World War I Nursing

The first great war of the twentieth century, World War I, marked the end of an age of innocence. It was the first war that saw almost global participation. It was the first time that casualties of that magnitude had ever been seen. It was the first time that civilians were the target of enemy fire. Gladys Matheson, a Saskatchewan nurse, spent time overseas during WWI. While not much remains in terms of written history, there are a few photographs that create a picture of life as a nurse during the Great War.

Being so close to the battlefront meant that nurses would tend to soldiers who had been wounded in battle. Rows upon rows of wounded soldiers would be laid out on stretchers on the cold, hard ground where the nurses would have to stoop or even get onto their knees to provide care. This was a far cry from the warm hospitals back home with proper equipment and enough medical personnel to take care of all patients. No matter how rough the conditions, nurses still had to tend to their patients.

The threat on the front lines was very real, even for those not engaged in battle. Like the soldiers, nurses had to be prepared for gunfire and air-raid attacks. In her collection, Matheson has photographs of nurses posing, wearing helmets, outside of a sandbag shelter during an air-raid practice drill. Such photographs tell a story of bravery on the part of soldiers and non-soldiers alike; those who were putting themselves in harm's way to serve their country.

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