Home and family is always a huge part of anyone’s life. From the perspective of a military nurse, however, we see how Lorna is often absent from her family through being posted to different locations across the world. This raises the questions: What does the absence of family and home mean? What are the alternatives? How does the author deal with the feelings of loneliness, love, loss whilst being away from home? Thus, I will be looking at these questions throughout the blog which should draw our overall conclusion on the significance to what home and family means to Lorna.
When just starting out with her career, Lorna had twenty-four hours leave, which she used to rush back home and visit her mother. There is an emphasis on sacrificing her own life to her duty, as Lorna conveys: ‘I knew I’d never come back alive! So I travelled on the night train. My mother met me at King’s Cross. I said goodbye and returned on the 10 AM to London.’ (6). However, Hallett observes how it was not unusual for nurses to be in this career: ‘The ‘war fever’ of summer 1914 meant that a large proportion of the young female population of Britain were desperately anxious to join their brothers on ‘active service’ and play their part in Britain’s war effort.’ (102) Thus, even if it meant being away from home, women wanted to follow suit with the men who were also serving in the war.
As Lorna moves from place to place, the sense of home can alter. For example, she describes the living situation while in France: ‘The accommodation was a bit seedy but the French people made us welcome and we each carved out a little corner that was her own – one camp bed and tin box…All we needed was hot water which was a problem.’ (7). Thus, the sense of home is divided between her and the other soldiers. As sometimes soldiers were billeted across the neighbourhood, ‘there was someone billeted in all the houses in that village and the Big house on the hill was made into the officers club where the big brass lived and the most comfortable.’ (8). This highlights how the feeling of home and family can equate to sharing it with other military personnel who were also away. When she returned home, her mother fainted at the door as she was presumed missing and killed for ten days. This conveys the emotional pain a family must go through whilst their loved one is in war as they believe they could possibly have died and would not have known otherwise.
Instances of bigamy are mentioned in Lorna’s memoir. This is the act of being married to one person while still legally married to another. Bigamy was a big issue within the home, which would obviously disrupt the family dynamic. There were many instances where the nurses did not know the men were already married. While situated in the officer’s ward, Lorna met Major James from the desert who she starts to date: ‘He really was most engaging, good looking and excellent company.’ (42). When she had two weeks leave, she and James became involved in grand parties. He was always her partner when she was on leave and they soon became engaged. Before the wedding, a friend of James delivers terrible news, that he was already engaged and had two children. Lorna expresses her hurt over this revelation: ‘I was shattered.’ (50). James tried to convince Lorna that he only loved her, however she ‘dismissed him with anger and hurt pride.’ (51). This highlights how bigamy has corrupted the family home as she imagined her future with him yet she was left devastated when he found out he was already married, which would have disrupted his family as well. Thus, Lorna says how some soldiers would crack up under such conditions, if the roles were reversed and they found out that their wives at home were cheating on them.
As she moved further North, the feeling of homesickness began to set in: ‘The sense of urgency that had kept us going was no longer there and we were all getting very homesick. At that time I’d been away from home for 3 and a half years.’ (99). This desperate longing to see her family grew with her increasing anxieties surrounding whether they were still alive. This also affected the soldiers as their families and children would grow up to forget them, and gossips say that their wives were having an affair. Thus, homesickness can create psychological disturbance with people who work in the military: ‘‘desperate homesickness – the lack of news from home – letters months old.’ (99). As the casualties in the war mounted high, the stream of telegrams and newspaper headlines detailing new losses could become rather daunting. Second world war Army wife, Dolores Silva recalls: “Once the war started like that, you didn’t know where they were, you didn’t know if they were alive or dead. You didn’t know if you were going to get a letter from them and then find out that they had died right after they had written the letter. So, it just kept building up inside of you.” ‘The War: At Home.’ (2007) Family [Online] Available at: https://www.pbs.org/thewar/at_home_family.htm [Accessed 06/5/20].
One of the alternatives to home for Laura is her leave. She spends most of her time on leave on excursions from their postings with her fellow nursing sisters. When on leave in Rome, there is a sense of family within her troop: ‘I still have a photograph of us bending over our billy cans eating hot tinned meat and veg…duty the next day, rise and shine.’ (92-3). This illustrates how through spending time away from her loved ones, her nursing sisters have become her alternate family and the alternate to her homebody is the leave she gets to spend with them.
However, there is also the sense that she cannot manage to fit back into her family environment when she returns to see her family. This is highlighted when she had six weeks leave. Her family were ‘ecstatic and there was a great reunion,’ but everything appeared ‘small, dull and shabby,’ (116). Feeling like she wouldn’t ‘fit back in’ with the folks at home as there had been a four year gap from when she was at home: ‘They wouldn’t know what I was talking about, they had shared nothing of what I’d been through, and conversely I would not fit into their life and war experiences.’ (113).
Returning home within a war setting to her mother, the first thought is rations. One of the first questions I was asked was did I have any coupons to spare?’ (116). While at home, she admires her mother’s calm demeanor to the situation: ‘My mother’s self-control was magnificent, she never said a word. She was a wonderful woman and I loved her dearly. Never a grumble or complaint, only great joy that I had returned.’ (116). Strangely, the feeling of homesickness from her duty began to set in: ‘I tried to get into the pattern of life – but I was lost. We had six weeks leave. What could the future hold? I was certainly not used to the pace.’ (116). This conveys that she has got so used to being away from her home and family, that being with them now seems harder to adjust to.
‘The War: At Home.’ (2007) Family [Online] Available at: https://www.pbs.org/thewar/at_home_family.htm [Accessed 06/5/20].
Hallett, E. Christine. Nurse Writers of the Great War. Manchester University Press, 2016.
Kite, L.E ‘Mentioned in Despatches; WWII as Seen Through the Eyes of a Nurse.’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, TS pp 146).
(1) ‘Women During World War II’ Military nurse reads a letter from home. Available at: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/saskiavanderbaan/women-during-world-war-ii/ [Accessed 13/05/2020.
(2) ‘The Merseyside Magazine’ American soldiers in Liverpool during world war II. Available at: http://www.merseysidermagazine.com/site/local-history/americans-in-liverpool-during-world-war-ii-part-1/americans-in-liverpool-during-world-war-ii-part-2/ [Accessed 13/05/2020].
(3) ‘The National WWI Memorial and Museum and Memorial.’ Nursing sisters. Available at: https://www.theworldwar.org/learn/women [Accessed 13/05/2020]