Lorna Kite (b. 1916): Purpose and Audience

Extract from Lorna’s memoir.

Lorna’s motivation for writing lies at the beginning of her autobiography. Her purpose was to show her dedication towards her nursing duties. The date shows this significance as the memoir begins in 1938, the year she was trained for Queen Alexandra’s Military Service. She wanted to prove to her family and friends wrong that doubted her: ‘So in spite of their predictions and those aching feet, I was determined to achieve, not a mediocre certificate but one with honours, an ambition I was to fulfil.’ (1). Indeed, Lorna emphasised her determination to join the war effort: ‘I felt as though no one could possibly win the war without me!’ (2). Thus, she writes her autobiography to represent a nurse’s duty and sacrifice in the Second World War.

Lorna’s very first orders were to report base to Edinburgh castle. This was a vast change for her as this was the beginning of her journey into war. She describes the sheer exhaustion of having no place to sleep: ‘and there we were travel weary, hungry and no beds.’ (4). With her brief introduction, she gets straight into what she describes as being her first job, to teach the Grade III orderlies for examination. She describes how anxious she felt: ‘The first time I entered the lecture room very nervously. The desk was slightly raised with a large black-board behind me. I sat down and met a sea of blank faces.’ (3).

Thus, the memoir is of a dynamic tendency as it incorporates the sense of urgency: ‘when that fatal siren went and we heard the broadcast and knew we were at war.’ (5). Lorna narrates a nurse’s sense of anticipation as the war led them into: ‘terror, mostly of the unknown.’ (5). Lorna’s fear is also evoked through her writing style, as she often employs short, clipped declaratives: ‘Speculation upon speculation. When we would move – maybe tomorrow. Little did we know the mysterious ways of the Army.’ (5). What she conveys to her audience is the sense of vivid immediacy -all of her postings are in the present time which makes the reader feel as though they are following along with her journey. Similarly, Hallett draws upon the example of how another war-time nurse, La Motte, also employs a similar writing style to Lorna’s: ‘Her writing is vivid and immediate; she informs the reader that she is describing events as they unfold.’ (Hallett, 79-80, 2016). Thus, the fact that both writers share the same writing style shows how they captivate the reader’s attention through writing through vivid immediacy.


Nursing Sisters, RCAMC, standing beside a destroyed German Anit-Aircraft gun in France, 17 July 1944

While in Dunkirk, Lorna also wanted to rescue the poor refuges. However, she was forced to move on: ‘As nurses one’s instinct was to rush out and help, but there were other lives at stake and one can’t stop a convoy to do very little good.’ (13). She also notes that because of the bombing which left the harbour in flames, she solely could not stop the war: ‘We had got to know that the Red Cross meant nothing.’ (14). Here she is commenting on their work in Dunkirk, as she believes that they were not strong enough to prevent all these causalities.  She sees other sisters dying in front of her: ‘She lent over to pass me something and a bullet struck the panel where seconds before she had been resting her head’ (14). Thinking that she would be among the fallen, she counts herself lucky at being alive. Thus, she conveys her purpose of setting her life at stake in order to help others survive. This reflects the overwhelming sense of panic to her audience. Especially when the bombing continued in the harbour. The Lancastria blew up in pieces, and she was among the many civilians and mainly a lot of women in who were terrified: ‘we heard the terrible explosion – our turn next we thought.’ (17).


Photo illustrating the damage from the bombing of the Lancastria ship

Similarly, war-time nurse La Mett also draws upon the experience of serving in Dunkirk, and evokes like Lorna, the sense of fear: “Never for a second was there any fear of death, but an agonizing fear of the concussion, of a jaw torn off, of a nose smashed in … In that fearful moment, there was not one intellectual faculty I could call upon.” (Hallett, 80, 2016). Both Lorna and La Mett share comparisons which evokes the sense of fear to the reader. Hallett states: ‘La Motte’s description of bombardment brings the reader close to the emotions of those trapped within Dunkirk’s walls, waiting for each high-explosive shell. The day she is there, the town is steadily bombarded: approximately every forty minutes four shells fall, before the guns are left to cool.’ (80).


Off to duty the sister nurses go with hope and smiles on their faces.

Gagnier observes how these types of writers are ‘self – examiners’ in contrast to ‘authors of the confessions’ who want to ‘accept and exploit their experience rather than analyse it’ (Gagnier, 356, 1987) and ‘do not expect to succeed in middle-class terms.’ (356). Self-examiners ‘unlike the authors of the confessions, they are not trying to sell their work so much as to analyse and alleviate their pain yet their narratives are derived from models more suitable to the conditions of middle-class authors.’ (357). Lorna is in fact a self-examiner as she shares her experience not to exploit the conditions of war but to express her own devotion towards being in a career that has allowed her to recognise herself. Thus, her writing style is intended for both working-class and middle class readers.

Gagnier notes about the form of autobiographies: “Consequently they are always nostalgic. The later among these autobiographies typically end with the First World War and they are often called ‘Memories.’” (349). Likewise, Lorna relates her experiences as memories as it ends when she retires from service after the Second World War. When she was promoted to deputy matron her endeavour payed off as she was then given the honour of being mentioned in Despatches. The colonel who awarded her says: ‘You represent them all.’ (88). From this, we can understand that her account depicts the many other nurses who sacrificed and played an important role in the war.


Military nurse sat with a group of injured soldiers who are trying their best to be cheerful (5)

The ending of her memoir is quite abrupt as it simply ends with the small paragraph: ‘I said goodbye to the service to which I had given eleven years of my life – very gratifying years too. Shortly after, I became an army wife, and a very happy one, but always looking back over my shoulder, memories.’ (141). This highlights that her profession was very important to her, however she was willing to give this up to become an army wife.

Another resemblance to Lorna’s memoir was Alice Fitzgerald’s ‘war diary.’ Like Lorna, she was also a professional nurse, and in her brief prologue to her war diary: ‘she wrote she wrote of her childhood in various parts of Europe, her privileged upbringing, her determination to become a nurse, and her training.’ (Hallett, 111, 2016).  However, the purpose of her role and service was the most important: ‘Of her purpose in keeping a diary Fitzgerald writes very self-consciously, apparently intending her record of the war to be read by future generations.’  (112) Likewise, Lorna’s memoir would inform a future generation of her life and work as military nurse.  Hallett states, ‘Most nurse writers seem also to have felt that their war nursing work was the most powerful experience of their lives – and one that must be shared.’ (184). Thus, Lorna wanted to share this incredible account of her life’s history of her work as a war nurse.

Bibliography:

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies, 30. 3 (1987): 335-363.

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.

Images:

(1). ‘Screenshot from the memoir of Lorna Kite: World War II as Seen Through the Eyes of a Nurse.’ [Accessed 06/03/2020]

(2). www.bbc.co.uk. ‘Lancastria: The forgotten tragedy of World War Two.’ Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-33092351 . [Accessed 06/03/2020]

(3). Silverhawkauthor.com. ‘Nursing Sisters of No.6 Casualty Clearing Station, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, England, 11 October 1943.’ Available at: http://silverhawkauthor.com/nursing-sisters-canada_399.html.  [Accessed 06/03/2020]

(4). Silverhawkauthor.com. ‘Nursing Sisters, RCAMC, standing beside a destroyed German Anit-Aircraft gun in France, 17 July 1944.’ Available at: http://silverhawkauthor.com/nursing-sisters-canada_399.html [Accessed 06/03/2020].

(5). Silverhawkauthor.com. Nursing Sister Minnie Affleck, First Canadian Contingent, South African War, 1900. Available at: http://silverhawkauthor.com/nursing-sisters-canada_399.html [Accessed 06/03/2020].

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