The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton RRC OBE
– an illustrated presentation.
This is a joint presentation by Dick and Lisa Robinson. Extracts from the diaries will be read by Lisa and Dick will tell his great aunt’s story. Over 70 images are included and these will be projected from a PowerPoint presentation. We need a digital projector to be provided at the venue and a screen on which to show the images.
In 2019 we are moving to London from our home in North Gloucestershire. For large events we are prepared to travel further afield; otherwise venues in, or near to, London are acceptable. We would appreciate having our travelling costs covered and a reasonable fee.
Below is a brief outline of the presentation. It lasts about 45 minutes to an hour but can be adjusted to suit the needs of your organisation. If you are interested in our presentation, email Dick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edith Elizabeth Appleton was born in Deal, Kent where her father, Edward, was a Trinity Pilot. She trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and, following the declaration of war in 1914, she served as a Sister in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve in Northern France throughout the Great War. Often working near the front line and under fire, she wrote an amazing daily journal.
The presentation begins with Edie’s perilous journey across the Channel, covers her time at Casualty Clearing Stations near the Front as well as periods in Hospitals on the Normandy coast. Her diary ends after the Armistice with her in charge of an ambulance train going into Germany to bring back the wounded of many nations.
The talk also reveals how the diaries were rediscovered, having lain in a succession of family drawers for almost 50 years following her death at her home in Brighstone in the isle of Wight in 1958. In 2007 Dick and two of his Canadian cousins, Jill and Piers Stainforth, created the original website (now replaced by http://anurseatthefront.org.uk), with the complete text of the diaries, many of her sketches and a wealth of background material. The talk goes on to describe the process of finding a publisher and how Michael Morpurgo came to write the Foreword to the book.
Edie mentions the names of over 200 people in her diaries and one of the most rewarding aspects of publishing them, which will also be covered in the presentation, has been contact from several descendants of those mentioned, some whom Edie nursed until their death in her care.
What lifts the diaries from an almost unendurable catalogue of horrors is Edie’s ability to switch from the grinding ghastliness to a genuinely joyous, exuberant appreciation of the natural beauty around her. She was a robust walker, and a lover of rugged coastlines; whatever the season, every spare moment off-duty was used to tramp around the glorious countryside sketching the views, revelling either in summer flowers or wintry storms.
The ‘lecture’ tonight by Dick and Lisa Robinson was an absolute joy to listen to; the whole story was inspiring and humbling. And I thought I had it hard as a ward sister in London in the late 1980’s! It reinforces the debt we owe to so many, usually unsung, heroes/heroines. It’s scary to think about how many Ediths there were who didn’t keep diaries and about whom we know nothing, yet I am sure they had similar tales and experiences – that are lost forever. A true privilege to share hers.
“What a super talk you gave last evening about a marvellous series of diaries. Your method of both of you contributing was excellent and made the story so true and lively. I heard nothing but fulsome praise from our members at the end of the evening and from those I have met today.”
“Thank you so much for coming to the Branch to-day and giving a wonderful presentation to us all.”
“Thank you to you both for a great talk last night. I was at the back of the room and could see that the audience was gripped. I wish you all the best in continuing to share Edie’s diaries.”
A Nurse at the Front – The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton was published by Simon & Schuster with the Imperial War Museum in March 2012 and a paperback version became available on 1 February 2013. Where appropriate, signed copies of the book will be available at a discounted price. Click here for more about the books.
Update September 2018
In August 2018 we marked the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of Amiens which ultimately led to end of the First World War. Edie’s diary during this period – up to November 1918 and beyond – records overwhelming numbers of wounded and dying men filling the hospital in which she was then working, No 3 General Hospital at Le Tréport on the Normandy coast.
Update December 2016
2016 marked the centenary of the Battle of the Somme which lasted from July to November 1916 and in which more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Edie’s diaries record, day after day, huge convoys of wounded and dying arriving at her hospital in Etretat and historians have told me that her accounts of that period are unparalleled. We will, of course, be including some of her accounts of that time in our talks.