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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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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 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 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 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 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 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 13 July 2016
Brought up on a Galway farm by an aunt after the death of her mother shortly after childbirth, with a Republican for a father, Mary Morris nevertheless responded to the call of the ‘enemy’ British for nurses and took part in the Normandy landings, following the advancing armies all the way into Germany, where she stayed until 1947. She was eighteen when she dealt with her first casualty. Her diaries, written completely against regulations, were found in the Imperial War Museum.

Young as she was, she describes the blood and guts of war almost in passing; what interests her is people. Her patients all stand out as individuals, about whom she cares. She breaks the rules by talking to them about their lives; nurses are supposed to talk only about ailments. The nurses were in great demand during lulls in the fighting and romance, intense in its brevity, was never far away. In the midst of death and destruction she creates a wondrous sense of being alive. She writes with brevity and Irish wit, remarking while on leave in Ireland that ‘there is very little walking to be done on a pub crawl in Dublin’.
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on 7 January 2016
Brilliant. I loved this. Read the whole thing in two sittings. Mary was a natural writer and her diary flowed and was refreshing, I've read other nurses diaries and they can be a bit flowery and laboured but Mary was a brilliant writer and wrote with honesty and insight, wish I could find more books like this
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on 23 April 2015
OMG I admire the nurses today but what this lady had to deal with was awful, so glad she wrote her diaries to give all an insite to what she had to deal with. A fantastic read and great for people who want to know what it was really like for nurses in the war
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