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- Published on Amazon.com
Reading the memoir of a detail-oriented individual who lived through an epochal time period can be a special treat for history lovers. British WWII nurse, Brenda McBryde, who nursed British soldiers through the Normandy campaign, didn't miss a thing and her book, "A Nurse's War," first published in 1979, shows an amazing amount of recall.
McBryde is a nurse, through and through, and she describes, in sometimes excruciating detail, the different types of wounds soldiers received - especially when writing about her stint in plastic surgery -- and although she mentions that at the time, her youth buffered her from thinking too hard about the suffering around her, as a middle-aged author, she had the time and distance to reflect:
"Again and again they came, through the day and night, men with different faces, different names but the same terrible injuries: the lieutenant needing urgent amputation of both shattered legs, the tank commander baked like a potato in his burning tank, the sergeant with a piece of mortar lodged in his carotid artery. It was a high price in casualties for a few miles of advance."
Her encounters with the enemy are fascinating: when a POW SS officer she was nursing suddenly realized who McBryde was, he spat in her face, calling her an "English pig." She was horrified, saying that "although I scrubbed my face with a nailbrush until it smarted I could not remove the feel of that German's hate."
Later, she witnessed a prize musical history moment when "one of the young German boys [in the hospital] tentatively started up a song, while his comrades waited nervously to see how it would be received before joining in." None of the staff objected and soon "the rest of the POW's, emboldened, now took up the song ("Lili Marlene," the international hit of the war), singing in well-rehearsed harmonies that were a joy to hear." When the British patients heard the song, they joined in, and "the surprised Germans responded to the compliment with even more enthusiastic singing, and Soutie and I stood between the two wards listening to a performance that would have done justice to a male voice choir from men who, until recently, had been doing their level best to kill each other."
She serendipitously partook of a small maquis "freedom" celebration towards the war's end, nursed patients in a building that contained Wagnerian-esque paintings of German heroes decorating the walls and that had been used to house Lebensborn children, and then worked to nurse mistrustful concentration camp victims back to health, recording all these experiences in fascinating detail.
Occasionally, McBryde utilizes military/medical/British lingo without providing explanation and the early chapters, about how she fought for better working conditions while nursing in England, may not interest everyone but all in all, this is a very stimulating read.