Saturday 24 April 2010

Nurses at sea in Falklands War

White Ship Red Crosses, by QARNNS nurse Nicci Pugh, has just been published. The memoir summarises the experiences of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service personnel on the hospital ship Uganda during the 1982 Falklands conflict. It is published by Melrose Books, ISBN: 978-1907040498

Anna McNamee, for Women's Hour, recorded the book's launch party this week (20.4.2010). The lively programme included interviews with the some of the 'Fearless Forty' nurses. Hear it on BBC Radio Four's Listen Again facility:

It's great that the book is out and that this story is at last told. I am happy I was one of the people who encouraged Nicci to do it.

And it's important to acknowledge that nurses were not the only women in that war. So too were pursers, stewardesses, laundresses and cleaners. These unsung heroines, some of whom I have interviewed, also deserve recognition.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Women's bodies on wartime bride ships: a logistical 'problem' that needs airing

In researching my book about women at sea in WW1 and WW2, I've noticed something very distinct about the ships taking a mass of war brides across the ocean. Warbrides' bodily functions were necessarily of great logistical concern to ship owners and transport managers, who had never been used to so many women passengers before (especially pregnant and nursing mothers). Wrens, nurses, crew etc were on ships in much smaller numbers - and without babies, so their bodily needs were not such a problem.

It seems to me that the big issues were as follows - and that few warbrides have yet talked about it.

1.How to cope with the disposal of sanitary towels, given that sea toilets were so inclined to block (the brass clappers were affected by salt corrosion) and passengers seemed averse to using disposal bins?
2. How to enable the laundering of babies' nappies, given that few bride ships had laundries and that each mother would need to soak, wash and dry at least four diapers a day. Where do you put the dozens of buckets, to stop them falling over in choppy seas? Where do you hang these small squares that take up so much space on the washing line? Some US ships in WW2 dealt with the problem by issuing disposables.
3.How to assist mothers to breast feed in private, in such crowded spaces?
4. How to deal with sexual desire during the voyage, given that crew members could be predatory (and wives who'd been away from their husband for a long time could be feeling in need of physical consolation). It seems that bromide was issued on at least one occasion, to quell women's ardour.

I'd love it if any warbrides or their crew can help me understand these points. Thank you.