Among the 600.000 victims were British and German nurses who came to the Western Front to care for the wounded soldiers.
Elsie & Mairi (c) Museum aan de Ijzer, Diksmuide

While in Belgium and France, care for the sick was still often the domain of nuns, this care had for some time been laicized and professionalised in Great Britain, the US and germany. Nurse training as it existed in Belgium, like in Brussels, had been organised according to the English model. At the request of Doctor Antione Depage of the Red Cross, British nurse Edith Cavell was in charge as of 1907. On 12 October 1915, she was executed by the German occupier as a spy in Brussels. Laicised nurse training in France and Belgium did not result in enough registered nurses, because of which British nurses were more than welcome. 

The British Red Cross detached qualified nurses to Red Cross hospitals, such as L’Océan in De Panne. In occupied Belgium, most hospitals functioned for civilians but often also for German servicemen. Sometimes convent orders took on this task, also if they hadn’t carried out any tasks in hospitals previously. In the front region many schools and convents were claimed as Feldlazarett. 

Nurse Nellie Spindler is the only woman buried between more than 10,800 men at Lijssenthoek Cemetery in Poperinge. She was hit by a schrapnel and died that same day.
Several German nurses, called 'Schwestern' and 'Helferinnen', were buried at Vladslo German War Cemetery among them Schwester Kinnia Wäschle, Helferin Ilse Böhm and Helferin Käthe Helfrich.

Women didn’t only work as nurses but also took care of other medical jobs as ambulance workers like Mairi and Elsie or radiologist like Marie Curie.

Discover stories of women in charge of medical care during WWI

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