bells never stopped ringing. However, most of these privileged young ladies survived the war.
When the Second World War began, American heiress Mary Borden returned to nursing, running a mobile ambulance unit in France, North Africa and the Middle East. During the Great War, Mary had financed a field hospital for the French soldiers with herself serving as a nurse. She was a prolific writer who wrote novels and poetry based on her experiences as a war nurse during the Great War. Her work also included many sketches and short stories. Following the breakup of her first marriage in 1918, she married General Edward Louis Speers with her ex-husband taking custody of her three children. After the Great War Mary and Speers were living in Britain and when the Second World War began she was hoping to provide a similar facility as before. She received additional funding from the British War Relief Society in New York whilst setting up the facility. With funds also donated by Sir Robert Hadfield, she set up the Hadfield-Speers Ambulance Unit which was based in Lorraine. The unit was forced to retreat from France after the German Blitzkrieg in June 1940 and the unit evacuated France. In May 1941, the Hadfield-Speers Ambulance Unit was attached to the Free French in the Middle East, before accompanying their forces across North Africa, Italy and France. When the Second World War ended Mary continued her writing, of which she was a life-long contributor, until just before her death. She died on the 2nd December 1968 with her husband by her side.
Where most privileged European nurses survived the war three American nurses were not so fortunate. Lt. Lucille Hendricks, Ensign Helen Mary Ruehler and Ensign Ruby Toquarm worked at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Norco, California. Ensigns are junior officers in the U.S. navy. Lucille had been assigned chief nurse at Norco in December 1941 and helped to set up the hospital and establish a ground breaking medical treatment centre. She was a pioneer in the nursing field, and often travelled to other naval hospitals to teach new techniques in plastic surgery, spinal cord operations and brain injury treatment to medical personnel. In March 1944 Lucille was assigned head nurse at the naval base in Dutch Harbour, Alaska. The three handpicked nurses for this post were killed instantly, on 23rd April 1944, when their plane crashed into a mountain as they were flying to the new hospital. The nurse’s names have been engraved on the Norco City’s George Ingalls Veteran Memorial Plaque.

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