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catfishmo

A VAD in France by Olive Dent

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catfishmo

A VAD in France is available free online here.

I laughed, I cried, I learned.

Most first hand accounts of WW1 are either diaries, letters, or military documents--all of which, when written, assumed the reader is familiar with the culture and setting. This one was written almost as if Ms Dent was writing to me, a future audience, who would not be familiar with the places and events of 1915. With her vivid descriptions of what back then may have seemed mundane, the layout of an army hospital nor the morning routine of a VAD, I felt like I was there, seeing what she saw, and in many instances, feeling what she felt.

The book is organized topically. Chapters covered a variety of topics: some chapter titles include:
-Active Service in the Snow (Challenges of nursing from ward to ward in wretched weather)
-A BEF Christmas
-Housekeeping on Active Service (Great details on army kitchen, meals, cookery, and improvisation)
-BEF Nicknames
-Our Concerts
-Red Cross Needlwork
-Some of My Boys (funny tales about some of her patients)
-More from My Diary
-History Makers (A poignant soliloquy on the ordinariness of a hero)
-And my favorite chapter, Blighty, (because I am researching British military medical machine) was a solid overview of the evacuation chain.

Ms Dent was a very gifted writer, adeptly alternating between humorous anecdotes and poignant moments, with a dash of philosophical musings stirred with the mix. Highly recommended for someone researching 'the personal side' of WW1 and looking for specific details of camp life.

Two quotes left quite a deep impression on me:

[After a grueling day treating the first casualties of the Somme where a spirit of cooperation abounded]: " I have heard little scraps of conversation to-day. I have seen little acts of self-sacrifice, kindliness and thoughtfulness between the men, that have made me feel reverent. There may be brutality, bestiality, fiendish recklessness, devilish remorseless-ness, anguishing mutilation and destruction in war, but to-day I have met fortitude, devotion, self-abnegation, that has brought with it an atmosphere of sanctity, of holiness." --From Ch. XXX A Big Push—July 1916

[After the funeral of a VAD]: "And what a magnificent end to one's life, to lie there among those splendidly brave boys in the little strip of land which the French Government has given over in perpetuity to our dead. Thousands of the children that are to be, will come to such cemeteries, and will be hushed to reverence by the spirits of those who are not, by the spirits of the fallen that will for ever inhabit the scene." --From Ch XX More From My Diary

I am one of those children hushed to reverence. Thank you Ms Dent for telling their story.

PM me if you would like my notes.

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catfishmo

Thanks! I think I had read that on Sue's website a few months ago, but at the time, the name Olive Dent didn't mean anything to me. Good to have the background info on her. It doesn't surprise me that she wrote for newspapers and magazines--she was an excellent writer. I just wonder when she had time to write!

~Ginger

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Marilyne

Just finished reading this book (the re-edited 2017 version)

It's OK… but not to say a great memoirs. You feel that it was written AFTER her service and all in a far too cheery mode of the time. It's all nice and good mood… I miss a part of the real life of the nurses, which was never rosy from a to z.

And another thing that bothers me: WHERE did she serve?? At no point does she say where exactly her hospital was. It was big enough to be close to a railhead, and situated next to a racecourse, that's all we know… some insights on that??

 

M.

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alf mcm

Post #73 in this thread 

  states that Olive was at 9 General Hospital.

 

Regards,

 

Alf McM

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healdav

Is this the woman who lost a leg in a shell blast?

If not, there are more memoirs somewhere. I had the book once, but lost it, and now can't remember either her name or the title.

 

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Marilyne

Thanks for the answer…

Also puts Something in perspective … in chapter 20 she talks about the funeral of a VAD… and it being "a beautiful spring afternoon".

Taking the list of VAD's buried in St Sever cemeteries that died during her time there, it can only be that of Nurse Jeannie Smith Lee, died 30 March 1917; VAD from 30th (Northumberland) Detachment attd. 9th Gen. Hosp. 

 

I found Nothing in the diary about a severed leg though...

 

M.

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Black Maria

Pat Beauchamp author of ' Fanny Goes To War ' (John Murray ,1919) lost her leg in a driving accident during the war, which is recalled in her book .

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healdav
4 hours ago, Black Maria said:

Pat Beauchamp author of ' Fanny Goes To War ' (John Murray ,1919) lost her leg in a driving accident during the war, which is recalled in her book .

Probably her. Thanks.

 

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