‘Can’t Face the Graves Today’

Nurses Mourn on the Western Front
  • Carol Acton


These two accounts from volunteer nurses on the Western Front in the First World War, a Briton and an American, present a similar response to the news of the Armistice: not the joy and exhilaration of victory, or even relief at the end of the slaughter, but an overwhelming burden of grief at the loss that they had witnessed and which in that witnessing had become intrinsic to their experience. Women’s writing from the ‘front’, by professional and voluntary nurses, whether in the form of diaries or letters written during the war or memoirs composed later, reveals not only how grief marked their response to the official end of war, but also how it was intrinsic to the daily experience of nursing, and shows that the recording itself was an act of mourning. Thus, for example, the diary letters of nursing sister K. Luard, written at regular intervals throughout her time in France and Belgium and published in two consecutive volumes as Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front 1914–1915 (1915) and Unknown Warriors (1930), mourn overtly through the commemorative framework imposed on the published collections and indirectly in her immediate accounts of individual deaths.1 It becomes clear when reading nurses’ writing from the First World War that narrating their war experience, whether during the war in the form of letters or diaries or post-war as memoir or autobiography, is a form of elegy.


Diary Entry Individual Death Public Representation Iconic Image Psychic State 
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Copyright information

© Carol Acton 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol Acton
    • 1
  1. 1.St Jerome’s UniversityCanada

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