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By Tim Luard on

From Country Vicarage to Front Line Nurse

What was life like for a young nurse on the front line of the First World War?

Former BBC foreign correspondent and author Tim Luard’s great aunt Kate Luard was a First World War nurse, whose letters are featured in our Ambulance Trains exhibition. In this guest post, Tim explores her story.


‘You boarded a cattle-truck, armed with a tray of dressings and a pail; the men were lying on straw; had been in trains for several days; most had only been dressed once, and many were gangrenous…No one grumbled or made any fuss.’

kate-luard-unknown-warriorsThis description of one of the first trains to transport wounded soldiers from the trenches in France to safety was written by nursing sister Kate Luard, the subject of a talk hosted by the National Railway Museum as part of its special First World War centenary activities.

One of thirteen children of a Victorian clergyman in rural Essex, Kate spent the entire war working almost round the clock on ambulance trains and casualty clearing stations, as close as any woman could get to the front line. A former nurse in the Boer War, she went on to be decorated by the King with the Royal Red Cross and bar.

Her Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front caused a sensation when it was published anonymously in 1915, revealing to many for the first time the full horror of what was happening at the front. A second book, Unknown Warriors, comprising her letters home from 1915-18, was recently reissued in a new edition by the History Press, with an introduction co-written by the nursing historian, Professor Christine Hallett, and Tim Luard, a former BBC correspondent and a great nephew of the author.

In his talk at the museum on 30 September, Tim Luard will explore his great aunt’s personal and professional background – including recently discovered evidence of a secret love affair stretching over two wars. He will use photographs and extracts from her letters home to show how she succeeded in rising above the daily rigours and horrors of a nurse’s life at the front to tell a tale of heroism, courage and gritty good humour that remains as gripping today as it was 100 years ago.

To find out more and book your place for our First World War talks, visit our website.

Learn more about Kate Luard

Read Tim Luard’s article in Centenary News

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