Christine Hallett

Professor of Nursing History

Professor Christine Hallett has recently been appointed as Professor of Nursing History. She has written a number of books on the subject and her latest volume is due for publication in December, which will explore the story and life of famous Great War nurse Edith Cavell. On Saturday 10 November, Professor Hallett will be the keynote speaker in Wakefield, where she will talk about the life of Wakefield World War One nurse Nellie Spindler.

DURING the Great War, tens of thousands of women volunteered to serve as nurses on the battlefields of France and Flanders.  Hundreds of them died during the conflict, but the profile and status of the profession of nursing was raised and its front line role is now an important element of current centenary commemorations of the November 1918 Armistice.

The University of Huddersfield’s Professor Christine Hallett is established as a leading authority on nursing during the First World War.  She is the author of several books on the subject – including Containing Trauma (Manchester University Press, 2009), Veiled Warriors (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Nurses of Passchendaele (Pen and Sword, 2017).

She is Chair of the UK Association for the History of Nursing and President of the European Association for the History of Nursing, and has forged several international research collaborations.  In recent years, she has been invited to speak in the USA, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Germany and Australia.  This month, she will be giving an invited lecture at the XVI Spanish National Congress on International Nursing History, and next year she will be a keynote lecturer at the conference of the New Zealand Association for the History of Medicine in Auckland.  She is a member of the International Planning Committee for the “Florence 2020” Conference, which will be held in the city of Florence in February 2020 to commemorate the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

Professor Hallett has also been recruited as a consultant for several TV and film projects, including a documentary on medical services in the war by Lonely Tower Production Company, and a soon-to-be released U.S. documentary about Helen Fairchild, an American nurse who perished during the war.  She has acted as historical adviser to award-winning theatre company, Antic Disposition, whose production of Shakespeare’s Henry V is set in a First World War field hospital and depicts the nursing care of patients with gas poisoning and shell shock.

Professor Christine Hallett's book Nurses of Passchendaele

Christine Hallett – who is a qualified nurse as well as a trained historian – has been appointed Professor of Nursing History at the University of Huddersfield and teaches on various undergraduate history modules as well as continuing her research, which is now moving on to ways in which the Great War was commemorated in subsequent decades.

“Just 17,000 full-trained nurses were available to serve with British forces in the war.  This was a dire shortage,” said Professor Hallett, “so they were supplement by more than 170,000 Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses.  These had to be trained, mentored and supervised by the professionals, who belonged to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service or the Territorial Force Nursing Service.

“Millions of wounded soldiers were cared for by the nurses, many of whom achieved celebrity and earned medals.  Also, they wore distinctive uniforms and therefore became a familiar sight on the Home Front, in a Britain that had large numbers of military hospitals.  As a result of this raised profile, a state registration system for nurses was established in 1919.”

The most celebrated British nurse of the First World War was Edith Cavell, who reformed nursing in Belgium, remaining in the country when Germany invaded.  She helped Allied soldiers to escape and was executed by the occupiers, earning a form of martyrdom.  Now, Professor Hallett – who has a number of research collaborations in Belgium – has written Edith Cavell and her Legend, scheduled for publication in December.

On Saturday 10 November, Professor Hallett gives the keynote address at an event in Wakefield, titled Nursing the Front Line.  Its special focus is on Nellie Spindler, a nurse from Wakefield who was killed by a German shell in August 1917 and given a full military funeral.  The event takes place at St Andrew’s Church, Peterson Road, Wakefield (2pm).  It includes a wide variety of activities, including Professor Hallett’s keynote address, and will be introduced by Councillor Stuart Heptinstall, the Mayor of Wakefield – for more details, phone 07753 417339 or email vicardavid@icloud.com.

Professor Hallett comments: “It is fitting that Nellie Spindler should be remembered on the day before the Centenary of the Armistice.  She, and nurses like her, not only helped bring peace to the world in 1918, they also made that world a better place for those damaged by the war.

“We should never underestimate the number of lives they saved through their unflinching attention to the care and treatment of their patients under very difficult and often dangerous conditions.  Many, like Nellie Spindler, sacrificed their lives by going willingly into the most dangerous areas, close to the front lines, because they could save more lives by doing so.”

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