World War I VAD (Volunteer Aid Detachment) Nurses

The first time I read Not So Quiet it was quite a shock. While the work is fiction, Smith, who’s real name was Evadne Price, does not shy away from drawing on the emotional whirlwind that wartime nurses experienced. Price, an Australian who served in the Air Ministry from 1917-1918 expresses visceral and tragic feelings about the war in her prose.

Price’s use of nicknames for the various nurses is an excellent way of making her characters accessible as well as somewhat likable, with the exception of Mrs. B—-, of course! One of the best aspects of this work is its candor. The work opens with references to the food shortages, biting cold, and chronic sleep depravation. The portions about lice and the filth the nurses must deal with are shocking but rigorously authentic.

One of the most engaging things about Not So Quiet is how Price writes with such raw emotion. She is not afraid to tap into the hatred the protagonist feels for her parents and those at home in England who have no idea about the extent of human suffering happening just across the Channel. Helen’s resentment and anger over the harsh conditions is also something the author is very comfortable divulging to the reader.

While this work is fiction, it provided so much information about the real and true conditions that VAD nurses had to cope with during their active service. Many of the secondary source accounts do not include the very unpleasant side of this volunteer position.

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The trauma of World War I impacted people from all walks of life and left lifelong scars on many. How people handle the trauma of a global conflict is a highly personal experience with varied responses and long term implications. For many survivors the process of writing down their individual experiences proved to be quite cathartic while others chose to depict the horrors of this conflict in fiction. Whether in fiction or factual account, the literature of The Great War provided future generations with a wealth of information. These works enable us to form a greater understanding of what the world would come to call “The War to End All Wars.” 

The treasure trove of written information left to us about this fundamental moment in history is memorabilia we can all cherish. It serves as a reminder that:

“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana, The Life of Reason

Here is a link to Goodreads comprehensive list of “must read” WWI texts: