Irène Joliot-Curie
One of the many people to dedicate their lives to others during the Great War was Irène Curie, the eldest daughter of famous Nobel Prize winners Marie and Pierre Curie.

Irène was born in France in 1897, when her mother was 30 years old. Irène’s mathematical talent became apparent at a very young age, and her parents made sure to adapt her education and steer her in a promising direction. When the First War broke out, however, Irène’s studies at the Faculty of Science at the Sorbonne were interrupted.

During the first year of the war, Marie Curie decided to head to France to supervise the setup of 20 mobile radiography vehicles (which became known as ‘petites Curies’), in addition to a large number of radiology units at field hospitals. Despite being only 17, Irène begged her mother to take her along, which Marie eventually agreed to.

After a short nursing course, during which Irène learned the basics in radiology, she joined her mother at the front line where they ran the mobile field hospitals together. Due to the significant lack of trained staff, Marie and Irène also trained over 180 young women as aides, teaching them how to operate the X-ray units that could help doctors detect shrapnel in injured soldiers.


In December 1914, Marie and Irène first visited the Belgian city of Veurne together, and a year later Irène was put in charge of the radiology department of a hospital in Hoogstade. Irène also worked in various French hospitals during the war, including in Amiens at the time of the Battle of the Somme. Letters between mother and daughter dating from these years illustrate how close the two were.

Irène Joloit-Currie
After the war, Irène returned to Paris to pick up her studies again. She went on to lead a highly successful career, becoming Doctor of Science in 1925 and receiving the Nobel Prize for chemistry 10 years later. Irène Curie died at the age of 58 from leukaemia, most likely as a result of being exposed to large doses of radiation at the front.
Needless to say, the selfless dedication of people like Irène Curie has touched and inspired many of us. For those interested in learning more about both them and the war, Flanders Fields offers many options. 
A selection:
The Lijssenthoek Cemetery is the largest military cemetery in the area. As is often the case, it lies right next to a former military hospital. The Lijssenthoek visitor centre offers a unique interpretation. 
 
Veurne has countless war stories to tell. It is also the starting point for ‘Marie Curie in Flanders’, a guided tour that takes people to the exact same places that Marie and her petites Curies visited. 
 
The dual War & Trauma exhibition focuses on the medical care available to the wounded at the front, as well as the psychiatric care that was required for the many soldiers suffering from shell shock.
Back to top