Title: Scarlet Poppies – The army experience of Australian nurses during the First World War

Author: Rae, Dr Ruth

Condition: Near Mint

Edition: 1st Edition

Publication Date: 2005

ISBN: 1877060615

Cover: Soft Cover without Dust Jacket – 288 pages

Comments: ‘Scarlet Poppies’ sets the scence with an overview of the international political situation which culminated in the most brutal war of the twentieth century. This war involved hand to hand combat and the ensuing wounds were catastrophic to the soldier and a challenge to the nurse who tried to heal them. The ability of the nurses to deal with the impact of mustard gas, gangrene, shell-shock, amputations and the entire spectrum of communicable diseases ranging from venereal disease to the influenza pandemic with little more than their expertise is graphically illustrated in ‘Scarlet Poppies’. The nursing strategies were limited as antibiotics were yet to be discovered and basic diagnositic tools, such as x-rays, were in their infancy.

This book demonstrates that those who suffered in the First World War and those who witnessed their pain should be more than a statistic – each soldier and each nurse has a story. The Australian nurses who served overseas in the 1914-18 war were the tall poppies of Australian womanhood. Just as the Australian digger was identified by his slouch hat the Australian nurse was distinguished by her scarlet cape; she wore it with the same level of pride. Qualified nurses were educated and they held leadership positions in civilian life which enabled them to make the transition to a war environment.

Australian nurses cared for the Anzacs on hospital ships and, later, when they finally reached the relative safety of the Australian General Hospitals in Egypt. They nursed the Lighthorseman as they made their way toward Jerusalem and finally to Megiddo. The horror of the Western Front was matched by the doggedness of the Australian nurses who served in the Casualty Clearing Stations in Europe.

On the other side of the world they served in India, where these predominantly white Christian women endured many hardships, including isolation and cultural alienation.
During this time the high seas were not safe as nurses on transport duty spent prolonged periods on hospital ships, returning soldiers home or back to the front after their recuperation. In France transport duty included living on hospital trains as they moved casualties back and forth between safety and the frontline.
The author has relied heavily on primary sources, especially the narratives of the nurses, to tell the story of the First World War from a unique perspective.

‘Scarlet Poppies’ is a must read for anyone interested in the reality of the First World War from the viewpoint of the (not so) ordinary soldiers and nurses.