The Second World War was definitely a political movement, its history can be traced in Lorna’s memoir. At the beginning she states how, ‘There were to be some terrible years ahead. Those nine months at Milbank, due to Chamberlains’ intervention, conned us into a world of make belief.’ (3). This is signifying when Nazi-occupied Germany had invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The prime minister, Nevel Chamberlain, declared war on Germany two days later. Chamberlain led the war for the first eight months until his resignation as Prime minister on May 10th, 1940.
Lorna depicts the tense military situation while based in Cairo. She observes how the natives were supporting Germany by playing their national anthem – ‘Deutchland uber Alas’ (52), in the streets. The King Farouk of Egypt was criticised for his lavish lifestyle, he kept his palace lights burning at a time when the city was under a blackout in fear of the Italians bombing them. The British, and its ambassador pressed Farouk to form a wafd-coalition government to replace Pasha’s. Lorna was there when the British gave Farouk an ultimatum: ‘British tanks surrounded the Palace and King Farouk was handed an ultimatum by the British ambassador.’ (52). Farouk surrendered, and formed a government shortly thereafter.
Lorna conveys how the morale was pretty low by 1942, and if anything was good there was a code that ‘it was Rommel’ (54), which is a reference to the German general and military theorist. Rommel had pushed the British back from Gazala and the front was forming at Al Alamein. They had a small aircraft of their own down at Armant and from thence they would fly to safety, if the Germans marched in.’ (54). The Pasha’s helped the British with their mine detectors so they were well prepared in advance of any German invasion at Cairo. Lorna was offered a seat on the plane but she refused: ‘How could they imagine I’d do a thing like that?’ Desert my patients and country.’ (54). Thus, this conveys Lorna’s patriotism to her country and care towards her patients; she would never desert them as that was her front line duty towards the British army.
Hallett observes, The longing to move beyond their ‘circle of reality’ drove many women to offer their services as nurses in the First World War. For others, it was patriotism that moved them.’ (138). Female pacifists, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who linked pacifism to feminism suggested that a war would have been less likely if women held political power. As we have observed with Lorna’s memoir, she is actively involved in the war and is not a pacifist. This also followed the styles of many other nurse’s memoirs: ‘Open pacifism was, however, rare among nurses: most nurse writers contented themselves with exposing the horror of war in the hope that readers would draw their own conclusions.’ (125). Thus, whilst Lorna reveals her experiences in war, she hopes that readers will agree with her political standpoint.
Another significant figure mentioned is Senior British Army officer, Bernard Montgomery, ‘Monty,’ who fought in both ww1 and 2 and the second battle of El Alamein had begun. The British fought back – and they felt the casualties. Lorna conveys how Monty was a showman, who in the thick of fighting would fly down to Cairo as they were in the process of pushing Rommel back. One year later in 1943, the British were at an advance from the force in Cairo. Tripoli was now in British hands. Thus, orders then came for them to move from Cairo to Italy. While asked at a Sergeant’s mess party, a ‘red headed sergeant – full of importance told me the troop movements to Italy including the date and port where we would be going.’ (64). She went home ‘in agonises of uncertainty; (64), she reports it to people in charge. As she stopped the sergeant moving the opposing troops to Italy shows how it was the politically correct thing to do as she had no regrets once she seen how British troops had been mutilated.
Whilst in Andrea, they were now based at a tented hospital ‘with wide marble staircases and studded oak doors.’ (93), so they felt very guarded from any bombings. However, just as she was beginning to find her feet in the hospital she was informed that half of the hospital was to be handed over to Yugoslav Partisans. They were in ‘a shocking state having carried out Guerilla warfare with the Germans for some time.’ (95). She met Randolph Churchill personally and held hands with him while singing, ‘Auld Lang Sine.’ (95). He was in Italy, to pull British leaders out. The Germans were better equipped than the British which they used to their advantage.
Lorna describes how difficult the Yugoslav patients were when they began to act up: ‘they complained about everything – especially the food – discipline was non-existent.’ (96), ‘one man flung his dinner plate in his sister’s as she entered the ward (96). One duty she responded to whilst in hospital was the ‘up-patients’ protesting with knives: ‘A shaky voice said would I come at once the patients had mutinied and were waving knives around.’ (95). The orderly was, ‘green with fear.’ (96) as a young, British orderly was seen shaking at what was happening. Lorna told them, ‘No good showing fear,’ (95) She managed to stop them: ‘But strangely my uniform or the fact that I was a woman, made them obey.’ (96). The fact that she managed to stop the patients protesting with knives shows how she got the situation in control.
There was also instances of spies and spying. For example, one woman had been caught signalling to the other partisans. She had been found by the Germans: ‘she was dragged down and some Kraut had slashed her with his bayonette down her face and across her breasts.’ (96). Luckily she had recovered as they performed plastic surgery on her face. This reveals how illicit spying was thought of as you were a traitor against your country if you were caught signalling to the enemy. The commissar told the hospital staff that she was actually pregnant – ‘she had got to know an Italian boy in the village – leaning out of her window – Romeo and Juliette with the same tragic consequences. (96). Women had to take a vow of chastity when they joined up. Thus, she was moved to a home for unmarried mothers to be that was set up by Winston Churchill.
Through reading all of these anecdotes about the military and political situations in World War II, it helps to form our conclusion on what is was like for Lorna to be in such a politically tense part of history. When the British were faced with difficulties, such as with the battle of El Alamein and the oppositions in Tripoli, observes how the British managed to maintain their defence and ultimately their force was what won us the war.
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). ‘Teheran conference.’ www.conservapedia.com. Available at: https://www.conservapedia.com/Teheran_conference[Accessed 21/05/2020].
(2). ‘Nursing in WWII.’ www.pinterest.co.uk. Available at: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/435934438910190048/ [Accessed 21/05/2020].
(3) ‘Battle of El Alamein.’ ww.history.com. Available at:https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-el-alamein [Accessed 21/05/2020].
(4). ‘The Incredible story of Navajo Code Talkers that got lost in all the politics. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/28/us/navajo-code-talkers-trump-who/index.html [Accessed 21/05/2020].