I’ve moved slightly out of order.
I read Our Vietnam Nurses before I started Minefields and Miniskirts. Originally I’d intended to writer a single article combining details of Sharon Bown’s speech, and the books I’ve read recently about military nurses. However I found there was too much for one post, so I decided to split that intended post into three.
The disadvantage I’m now facing is that my memory of this book isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be to do it justice.
Each chapter of Our Vietnam Nurses concentrates on a different group of nursing staff who served during the Vietnam war. The story is told more or less through their own words by the author, based on interviews she conducted with both military and civilian nurses.
This link gives access to a radio interview with the author that gives far better insight into the book and its content than I could give. : http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2016/06/09/4478666.htm
The words of a military nurse inspired my year and a half interest in the wars of the past century. I saw them at the Australian War memorial when I visited for the first time since the 1980s
They were printed on the wall near to a large painting by Ben Quilty in the Afghanistan exhibition. I’d gone to the memorial primarily to see that painting. I’ve now been back many times, and those words haven’t lost anything despite becoming so familiar.
They come from a predawn service address given by Wing Commander Sharon Bown on Anzac Day 2104 at the War Memorial. The full quote from her speech is:
I have awaited their return and tended their wounds, never able to fully comprehend the darkness of man that they encountered upon their journey. I have witnessed their adrenaline fuelled highs of survival and their immense depths of despair at the loss of a mate. I have laughed reservedly at the often black-humoured stories of soldiers who photograph their legs before a patrol, just in case they never saw them again; and faced the reality of their need to loosely wear a tourniquet on each limb, ready to stem the almost inevitable haemorrhage that could end their life. I have been privileged to hear of unimaginable acts of bravery and self-preservation; and I have stood by silently to attempt to pick up the pieces when it all falls apart.
I have worn their blood.
So many of us have worn their blood.
Those last two sentences still give me goose-bumps in their graphic, yet poetic simplicity in summarising the personal cost and horror of military conflict. The cost to the combatants, but also to those tasked with (literally) putting the human pieces back together again.
My experience described above happened in the lead up to the Anzac centenary. It initiated my curiosity about the meaning of the commemoration and set me on the path to satisfy that curiosity. My journey through the Anzac story has regularly taken me back to that starting point and the experiences of those who “wore” the blood of others. (see https://outshadows.wordpress.com/category/nurses/)
I’m now impatiently awaiting release of Sharon Bown’s book One Woman’s War and Peace : A Nurse’s Journey Through the Royal Australian Air Force due for release towards the end of the year.
The full speech by Wing Commander Bown can be read here: