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After a few months of sticking to my own bookshelf, and re-reading the same books again and again and again as a result (which I do a lot anyway, but this was excessive) I finally returned to my local library. Luckily after a break of a few months I found some new books there that caught my eye and which were duly borrowed.

One of those books turned out to be a good but occasionally heart-rending read; A Nurse At The Front - The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton.

Edith Appleton was an English nurse who spent the First World War in France and Belgium, looking after wounded soldiers, both Allied and German. The information about her was originally published on a website, and recently her diaries were published in the above book.

If you're of a sensitive disposition then you need to avoid this book. What makes it a good read is that Edith Appleton didn't pull any punches with regards to what she experienced, including soldiers who were maimed or paralysed, or who spent days in agony before they finally died. But she also paints a beautiful picture of areas of northern France before they were devastated by shelling, and the stories of everyone clubbing together to make Christmas decorations make you realise that despite the horrendous numbers of casualties people still tried to make sure that life went on as normally as possible.

It also gives you the other side of the war. Most published diaries are from the soldiers themselves, whether they were frontline infantry or vicars who were running Sunday services and holding burials on a daily basis. In this diary you get the views not only of a woman, but a woman who at times was remarkably close to The Front. While she may not have had to deal with rats or contracted trenchfoot, she did have to deal with soldiers who bled to death, or suffocated as gas ate away at their lungs. The nurses who served in France had to be as tough as the soldiers, and Edith's diaries do occasionally mention those women who struggled to cope.

Overall this is an excellent read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the First World War.


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