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on 4 February 2010
Sisters in Arms tells the story of the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corp during WW2. An incredible history of courage, duty, discipline and the great British spirit that was so evident during the war years. The British army nurses, many of them very young women who had hardly ventured out of their own back yard, bravely fulfilled their duty to the wounded and dying soldiers in extreme, often terrifying conditions. The book, through meticulous research and many, original diary entries, reveals the daily trials and tribulations of wartime nursing:
The inconvenience of maintaining a presentable, clean and starched uniform while living under canvas, in the desert, with a ration of 1 pint of water a day.
The desperate attempts to save lives of dying and traumatised young soldiers, many of whom were no more than boys, when equipment was scarce, conditions less than sterile and the number of the dying and wounded far outnumbered the hours and personnel able to care for them.
The horrors of capture, rape and murder by the Japanese.
The terror of the sinking hospital ships.

But despite these dreadful conditions there was an amazing camaraderie, a joy found in simple pleasures - cups of tea feature frequently - and humour (sometimes politically incorrect) - when a friend, getting up from his seat in a bar, falls over because he's forgotten he only has one leg.

Despite exhausting and terrifying conditions, the QAs maintain an incredibly positive attitude...."It's amazing how you can do with nothing, and such a boon when travelling." wrote one young nurse having suffered both shipwreck and capture by the Japanese.

In one unforgettable moment in the book, after a particularly brutal and horrific capture of a British Hospital in Hong Kong, a Japanese Commanding Officer asks of Sister Mary Curie: "Do English women never cry?" To which Sister Curie replied; "Not when they have work to do."

The stiff-upper-lip attitude of the war generation! We wouldn't be here without it!
What incredible women! A fabulous history. An essential read.
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on 20 August 2008
Finally a book that tells the story of the remarkable women nurses in WW2. From the first page the reader is immediately transported to the world that these women were part of. From their nursing training to the weird and wonderful details of their uniform.

If you think you know what nurses such as these did in WW2, then think again. The horrors they endured and the terrible situations they found themselves in will shock the reader and leave you with nothing but admiration for their spirit and bravery.

The book has plenty of quotes and paragraphs from the women themselves, and/or diary entries from that time. A few of the women are featured throughout the book, and the reader will find themselves taken vividly back to that time and seeing it all through the nurses' eyes and feeling like you are really getting to know these characters.
A superb book, and a very important book that anyone with an interest in WW2 should read.
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on 2 February 2009
Very good book. As a retired nurse it was interesting to read how the nurses coped in sometimes dreadful conditions
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on 30 August 2010
I couldn't put this book down. It wasn't just the quiet non-nonsense heroism of the characters. I was also caught up in the subtext which was about how our attitudes have changed in our current individualistic age. What nurse now would put up with having to constantly adjust an elaborate white cap while ducking in and out of muddy tents in holey shoes, with no time off? As one character said, they didn't think about themselves but just got on with the job. Fascinating.
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on 13 January 2013
Sisters in Arms by Nicola Tyrer is a fascinating account of the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAs), as told within the context of World War II. The QAs were founded in 1902, but this is largely a story of their service in the second world conflict. It's an account in their own words: first-hand descriptions of life for these nurses on the frontline, on troop ships, in makeshift `hospitals', casualty clearing stations and the dessert and the jungle. The individual accounts are overdue, and it's great that Tyrer has been able to help tell their story and give voice to an almost forgotten part of the war. While I gained much from this perspective, I think that the heavy emphasis on the firsthand accounts is one of the book's strengths, but also one of its weaknesses.

It is impossible not to be moved by some of the most harrowing and painful accounts of the nurses concerned, particularly those women who were taken prisoner by the Japanese after being stationed in Hong Kong, Singapore and Burma. The stoical and matter-of-fact way in which these brave women served their country and then recounted their dreadful ordeals is quite remarkable. I was also struck by how the abuse and disservice is perpetuated after the conflicts are over; the failure by any of the Allied powers to even acknowledge the death of nearly 2000 troops in Italy in 1943 after an explosion of mustard gas from a US relief ship is a case in point. At the time, nobody knew that mustard gas was even part of the theatre of war, consequently the nursing and medical staff didn't know how to treat the horrific injuries; the War Office in London didn't even respond to requests for advice. In fact, they have never responded, as it was only once the official records were declassified 50 years later that the true story emerged. As ever, the military imperative took precedence.

The book is largely structured chronologically and geographically. On the downside, there's relatively little analysis or attempt to interrogate the information provided by these informants, and I was frustrated by the limited analysis of the professional and nursing processes that were used. Well known examples are repeated (such as the early use of penicillin and the delegation of previously medical-only tasks) but I didn't get a comprehensive sense of the professional nursing activities, techniques and practices that were used. The exceptions to this are, of course, nursing's continued obsession with female uniforms (even more stark in the military, than in civilian settings) and rank and hierarchy.

These criticisms aside, this is still a remarkable book and is enjoyable, if sad and sometimes grim read.

© Koplowitz 2013
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on 5 February 2012
I was a QA nursing sister in the 1970s. Some of the stories were familiar to me because they had been told by my colleagues. Others were new. Recommended to all who want to know what it was really like, and what the sisters in earlier times endured.
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VINE VOICEon 22 February 2012
I came accross this book and with the fervour of some fictional accounts of life in the past now sweeping the TV, I was interested in fnding some actual history of women's life during WWII. A close relative and also my first "landlady" both served as British Army nurses, the latter in both WWI (lying about her age at 14) and WWII. I always plied them with questions about their times "in the trenches" and loved hearing their stories - usually they only recounted the amusing ones. I realised there was a lot they never said. All my close relatives of that generation were in the services and many of the female ones were busy welding bailey bridges and making bullets and assembling weapons, so I have collated a lot of knowledge of the time through personal records. I found this book to be as accurate as the personal accounts I have heard of. It is also written from the memories of nurses of the time. They may have appeared patronising of some countries in which they were stationed but they did not know a lot about these countries before being packed off to nurse our troops. There was no TV or documentaries made about these places - and they relied on a lot of Empire literature for background. A lot of them came back and educated their nearest and dearest about the situations they served in and this improved national knowledge and started the tourism routes going. This book is a throughly enjoyable read and I would recommend it to anyone looking for information on women's life serving in the British Army during a war scenario. This was a dreadful time for everyone from 1940-45 and it their work must not be forgotten. This work is a tribute to those wonderful, hard working nurses who had to witness some terrible things, including being taken as POWs in some circumstances. I think this author has done a great job!
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on 8 March 2009
I have just finished reading this amazing book and I am completely in awe of these women. The accounts of these women's experiences during WWII, in particular those in the east, and how each of them dealt with their situation, never leaving their patients and always putting others first, are truly inspiring and really makes you realise that these women are a breed apart.

To say this is a powerful, uplifting book is an understatement. It often moved me to tears, not because the content is upsetting (although there is no doubt that there are some truly hard hitting and deeply upsetting anecdotes) but because these women are true patriots and their courage, bravery and love for their country and their countrymen fill me with pride.

I recommend this book to anyone, not just females. This book reminds you how proud you should, and can, be to be British.
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on 31 December 2013
I found a picture of my mother in this book, and learnt so much more about her life as a QUAIMNS nurse in India, that has backed up all the colourful letters she wrote to the family. Experiences from a few more people would have been interesting, but a good read for family or social historians.
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on 17 January 2013
Being a nurse and midwife i picked this book up.It was several years ago i read this very powerful book, it was not what i expected, half way through i wanted to give u there were very graphic passages, disturbing even, but out of admiration for those nurses i carried on. Well written.
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