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on 12 June 2014
A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime by Mary Morris is an extraordinary eyewitness account of some of the most public events of the late twentieth century. Through her wartime daily entries, Mary brings the past with the immediacy of the present and enabled the present-day generation to relive the horrors of World War II.

Described by her daughter, Kathy Lowe, as a person with a rebellious streak, bloody-minded determination and great sense of humor in the Postscript of the book, it was Mary Morris’ desire to be a nurse which led her to Britain in August 1939 at the age of 18. She joined as a nurse probationer at Guy’s Hospital in London but within a week Britain was at war. Though it is not allowed for those on active duties to keep diaries, Mary kept one, and is being published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the start of the Battle of Normandy.

Mary’s diary begins on 31st May 1940 when her routine duty at Kent and Sussex hospital is disturbed by the arrival of casualties from Dunkirk. The diary will take the reader through the London Blitz, her journey to Normandy with the Army Nursing Corps in June 1944 and her wards of wounded in France and Belgium.

The contents of the book include:
1. ‘The real war started for me today’ Training at the Kent and Sussex Hospital, Tunbridge Wells 31 May 1940– 26 October 1942
2. ‘What a night!’ Fever nursing, Brook Hospital, Woolwich 11 February 1943– 28 May 1944
3. ‘In the QAs at last’ Normandy and beyond 5 June 1944– 23 September 1944
4. ‘Rushed off our feet’ Belgium 24 September 1944– 8 May 1945
5. ‘We must get used to saying good-bye’ Aftermath 11 May 1945– 8 May 1946
6. ‘It is good to be out of khaki’ Germany 12 May 1946– 19 September 1947

Mary’s diary is insightful and beautifully captures the mood of the time. It is also funny and witty, vividly describing how the soldiers managed to find time to have fun, dancing and drinking champagne, often into the early morning hours. Mary Morris married an officer four years her junior and settled down in England after the war, and they had four children. It is sad that she didn’t live long enough to see the publication of her diary. She died in 1997, but her wartime contributions and memory will live on with this publication which has been proficiently edited by Carol Acton.
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on 5 August 2014
Just an excellent account of her nursing days through training and during the 2nd World War. I started my training at a London Teaching in the 50's, the training had not changed too much even then, but it gave one the essentials of real nursing care! It was so moving, very sad in parts but a joy to read, her family must be very proud of her. Mary Morris has done an excellent job, so pleased her Diaries are in the Imperial War Museum.
Christine Joslin
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on 7 July 2014
I loved this book It not only gave an insight into this lovely lady but also a look into the war which I had never found before in other books of this period or even in films. Would make a wonderful tv series. or film.
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on 17 June 2014
How Mary found the time to write when she was so busy with her grossly injured patients and so many times being alone on a ward of over 30 patients, I do not know. Her dedication to nursing was second to none and her understanding of human behaviour is phenomenal. She has a quality gift of writing, even to her own private diary. It is hard to put this book down! Mary gives a bird's eye view of actions on the ground and the effects of overhead plane activity while she is working amongst bullets flying, bombs exploding, shrapnel whizzing around etc. She not only describes her work but her patients stories vividly. Her social life brings respite from the hard toil of war and she never seems to tire of nursing. Mary has a great sense of justice and tolerance. Her observation is acute of everything going on around her. If this book does not turn out to be a best-seller I will be wanting to know why. World war 2 is brought to life and this book will remain in my memory for a very long time.
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on 27 June 2014
This should be a must read book for all youngsters especially aspiring nurses.
Me? I am old enough to remember the real thing. So very true to life in the 1940s
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on 10 June 2016
Mary was an Irish nurse who served with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserves (QAs) in World War II. Defying the rules, she kept a diary, the importance of which was recognised by the Imperial War Museum in London which had stored it away until now. The diary, a remarkable window into life in the medical service during wartime, picks up with Mary training at Kent and Sussex Hospital, treating survivors of Dunkirk and, later, badly injured fighter pilots from the Battle of Britain. She was rebellious by nature, but also warm-hearted and perceptive, and went out of her way to treat patients’ psychological wounds as well their physical. During her training in fever nursing (this, of course, was pre-antibiotics), she moved on to the Brook Hospital in Woolwich where she encountered some horrific sights, including a baby’s face “half-eaten” by rats on a short-staffed and unsanitary children's ward, which was then hushed up by the tyrannical medical staff she fought against, yet somehow she rolled up her sleeves and got on with life and the job at hand. Nights out on the town with various servicemen and a reunion with a long-lost brother provided her with bite-sized reminders of normalcy; but for us readers, they bring home the ephemeral (and bittersweet) nature of relationships during the war. Mary enlisted with the QAs and was shipped to Normandy on a troopship, 12 days after D-Day, which she describes as “a dramatic, poignant and very vivid part of my life.” From there, we follow the field hospital into Belgium, where she patches up survivors of the ill-fated assault on Arnhem and finds true love in the shape of her future husband, and finally Germany itself. Mary, as evidenced in this diary, proves an eloquent and thoughtful witness to some of the most tragic events in human history. Throughout it all, she remained determined, compassionate and witty. But above all, she was a true wartime hero.
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on 25 May 2016
As an absorbing and emotional account of a nurse's experience during the Second World War, I can't recommend this book enough. Mary Morris was an Irish nurse who recounts her time as a QA nurse in her diary, where she experiences the Blitz, cares for survivors of all nationalities during the Normandy invasion, and then in Belgium sees the horrific consequences of Arnhem. Her diary really hits home how relationships during the war were fleeting - meeting someone briefly but knowing that she may never see them again, and she captures a wide range of stories and experiences from the people and friends that she encounters. It is also evident that she was a very caring, forward-thinking nurse who had a great understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before it was well-known, and when caring for soldiers she took into account the mental as well as physical damages done by war.
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on 8 July 2014
Well I might be rather biased in my review because this wonderful lady was my aunt My dad Paddy was her brother. I would have to say that even though I didnt have the opportunity to have met her often or get to know her well this book seemed to bring her to life allowing me to dip into her past, to experience her life as a nurse during World War 2 and afterwards . Her vivid memories of visiting Caltra reawakened memories of my own hometown .
Reading this book I realise that even though she was a lady way before her time this book brings her to life to be remembered and enjoyed by future generations and rightly so . .
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on 20 June 2016
It’s hard not to warm to the young Irish nurse Mary Morris since her diary fizzes with an infectious zest to overcome all that the war in Europe throws at her - whether it’s German doodle bugs, martinet matrons or the lascivious designs of army officers.

The Irish angle on the war is illuminating: how food was more plentiful in Dublin than London, how 165,000 of her fellow countrymen fought with the British forces despite Eire’s neutrality and how she signed up too in the face of her father’s reservations.

Her compassionate writing brings the war to life and the expert commentary from editor Carol Acton is precise and insightful.

Altogether a life-affirming read.
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on 3 June 2016
Mary Morris was an Irish nurse who worked in London during the Blitz then served behind the lines as the Allies pushed through Belgium and into Germany. She kept a diary the whole time and recorded her life and the lives of the people around her in modest, sensible prose. 'A Very Private Diary' is genuinely valuable to anyone researching or just interested in the period. It's war as it affects civilians, the people not in uniform who are often just statistics in books about WW2. Even when Morris is treating soldiers badly wounded in the fighting the emphasis is on the human cost, not the heroics. A very good, often humbling read.
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