Red Cross nurses served in many ways during World War I, but were immortalized for their work at the front in the poem, “The Rose of No Man’s Land.”
The calm, clean image would have been far from what nurses looked like after days and nights treating sick and wounded soldiers, their work broken only by a handful of hours to sleep. But to a soldier who had been in the trenches, thought he’d been killed, then woke up to find himself under the care of a compassionate woman, calling her a flower in the barren strip between the trenches was a high compliment to her courage and care.
The nurses were often very close to the front, sometimes exposed to enemy fire, and daily exposed to battlefield trauma, the results of gas attacks, lice, fever, and every other disease the soldiers suffered. They spoke comfortingly to dying soldiers calling for their mothers. They gave damaged soldiers a reason to want to live, doing more for them than the medical supplies available could. They were shorthanded, short of supplies, and under great stress. The dead from World War I included 296 Red Cross nurses.
At the end of the war and shortly afterward, Red Cross nurses assisted when the influenza pandemic hit, when medical personnel were so needed and so few that there were even cases of kidnapping.
Look for this t-shirt and more history about Red Cross nurses at the National World War I Museum gift shop.