World War I
As is common with ships, the William P. Frye was a four-masted steel barque named after a US Republican politician of the same name, from the state of Maine. The ship was built by Arthur Sewall and Co of Bath, Maine in 1901. For a time, the ship had a great run…until 1915, that is. The ship sailed from Seattle, Washington on November 4, 1914, with a cargo of 189,950 US bushels of wheat. The ship and its cargo were bound for Queenstown, Falmouth, or Plymouth in the United Kingdom. In 1915 the United Kingdom was at war with Imperial Germany, but the United States was not enter the war yet and was officially neutral. It was early in the war, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous to sail the high seas.
When the ship was near the coast of Brazil, the Imperial German Navy raider SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich overtook the William P. Frye on January 27, 1915. The Germans stopped and boarded the ship. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have an enemy navy detain a ship I was on. You just never know what they are going to do. The William P. Frye was owned by the United States, and so a neutral ship. The ship should have been treated as neutral. The problem the William P. Frye had is that the cargo was deemed a legitimate war target because the Germans believed it was bound for Britain’s armed forces. In reality, even detaining the ship was probably an act of war, but that never seemed to bother the Germans anyway.
Upon making his decision that the William P. Frye was a legitimate target, the captain of SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich, Max Thierichens, ordered that William P. Frye’s cargo of wheat be thrown overboard. The captain and crew began to comply, most likely begrudgingly, and when the orders were not followed fast enough, he took the ship’s crew and passengers prisoner. Then he ordered the ship scuttled on January 28, 1915. The William P. Frye was the first American vessel sunk during World War I, and the United States wasn’t even in the war yet. The owners of the ship, Arthur Sewall and Co, wanted damages for the sinking of the ship and presented a claim for $228,059.54, which would total $5,763,800 today. In all, the SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich scuttled eleven ships during their reign of terror. They stole coal and gold from their victims, which kept them going for a while, until they developed engine trouble.
In another act of war, Thierichens took the passengers and the crew captive. Women and children, were part of approximately 350 people taken prisoner from eleven different ships that SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich’s crew had searched and destroyed. I suppose the possible act of war was somewhat forgiven when all 350 were released on March 10, 1915, when the German raider had engine trouble, and docked Newport News, Virginia, but then again, what else could they do with them. Nevertheless, an outraged American government forced the Germans to apologize for the sinking, and of course, the SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich was detained in port.
On January 22, 1905, while Russia was well on its way to losing a war against Japan in the Far East, the country found itself engulfed in internal discontent that finally exploded into violence in Saint Petersburg. The horrific events of the day became known as the Bloody Sunday Massacre. Russia had been under the rule of Romanov Czar Nicholas II who had ascended to the throne in 1894. Czar Nicholas II was a weak-willed man who was more concerned that his line would not continue, because his only son Alexis suffered from hemophilia, than he was about the corruption going on in his own administration. Before long, Nicholas fell under the influence of such unsavory characters as Grigory Rasputin, the so-called mad monk. As corruption and an oppressive regime often do, Russia’s imperialist interests in Manchuria at the turn of the century brought on the Russo-Japanese War, which began in February 1904. Behind the scenes, revolutionary leaders, such as the exiled Vladimir Lenin, were gathering forces of socialist rebellion aimed at toppling the czar.
No one wanted to go to war with Japan, and it was going to take some work to drum up support for the unpopular war. The Russian government allowed a conference of the zemstvos to take the lead. A zemstvo was an institution of local government set up during the great emancipation reform of 1861 and carried out in Imperial Russia by Emperor Alexander II of Russia. The first zemstvo laws went into effect in 1864. After the October Revolution the zemstvo system was shut down by the Bolsheviks and replaced with a multilevel system of workers’ and peasants’ councils…the regional governments instituted by Nicholas’s grandfather Alexander II, in St. Petersburg in November 1904. The demands for reform made at this congress went unmet and more radical socialist and workers’ groups decided to take a different tack.
Things exploded on January 22, 1905, when a group of workers led by the radical priest Georgy Apollonovich Gapon marched to the czar’s Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg to make their demands. the imperial forces immediately opened fire on the demonstrators, killing and wounding hundreds. Strikes and riots broke out throughout the country in outraged response to the massacre. Czar Nicholas responded by promising the formation of a series of representative assemblies, or Dumas, to work toward reform. Unfortunately, he did not follow through with his promise, and internal tension in Russia continued to build over the next decade. As the regime proved unwilling to truly change its repressive ways and radical socialist groups, including Lenin’s Bolsheviks, became stronger, drawing ever closer to their revolutionary goals, the situation grew worse. Finally, more than 10 years later, everything came to a head as Russia’s resources were stretched to the breaking point by the demands of World War I.
During World War II, transferring intel from the spies in France…the resistance, was difficult. To fly a plane through the anti-aircraft fire was dangerous, and often not successful. To send a spy on foot was not only something that would take far too long, not to mention the possibility of being caught. The intelligence community had to come up with a way to get the information to the generals and to the president quickly…and it had to be a way to succeed without massive loss of life.
After much discussion, they happened on the idea of using homing pigeons to take messages back and forth between the spies, the resistance, and even the citizens of France. The idea was to drop the pigeons in a cage that was parachuted into the country. Once the pigeons were on the ground, the people were to write notes on small pieces of paper, place it in the canister attached to the pigeon’s leg, and release the bird to fly home. These pigeons were a huge help to the war effort, and were used in at least two wars.
Years later, a couple stumbled onto a capsule containing a cryptic note dated to either 1910 or 1916. Jade Halaoui was hiking in the fields near Alsace, France this September 2020. Ahead of him, he noticed something shiny. Upon further inspection, he found a small capsule partially buried in the ground and opened it. Inside was a note, written in German in cursive script by a Prussian military officer. Most likely the canister has been attached to a carrier pigeon, but never reached its destination. Halaoui and his partner, Juliette, took the artifact to the Linge Memorial Museum in Orbey.
A curator took a look at the canister and it’s note. He sat down at a table and delicately lifted the frail-looking slip of paper with tweezers. The note was very old, thin, and worn. It was written in spidery German cursive script. It was determined that the message was likely sent by a Prussian infantry officer via carrier pigeon around the onset of World War I. Dominique Jardy, curator at the Linge museum, told one reporter that the note was written in looping handwriting that is difficult to decipher, however, while the date clearly reads July 16…the year could be interpreted as 1910 or 1916. World War I took place between 1914 and 1918. With that in mind, it was concluded that the note was likely written 1916.
Jardy enlisted a German friend to help him translate the note. The note read in part: “Platoon Potthof receives fire as they reach the western border of the parade ground, platoon Potthof takes up fire and retreats after a while. In Fechtwald half a platoon was disabled. Platoon Potthof retreats with heavy losses.” The message, which was addressed to a senior officer. It appears that the infantryman was based in Ingersheim. The note refers to a military training ground, which lead Jardy to think that the note likely refers to a practice maneuver, not actual warfare. If this was the case, and the note was written in 1910, it could refer to a preparation for war. If it was written in 1916, this could have been training in anticipation of a long time of war.
Jardy mentioned that military officials typically sent multiple pigeons with the same message to ensure that crucial information reached its destination. One can only hope that is true, because if this was vital information, and it did not get through, finding it now is unfortunately more than a century too late. Halaoui discovered the long-lost message just a few hundred yards from its site of origin, so Jardy suspects that this capsule slipped off the homing pigeon’s leg early in its journey. I hope that is true, because some of these pigeons were shot down. Others were caught by the hungry citizens and used for food, but some made it home and they were heroes of war too, because they brought important intel to the Allies.
Weapons of warfare have changed over the years, but one of the strangest fighting systems was during World War I, when the planes were not as sophisticated as planes are today. They were slow and at that time, they did not have the guns attached to the planes. Of course they were usually two-seaters, so unlike the World War II planes that had a pilot exclusively assigned to fly the plane, both occupants of the plane had to shoot, or they would be shot down. That was how war was. Kill or be killed.
The problem of not having guns attached to the plane was really one of control. There was the problem of controlling the plane with shots being fired all around you and no protection in the open cockpit. Then there was controlling the guns in the wind of flight. Not to mention the shots being fired at the open cockpit. The guns the soldiers had on these early planes were carbines and pistols…to take down a war plane…yikes. Of course, there were other problems too. Trying to shoot at the enemy from the cockpit of the plane, the soldier had to be careful not to shoot off the propeller. That would definitely be problematic.
Really, I can’t imagine being a pilot in that war era. You would really be taking your life in your own hands…even more so than the men who flew in later eras, who were also in grave danger, but maybe a little less so. Imagine being the co-pilot in the plane when your pilot is waving his gun around trying to hit the planes flying around you. If the soldier shooting could shoot off the propeller, they could just as easily shoot the other occupant of the plane. I suppose that the pilots fighting in World War I would say that they were just doing their duty, but it seems to me that their “duty” took great courage. Of course, any soldier, no matter what their duty, does their duty, and it always takes great courage. Any soldier must exhibit great courage in battle. There is no way to go into battle and not be concerned for your safety. And thankfully, as time goes on, weapons of warfare are getting more advanced at being effective, while protecting the soldier in the fight.
Of course, those old biplanes had some advantages too. The open cockpit design allowed for easy spying. They could also see the enemy better, and it was easier to drop bombs in those planes, but the later planes made for easier shooting with the attached gun, multiple guns, and the nose guns of the men below the pilots. I’m thankful for the many improvements that have made it easier for our soldiers to come home alive.
Trains have changed over the years, partly because of new innovations, and partly out of necessity. In July 1883, TW Worsdell designed the Class Y14 train for both freight and passenger duties. It was a veritable “maid of all work” that was probably considered the greatest train of all time…until the next great came along anyway. These trains were so successful that all the succeeding chief superintendents continued to build new batches down to 1913 with little design change, with the final total being 289 trains. During World War I, 43 of these engines were in service in France and Belgium.
The men who built these trains became so skilled at their work, that on December 10 – 11, 1891, the Great Eastern Railway’s Stratford Works built one of these locomotives and had it “in steam” with a coat of grey primer in 9 hours 47 minutes. That feat remains a world record. The locomotive then went off to run 36,000 miles on Peterborough to London coal trains before coming back to the works for the final coat of paint. I guess paint was not a necessity, but rather that the train be viewed by many, so as to show the great accomplishment of the builders. The train lasted 40 years and ran a total of 1,127,750 miles…proving the workmanship of the builders.
Because of their light weight the locomotives were given the Route Availability (RA) number 1, indicating that they could work over nearly all routes. Steam engine trains are generally safe, and still used to this day, although not in modern transport situations. Still, they can pose a problem in certain situations. Just like boilers in homes and commercial buildings, too much pressure that is not alleviated presents a huge danger.
On September 25, 1900, at 8:45am, GER Class Y14 0-6-0 locomotive Number 522, just a year old at the time, stopped at a signal on the Ipswich side of the level crossing awaiting a route to the Felixstowe branch. While waiting, the the boiler suddenly exploded, killing the engineer, John Barnard and his fireman, William MacDonald, both based at Ipswich engine shed. The boiler was thrown 40 yards forwards over the level crossing and landed on the down platform. Apparently the locomotive had a history of boiler problems although in the official report the boiler foreman at Ipswich engine shed was blamed. I’m not sure how that could have been justified, but times were different then. The victims were buried in Ipswich cemetery and both their gravestones have a likeness of a Y14 0-6-0 carved onto them.
When I think of a tank, my thoughts go to an almost indestructible war machine, and I’m sure many people would agree with me. The tank was first introduced on September 6, 1915 in response to the trench warfare era of World War I. A British army colonel named Ernest Swinton and secretary of the Committee for Imperial Defense, William Hankey, championed the idea of an armored vehicle with “conveyor-belt-like tracks” over its wheels that could break through enemy lines and traverse difficult territory. It was a great idea, but the prototype tank nicknamed Little Willie manufactured in England was far from an overnight success. The tank was heavy, weighing in at 14 tons, but the big problem was that it got stuck in trenches and crawled over rough terrain at only two miles per hour. A tank isn’t much good if it has to be rescued, instead of rescuing the soldiers. It was also slow, and it became overheated and couldn’t cross the trenches. A second prototype, known as “Big Willie,” was produced. By 1916, this armored vehicle was deemed ready for battle and made its debut at the First Battle of the Somme near Courcelette, France, on September 15 of that year. Known as the Mark I, this first batch of tanks was hot, noisy and unwieldy and suffered mechanical malfunctions on the battlefield. Still, people began to realize the tank’s potential. Further design improvements were made and at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, 400 Mark IV’s proved much more successful than the Mark I, capturing 8,000 enemy troops and 100 guns.
As with any new invention, the tank had a few “bugs” to be worked out. Still, I doubt if that did much to assuage the fears of the men in the tanks when they got stuck in the trenches. Tanks are supposed to be able to withstand gun shots and shrapnel, but would the tank be able to do so. After all, tanks weren’t supposed to get stuck either, so just how trustworthy was the armor plating. A tank that gets stuck is really just a “sitting duck.” Nevertheless, improvements were made to the original prototype and eventually tanks completely transformed military battlefields.
Trench warfare of World War I truly was brutal, almost more for the men in the trenches than anyone else. Finally, the men appealed to British navy minister Winston Churchill, who believed in the concept of a “land boat” and organized a Landships Committee to begin developing a prototype. To keep the project secret from enemies, production workers were reportedly told the vehicles they were building would be used to carry water on the battlefield…alternate theories suggest the shells of the new vehicles resembled water tanks. Either way, the new vehicles were shipped in crates labeled “tank” and the name stuck. Tanks rapidly became an important military weapon. During World War II, they played a prominent role across numerous battlefields. The tanks potential was finally an accepted fact.
In what might today be considered almost post-apocalyptic, the Battle of the Osowiec Fortress, was nevertheless fought during World War I. The year was 1915, and World War I was in full swing. It was also an era of innovation in weaponry, and many were the never-before-seen weapons of warfare, as well as new and never-before-heard-of tactics.
The Germans had launched a full frontal attack on the Russian Osowiec Fortress, located in present-day Poland, at the beginning of July. Included in the attack were 14 battalions of infantry, one battalion of sappers, 24–30 heavy siege guns, and 30 batteries of artillery equipped with poison gasses led by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. Russian defenses were manned by 500 soldiers of the 226th Infantry Regiment Zemlyansky, and 400 militia. The Russians were quite outnumbered.
On August 6, 1915, the German forces employed chemical weapons on the Russians. At 4am, after waiting for favorable wind conditions, the German attack began with regular artillery bombardment combined with chlorine gas. As the scene was described, “The gas caused the grass to turn black and leaves to turn yellow, and the dead birds, frogs, and other animals and insects were lying everywhere. Terrain looked like Hell.” The Russians soldiers either had no gas masks, or had only poorly made ones, and most soldiers used their undershirts as masks, with many soaking them in water or urine to help with their effectiveness at holding the gas at bay. I think most of us have heard of the horrors caused by the use of chemical warfare, and most people are vehemently opposed to such atrocity, because of the effects, which if not instantly deadly, can cause the victim to slowly die over a number of years, fraught with lingering health problems. Most of the Russian soldiers died immediately, but some survived the gas attack. Sub-Lieutenant Vladimir Kotlinsky, the highest ranking Russian soldier to survive the initial attack, rallied the other surviving soldiers. They decided to charge the advancing German lines…what choice did they really have.
Over twelve battalions of the 11th Landwehr Division, making up more than 7000 men, advanced after the bombardment expecting little resistance. They were met at the first defense line by a counter-charge made up of the surviving soldiers of the 13th Company of the 226th Infantry Regiment. The invading German forces were horrified when they saw what appeared to be zombie-like soldiers. The panic began when they first caught sight of the Russians, who were coughing up blood and bits of their own lungs, as the hydrochloric acid formed by the mix of the chlorine gas and the moisture in their lungs had begun to dissolve their flesh. The Russian men were covered in blisters and coughing up their own respiratory organs, the Germans were subsequently retreating. The Russian garrison suffered heavy losses, but some soldiers survived even after the final charge, and Chlorine gas barrage. The Germans had retreated so fast that they got caught up in their own c-wire traps. The five remaining Russian guns subsequently opened fire on the fleeing Germans. Kotlinsky died later that evening. The Russian soldiers had basically fought their last battle as they were dying…hence the name given to the battle…The Attack of the Dead Men.
The dying Russians could not hold the area for much longer, of course. The soldiers there were sick, dying, or already dead. The Germans threatened to encircle the fortress with the capture of Kaunas and Novogeorgiesk. Knowing their fort was lost, the Russians demolished much of the fortress and withdrew on August 18th. While the German casualties were moderate to heavy, they were not nearly as bad as the Russian casualties of about 800 of the 900 men that were deployed at the fort. This story, although virtually unknown to the outside world, is a symbol of Russian military power and courage under fire. The story of this battle is commonly told and taught in Russian history classes.
World War I brought a new kind of fighting…trench warfare. It actually started on September 15, 1914, when a battle dragged on far longer that anyone ever expected. The Battle of the Marne was expected to be over quickly, but the soldiers had other ideas. Allied troops halted the steady German push through Belgium and France that had proceeded over the first month of World War I, but neither side was willing to give up. Allied and German forces begin digging the first trenches on the Western Front. They were in this for the long haul. It was the beginning of trench warfare…a tactic that went on until 1918.
Trench warfare was a good tactic to use for the most part, because it provided some protection from the enemy forces on the ground. The air war during World War I was much different that the air war of World War II. There were no heavy bombers, and while there were fighter planes, most of the war was fought on the ground…in the trenches. Soldier had some place to hide from the bullets that were flying by them at lightning speed. The men often used periscopes to safely see over the sides of the trenches. There is no completely safe way to fight hand to hand combat, but the trenches were often the best protection available. Still, while the trenches did provide a measure of protection, they had their dangers too. First, the trenches had to be dug, and the digging might easily be done with the enemy coming up on you fast, or worse yet, already there. The trenches were dug by the men, in ground that was often hard and rocky, but the job had to be done, and then the battle still had to be fought, no matter how weary the soldiers were…no matter how much they needed sleep, in a warm bed.
Sometimes, the the worst danger would become a reality, and it often had nothing to do with the enemy. Sometimes, there were cave-ins of the trenches. If the soldiers caught in the cave-in were lucky, their fellow soldiers saw the cave-in, and quickly came to their fellow soldiers’ rescue. Sometimes, they could dig them out in time to save their lives. Unfortunately, all too often, they were too late. Worse yet, was the possibility that the battle was still raging, and while the soldiers knew of the peril their fellow soldiers were in, there was nothing they could do for them at that time, and when they could get too them, it was too late. Sometimes, no one was around to see the cave-in, and the bodies would not be found for months, or years, and sometimes never. Sometimes, these men would forever be listed as missing and presumed dead. And that was the worst fate of all.
It was in the middle of World War I, on the 4th of July, 1917. The citizens of Colby, Wisconsin were busy celebrating Independence Day. Colby was originally famous for the making of Colby cheese, but it was about to be famous for something else entirely. Around 6:30, the people were setting of fireworks and everyone was having a great time, when suddenly, there was a louder-than-it-should-have-been explosion. The people were startled and began to speculate as to the origin. Some thought it was dynamite set off by some over-zealous celebrators. Then, they dismissed that thought, and some of the townspeople were concerned that when the went outside, they might see a Zeppelin dropping German bombs on the little town. In the end it turned out to be something form much further away…outer space to be exact.
The streak through the sky could have been missed because of the fireworks, but the explosion was another thing entirely. The meteorite hit just west of the Zion Lutheran Church, which is still there on the corner of West Jefferson Street and North 2nd Street in Colby, Wisconsin. When the townspeople located it easily, due to the smoke trail in the sky. They found that it had broken into two pieces, with the smaller piece landing just a short distance from the church, imbedded to a depth of one foot. It weighed about 75 pounds, and was said the be intensely cold, forming frost on it when it was uncovered. The larger piece landed in Joseph Jordan’s field, imbedding itself to a depth of five feet. The depth made it difficult to dig up, so it was not unearthed until the next morning when Professor Williams secured it for a school exhibit. That piece weighed about 300 pounds, and was apparently not as cold, probably due to the time spent in the ground.
It was said that another piece had landed in Cornell, Wisconsin, which is about 60 miles away from Colby. Amazingly, none of the other small towns in the area were hit. The principal of the Colby High School assumed, correctly as it turns out that there were likely to be other fragments too. He did some digging in the area, and is said to have found a sizeable collection of fragments. Of course, that makes sense, because as a meteor streaks through our atmosphere, the intense heat, impacting the intense cold usually causes them to break up long before they impact the Earth’s surface. Still, every so often, a particularly sturdy meteor slips through without being totally obliterated, and then we have a strike, such as the one in Colby, Wisconsin in 1917.
According to the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, there have been 13 documented meteorite strikes in Wisconsin since 1860. The latest one was in April 2010. Often, the way that meteorites are discovered is that someone finds a rare mineral rock, and when checked, the chemical makeup of the stone indicates that it may have originated in outer space. Of course, that doesn’t document when it happened, or if it was actually part of a documented strike. We always have been and probably always will be fascinated by the extraterrestrial.
As nursing goes, I suppose you could say that World War I changed everything. War is an ugly business, and wounded men (and women these days) are just a part of the unavoidable side effects of it. As the upheaval of World War I changed the world, so the horrors of it, changed nursing.
From 1914 to 1918, what was dubbed “the war to end all wars” in the innocence of the times, anyway…led to the mobilization of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. As we know, it was hardly the war to end all wars, but it did change many of the things we had come to expect war to be. World War I was one of the deadliest conflicts in history. The death toll is staggering…estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths, as a direct result of the war. To add to that total, came the resulting genocides, as well as the 1918 influenza pandemic, which caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.
Now, just imagine being a nurse in those days. Of course, medical tents and hospitals were close to the perimeter of the fighting, to care for hurt soldiers quickly. This assured that the World War I nurses were witness to the conflict firsthand. I seriously doubt if any of them walked away from the war with less PTSD than the soldiers did. Many of them wrote about their involvement in diaries and letters that, similar to photographs from this time, offer insight into how they were personally impacted. The journals also include details about fighting, disease, and the hope that nurses and soldiers alike found in their darkest moments…if there could be any hope to be found.
It was in World War I that Germany introduced gas as a new form of aggression in 1915. It was in many ways the latest form of terrorism. To say that it was a different level of engagement seems an understatement. Gas devices became commonplace. They were worn anytime an air raid siren sounded, and some people wore them much of the time, as a precaution. The soldiers didn’t go anywhere without their gas mask. It was their life-line. Still, they were among the most feared elements of World War I.
“Sister Edith Appleton was a British nurse who served in France during World War I. She wrote about the soldiers stricken by gas and the adverse physical impacts they endured. The minimal immediate effects are tearing of the eyes, but subsequently, it causes build-up of fluid in the lungs, known as pulmonary edema, leading to death. It is estimated that as many as 85% of the 91,000 gas deaths in WWI were a result of phosgene or the related agent, diphosgene (trichloromethane chloroformate).”
Margaret Trevenen Arnold, a volunteer British Red Cross nurse in France in 1915 kept a diary of her time at Le Tréport and described “groans, and moans, and shouts, and half-dazed mutterings, and men with trephined heads suddenly sitting bolt upright… It was awful, and I really know now what [conflict] means.” These serious head injuries would most likely cause permanent brain damage for these men…if they survived at all.
Some hospital tents were eerily quiet, because the men in them were too sick to make a sound. Bandages were changed as often as every two hours, in an effort to ward off infection, and tourniquets to stop the bleeding until the soldier could be sent to surgery. Most of these field “hospitals” faced the same serious conditions…a lack of clean water and sterile surroundings. The nurses had to make due with what they had…and that often wasn’t much. Sometimes the lack of medicine became a major issue, especially when it came to anesthesia. Sometimes, the soldier had to simply force himself to remain calm, and steel himself to the inevitable pain of the surgery. These men had to place their faith in the doctors and nurses who cared for them, and they had not had time to even prepare for the need for surgery…let alone without anesthesia.
“Violet Gosset served on the Western Front from 1915 to 1919. While working at a hospital in Boulogne, France, Gosset kept notes about her experiences. She described a lack of supplies, overcrowded conditions, and scrapes that often resulted from a lack of adequate protection.”
“Helen Dare Boylston, an American nurse who served in France with the Harvard Unit medical team, had patients that spanned a wide range of age demographics. Some of the soldiers were just teenagers (“boys”), while others were in their 20s. However, Boylston recalled at least one soldier in his 60s (she called him “Dad”). Boylston saw the number of men in her care rise significantly in March 1918. At this time, she was sent…with two other nurses…to care for 500 soldiers. Boylston and her fellow nurses, including one named Ruth, quickly adapted to their conditions.”
Trench warfare was a shock to most of the soldiers. Still, most soldiers remained in good spirits. A part of nursing that might be considered a little different in the field hospitals is that the nurses are “in charge of” morale to a great degree. whether the men had Trench Foot, were sick, or wounded, they needed to have someone to lift their spirits. Who would have ever thought of nurses as morale boosters, but it was so.
Flu was widespread during World War I, even before the pandemic of 1918. After the pandemic began, things became critical. Now, nurses had to contend with treatment and prevention, in addition to other issues. One problem is that soldiers who ended up in medical tents and hospitals were often covered in mud, and flies frequently buzzed around them. Keeping germs at bay was next to impossible.
“Nurse Helen Dare Boylston was a keen observer of how soldiers reacted when they returned from the front, especially when they interacted with female nurses. She commented on the “fascinating game” of casual romance that commonly played out in the midst of conflict-related stress.” This was probably one of the most unusual phenomena, because nurses are told not to get emotionally involved, and yet here it was exactly what was needed. Nursing has changed over the years, but never has it been so evident as in World War I. It was as if nurses were making it up as they went along…and maybe they were.