Professionalism, class, and the voluntary aid detachment in the Great War

Davies, Julie Ann (2020). Professionalism, class, and the voluntary aid detachment in the Great War. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

Available under License All rights reserved.

Download (3MB) | Preview


The image of the selfless, heroic, upper middle class V.A.D. being singled out for harsh treatment by the socially inferior, yet professionally superior trained nurses during the Great War has dominated popular histories and memories of the Great War since the publication of Vera Brittain’s memoirs A Testament of Youth. Challenging this mythology, this thesis shows for the first time how the tensions between these two groups of women were more complex and far-reaching than the result of class differences. In so doing, it places the debate around the relationship between VADs and nurses within the wider politics of nursing and the battle for professional status of nurses which came to a head during the First World War. The debates over professionalisation distilled into the intimate and personal relationships between women working in military hospitals amid the pressures of war, and took shape in the awkward interpersonal engagements between colleagues. Drawing on a range of published archival material the thesis uses professional journals and institutional records to show the ways in which the British Red Cross Society and trained nurses themselves responded to these challenges before and during the Great War. Using the correspondence of two individual V.A.D.s as a case study, this study then explores the key narratives of professionalism and class. It demonstrates the central role that letter writing has played as a medium through which members of the V.A.D. negotiated those tensions in their working lives. Interweaving these case studies, the thesis demonstrates how the wider debate of professionalisation and patriotic duty was played out within the pages of professional journals and in the lives of two volunteer nurses — in public debate and private lives.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of History
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)


Request a Correction Request a Correction
View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year