** I’m currently reading poetry, letters, diaries, notes by women involved in the First World War. This is for a course I’m teaching at the U3A Summer School at RAU Cirencester from August 18-21. Some of these women were on the home front, looking after their families and/or out at work while others were serving on base or battlefield.
At the moment I’m reading the diaries of Florence Farmborough who was in Moscow teaching English to the two daughters of a heart surgeon when Germany declared war on Russia, our ally at the time. Florence, and her pupils, began nurse training and after six months Florence was sent with a Red Cross unit to the South-West Front. There she dealt with appalling wounds in makeshift hospitals, often as shells were exploding nearby, bringing down masonry and breaking windows. Writing in her diary later she recalled: ‘I caught a glimpse of my white overall, covered with blood-stains and dirt… Mechanically my fingers worked: ripping, cleaning, dressing, binding. Now this one was finished, another one begun.’ (Florence Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front: Futura Publications 1977, p.42)
There are many more examples of the bravery of women involved in WW1: it’s an aspect of our history well worth exploring in detail.
** And ‘history’ is a complicated concept. Elsewhere on this website I’ve published two short stories I wrote as part of my Creative Writing MA course at the University of East Anglia, in 1977. Both are about young women facing a future on their own. The first, Plait, is set in the 19th century and I researched the historical background in detail. The second, The Cat’s Whiskers, was ‘modern’ when I wrote it but somehow it seems now to be the more old-fashioned of the two pieces. It’s set in the 70s when access to computers was limited and the personal computer and the mobile phone still on the geeks’ ‘to do’ list. So, there was no quick and easy contact via email or text messaging; no personal websites; no Facebook; no Twitter. Somehow that story seems so much more ‘historical’ than the first – or do I just mean ‘old fashioned’? I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have happened all these years later!