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Dog Dirt Doris a QA Novel by Howard Ward

Novel about a QA nurse who survives the Second World War and serves at HMS Quebec Hospital Inveraray and Anzio Italy and after World War two become a tramp. Includes a review of Dog Dirt Doris and where to buy a copy of the QA nurse book by Howard Ward

Dog Dirt Doris Dog Dirt Doris seems an unusual and perhaps repellent name for a novel about a QAIMNS nurse during the Second World War. Though Dog Dirt Doris by Howard Ward does have the distinction of being the only QA novel to be written about the whole career path of a Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Sister set during World War Two. Dog Dirt Doris starts with the present day life struggle of Dorothy Wainwright who is nicknamed Doris by her fellow tramps. They hold her in such high esteem because she tends to their injuries and illnesses. She soon finds herself ill and in hospital and the author, H.O. Ward tells her story of why she found herself homeless and living on the streets of London in 1966.

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Sister Dorothy Wainwright

Many members of the present day QARANC may think how on earth could such an event happen though historically some members of the QAIMNS and Reserves did find themselves homeless and living rough after World War One. They had suffered arthritis from long hours of nursing in wet and cold field conditions and mental problems of coping with what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder though diagnosed at the time as depression or Neurasthenia. Indeed Sister Dorothy Wainwright, the heroine of Dog Dirt Doris, suffered from PSTD herself with flashbacks, panic attacks and recurring nightmares. Some Great War nurses were unable to work as a nurse again and with no social or welfare benefits available to them, nor an army pension or disability pension so they had little option than to live off their relatives or take to the streets. One former QA nurse from WWI was said to live in a field to her dying days because she could no longer cope with her memories of nursing wounded and dying soldiers. There is more written about this in the book It's a Long Way to Tipperary British and Irish Nurses in the Great War by Yvonne McEwen.

Modern Queen Alexandra's nurses benefit from the help of the QA Association (formerly the QAIMNS Association) and it would be hoped that such situations would not occur to modern army nurses. Sister Dorothy Wainwright would not have known that the QA Association existed from 1949 to offer practical help to past QA's in times of need. She was busy living a supposedly idyllic life in post war Italy with her husband Antonio. So it is easy to see how the events detailed in Dog Dirt Doris by Howard Ward could have happened, though it is important to remember that this is a work of fiction.

Army Nursing History

That said the author has clearly done a great deal of research into the army nursing history. He recounts battles and the advance of Allied troops though Italy with historic accuracy. His description of nursing in the front line with the fear of shrapnel being a real danger and indeed one QA nurse, a close friend to Sister Wainwright, dies from a bomb blast, as did many QA's in the World Wars. It is little bits of army nursing history that has been effortlessly slipped into Dog Dirt Doris that makes this a book that should appeal to military nurses past and present. For example the nickname of battle bowlers for tin helmets, the description of how the nurses felt when they had to take off their grey dresses, scarlet cape and white tippets for the more practical but ill fitting khaki battledress and of course the scarlet and grey lanyard that Dorothy cherished throughout the war and used as a tramp to keep her trousers up after weight loss. Despite this loss of nursing uniform Sister Wainwright, like many real WWII Sisters, was grateful to not be wearing dresses but trousers when they found themselves making their way from ships to landing crafts via rope ladders prior to a beach landing to set up a field hospital near to the heat of battle. Though it was not until these later years of WWII that a female khaki uniform was designed and many QAs found themselves having to wear a uniform designed for a man.

Howard Ward discusses his army nursing history research into Dog Dirt Doris:

This being my first novel I soon began to run headlong into pitfalls during my writing, realising that WW2 was well documented and if I was to gain any credibility from my work then there had to be some reality to my story. So I trawled the internet, visited the war museum in London, received valued support from attending the QA Museum in Aldershot, journeyed to Anzio and visited the Anzio Beachhead museum before driving the convoy route through Rome and the Apennine Mountains to Florence.

My research uncovered the No1 Combined Training Centre in Inveraray which I also visited and gained tremendous knowledge of accounts through the reading of books and records, looking at video and talking with the many people I met along the way.

I am not old enough to have experience of the war I have described or comprehension of the atrocities of war and without my research I would not have been in a position to imagine or describe the events I have included in my story, let alone understand what a real nurse, a QA nurse, would have endured. I therefore hope I have done justice to the endeavours and bravery of such women.

When asked by the team why he wrote about a QA becoming a vagrant and the choice of book title Howard Ward replied:

I believe you have also been on the Dog Dirt Doris website where you may have determined the reason behind the story and alarming title of my story. I like to think that my writing raises reason to question ones instinctive reaction when presented with a situation without cause for thought or consideration to the situation presented. It is for this reason the book begins with the presentation of Doris the vagabond, to which an avoiding response is usually assumed by giving a wide birth to such a person, as one would to dog dirt on the pavement. Having determined the form of situation to present in my book I set about developing a story that would best demonstrate what may lay behind a person encountered in such a situation and decided on a nurse having to endure the hardship of war and how she may cope with life after the experience.

The following review of Dog Dirt Doris a QA Novel by Howard Ward contains plot spoilers and is included here to highlight the events endured by Sister Dorothy "Dot" Wainwright and how she became to be living rough on the streets of London during the 1966 England World Cup win. A discussion of plot strengths and army nursing history can be read within this review of Dog Dirt Doris.

Review of Dog Dirt Doris

Doris is introduced to the reader as living on the streets of London with her younger friend Harry. We do not know how they met until the final chapter of the book, by which time the reader has really come to care for Doris and is thankful to Harry for taking care of her. We read of her struggle to complete the most basic of tasks such as where to go to the toilet, how to keep warm and get something to eat. We quickly learn that Doris has been looking after fellow homeless people as if still a nurse. She checks them for injuries and illnesses each morning and night, doing her rounds like a ward Sister. One such "patient", Joe, has died despite Doris' care. She and Harry discuss what to do and what should be done with his few precious belongings.

Doris becomes ill herself and is taken to hospital by Harry. The doctor takes an interest in the story of why a former QA nurse should find herself homeless. Harry begins to tell the doctor her story.

The reader of Dog Dirt Doris is then taken back to Scotland in 1943 where QAIMNS Sister is aboard the train to HMS Quebec Hospital in Inveraray. The next chapter deals with her meeting with Matron and fellow QA Sisters and how she settles in to her new role nursing soldiers who have been injured during training. She soon realises that HMS Quebec is a training centre for assault landings and that the army are training in establishing a beachhead. Sister Wainwright requests a meeting with Matron and volunteers to be part of the nursing team to go to Italy.

One emotional scene in Dog Dirt Doris written rather touchingly is when Dorothy has to go back to her accommodation, nicknamed the Hen House by the soldiers, and change from her much loved scarlet and grey ward dress, white veil and scarlet tippet and into a bland looking khaki uniform with red cross armband. She proudly removes her scarlet and grey lanyard which would have recently been added to the QA battledress uniform. This is called grey and scarlet throughout the Dog Dirt Doris book and though the March of the QAs is called Grey and Scarlet, the lanyard and uniform have traditionally been referred to as Scarlet and Grey. Through this emotional scene the reader grows that much closer to Dorothy as she cries out that she looks like just another soldier and certainly hooked in and the title for the book could almost be forgiven. This comes a few pages later when Sister Dorothy Wainwright arrives in a war torn Italy.

In some ways Sister Wainwright is still a niave young lady, like many QA nurses would have been during the Second World War. Matrons up and down Britain were instructed to guide their best nurses at the start of the war with Germany to enlist in the QAIMNS. Many were barely out of their teens. By the time of this fictional setting of World War Two Matrons stopped doing this because more nurses were needed back in Britain to care for wounded soldiers brought home and the many civilian casualties from air raids. This youthfulness and perhaps naivety is revealed in her coy behaviour with an admiring soldier, Barry, who asks her on a date. They have to delay it when he ends up in Jankers for talking to Dorothy whilst on exercise. They eventually get to meet in a bar in Inveraray and grow close in a platonic way and before they part for their duties they agree to meet at Piccadilly Circus after the war and their spell in Italy.

We now meet fellow nurses of Dorothy who soon become her best friends. These are May Campbell and Jean Lawrence. Together they embark on army training to prepare them for the beach landing and war zone. At the time of reading this chapter it would have been good to read about the harshness of the training in more detail though the next chapter describes the Nursing Sisters putting all their training into practice as they try to not only survive the perilous transfer down a rope ladder from the Hospital Ship St David to the landing craft against a frightening Mediterranean sea swell and the terrifying beach landing but also set up a tented field hospital.

The taking of the Port of Anzio by the British First Division and landing at Peter Beach in 1944 during Operation Shingle is described in this new chapter of Dorothy's life and those interested in military history may find this an interesting read. The description helps to set the fear for her life and those of her patients that Dorothy feels throughout these chapters. During fierce fighting and continuous air raids Dorothy, her fellow QA nurses and RAMC doctors travel by field ambulance to set up a tented field hospital. They can hear the fighting and are put on readiness to receive casualties. Dorothy works on the receiving ward and is soon working around the clock keeping her battle bowler at hand. Many patients die from their terrible wounds and are take to the make shift mortuary by Corpse Men, a term not heard before by and perhaps these were the nickname for RAMC orderlies in field hospitals in Italy?

We really feel for Dorothy now and this is heightened during the confusion of battle and the pressure she and the other medical and nursing staff feel as they continuously fight their own battle to save lives and limbs. We now really care for this fictional army nurse and want to survive the war, though of course we know she does from the beginning of Dog Dirt Doris. We learn how fragile the lives of nursing staff in World War Two were when Dorothy is told in disbelief that the Germans have sunk the Hospital Ship St David despite her Red Cross markings. In real life the Hospital Carrier St David was sunk off the Bay of Anzio by German planes and took just six minutes to sink with the loss of two QA nurses, the CO of the RAMC, several RAMC orderlies and the Captain of the ship.

More historical information is written into Dog Dirt Doris when we read about the staff having to wash their hands in bowls of water already coloured red with fresh blood due to water shortages. The fatigue of caring for the wounded is described and the problems of low supplies and nursing in the heat of the Italian sun are included.

A low point for Sister Wainwright is during a bomb blast that rips through the tented hospital and knocks her off her feet. She discovers her friend Sister May Campbell has died. There is little time fro grieving with more casualties arriving. Even when she is informed that back home her parents and brother Christopher have been killed in an air raid in London she cannot show her feelings and throws herself into her duties. She now has nothing for return to England.

As the Allies advance North from the Anzio beachhead to Florence in Italy Dorothy travels in a field ambulance. They set up their field hospital in the relative comfort of an abandoned convent. The German retreat is described in detail by author Howard Ward. Meanwhile a Partisan Captain of the Militia Movement called Antonio Giuseppe Liumbardo is taken to the nunnery by British army officers and they ask Sister Wainwright to treat him in the chapel and not tell the doctors or her Matron. Here the reader is reminded that this is a work of fiction and accept that a QA nurse would treat a patient secretly over several days, stitch up his wounds and administer antibiotics and sneak him out of the hospital. We are not sure if a factual error could have crept into Dog Dirt Doris when she administers antibiotics in tablet form rather than powder which had to be prepared with sterile water into glass syringes and needles.

One year later news of the Partisan Captain returns to Sister Wainwright when she is at the town of Florence and comes across a man called Luca who reveals that he has been sent by Antonio to help his villagers who have been shot by the Germans. He wants her to come and treat the survivors. She returns to the Allied Military Hospital for two brown medical field bags and journeys to the Apennine Mountains in 1945 through the German Gothic Line. Army personnel reading this will baulk that not only did a QA Sister desert her post, that her colleagues were able to cover for her absence but that also a guard during a war would be sleeping on duty to allow Dorothy to leave the hospital undetected on this occasion and again further on in Dog Dirt Doris. But the author can be forgiven for this since we want to learn more about Dorothy's war service and brave deeds.

Dorothy tends to the wounded villagers who are hiding in the church with the help of Father Luigi . She discovers that Antonio is the Mayor of the village and is now in hiding from the Fascist Black Brigades. She is returned to the Allied Military Field Hospital and past the sleeping guard.

Father Luigi returns to see Sister Wainwright at the Allied Military Field Hospital in Florence and begs her help once more because Maria, a pregnant women, is in extreme pain and he fears for her baby. He also seeks her help to treat wounded Partisan fighters. So Dorothy again asks Sister Williams to cover for her and once more slips out past the sleeping sentry. At the church she is surprised to find that some of the wounded freedom fighters are women.

By this time in Sister Wainwright's experience in the war she is now suffering from nightmares and her first panic attack occurred in the journey to the village church. Her fears become worsened when a battle breaks out near the church. More wounded Partisan fighters are brought to Dorothy for treatment. Once the battle is over she is returned to the AMFH but the area is empty with all patients and staff gone. Searching through the empty building she only finds her scarlet and grey lanyard hanging on a door hook. She knows she is now officially absent without leave having deserted her post. She feels she has no option than to return to the Partisans and the church.

The next day the Fascists enter the church and shoot dead some Partisan fighters and Maria. Dorothy survives by hiding behind an altar. As the priest is about to be shot Antonio bursts into the building and shoots the Fascists. He is finally reunited with Dorothy in a dramatic scene. She tends to the wounded once more before leaving the church for the safety of a mountain hideout. They journey by truck and walk through the forest. There are more wounded Partisan fighters to attend to but she knows she must get some penicillin from the nearby town of Pistoia if they are to survive. She sets off to a store with Carla, a Partisan fighter, though we are not sure if a ready supply of penicillin would be so easy to get from storekeeper in the height of war and only just being mass produced to help the Allied effort.

The next scene is so shocking and brutal and far out of context of the relatively safe life led by Dorothy throughout the war. The storekeeper takes advantage of Dorothy and robs her of her innocence before parting with the penicillin. The reader could be forgiven for becoming quite angry with Howard Ward for including this scene in Dog Dirt Doris. We have come to care for her as a real person and through his dialogue can image her and now she is hurt in the most vicious way physically and emotionally. This reader almost felt violated too and trust broken. We know that she is dedicated to her patients, be they army personnel or Partisan fighters. This sexually violent scene is so sudden and outrageous that we feel a rage to the storekeeper and are pleased when he later dies at the hands of a Partisan fighter. During this assault she keeps her eye on the antibiotics and once the storekeeper is finished she takes them and runs to the truck with Carla who witnessed the attack that Dorothy had to succumb to in order to get the antibiotics and they return in silence to the mountain cave.

The tenderness of Antonio is in sharp contrast to the assault and the book returns to its gentle pace as he grows to love Dorothy. But the violation by the storekeeper has left her with internal injuries and she soon deteriorates in health and her nightmares worsen. New images and memories are replayed. She now needs nursing care of her own and the precious antibiotics. As she heals the church bells ring around the valley. The Second World War is over and the reader is returned to the present day where the doctor talking to Harry takes him to dinner in an Italian restaurant to hear the ended of her story and why she did not return home to England.

It is revealed that Luca and Antonio are brothers and they invite Dorothy to stay with them at their family home with their mother. He reveals that he loves her and she decides to stay. She starts work at the local clinic until a replacement doctor can be found. The village doctor had been shot by the Germans. She learns Italian and helps in the family vineyard and olive groves. She does not get involved with Antonio's art and antique business but one day does accompany him to get a table from Florence. He then takes it to an antique shop where the dealer bows to Antonio, clicks his heels and hands him an envelope of money.

Antonio proposes to Dorothy and she accepts because she loves him and she will be able to get Italian identity papers. She is now accepted by the villagers when she sits at the head table at the annual Festa dell'Uva. Just before her marriage she meets Muriel, the sister of Antonio and Luca, who has been fighting the Fascists.

Father Luigi marries the couple in the village church. The couple lead an idyllic life and time passes. Antonio's mother dies.

Dorothy enters Antonio's office one day and interrupts his business meeting with a Herr Hepnar. He bows and clicks his heels together and Dorothy leaves the strained atmosphere. She later remembers him as the antique shop owner from Florence.

During a business trip Antonio is arrested along with Herr Hepnar who it is revealed was a German Commandant during the Second World War. They have been selling national treasures of Italy. The family fear that they will be implicated and Luca arranges for Muriel and Dorothy to flee to Milano. Dorothy packs few possessions but does take her QA nurses scarlet and grey lanyard. She returns to the UK smuggled aboard a small fishing boat. She finds that Britain has changed since the war. It is now 1966 and there is more traffic on the roads, cars have progressed and there are more pedestrians. She has nowhere to go because all her family were killed in an air raid. She takes a train to London and sits at Liverpool Street station. She becomes overwhelmed at how busy London has became. She sets out to look for a flat but cannot get one without references. She has no option than to use her little money and exchange her Italian lire given to her by Luca to stay in a Bed and Breakfast. Her nightmares return and she has difficulty sleeping. Her B&B landlady sympathises with her because her late husband returned from the war with bad memories and suffering nightmares.

Dorothy Wainwright looks for a job and is accepted to the position of chemist shop assistant. She is asked for her P45 and knows that she can never get a job because she has no identity and is still AWOL from the army. She saves money by not having dinner and only eats the B&B breakfast. She soon loses weight and uses her QA lanyard to keep her loosening trousers up. The reader must assume that Dorothy has to split the lanyard because a standard issue lanyard would not fit around most waists though we accept the author's dramatical license.

Dorothy walks to Piccadilly Circus to the Statue of Eros where she is too late by many years to keep her promise to Barry. With little money Dorothy sleeps on a bench rather than return to the B&B. She gets into the habit of sitting at Piccadilly Circus each day. Here she meets Harry who is also homeless. He is much younger than Dorothy and sees her as a mother figure to protect. He teaches her how to keep warm at night, where the safest places are to sleep rough and the best places to attend to hygiene needs. Harry supports them by working as a pavement artist. Dorothy treats a tramp for a head cut and starts to care for those around them, checking on them each day. At Piccadilly Circus one day they meet World Cup English fans out celebrating and as they get drunker we hear of the dangers of sleeping rough as Dorothy and Harry fear for their safety.

The other vagrants come to accept Dorothy as their nurse and soon call her Doris. The other pages lead up to what we have already read in the beginning of Dog Dirt Doris by HO Ward

We now come full circle and Dorothy is now a patient in the hospital recovering from pneumonia and taking the reader to a most unexpected ending.

There are a few issues that made reading Dog Dirt Doris a bit weary on the eyes. The first was the lack of paragraphs and spacing to break down the pages and to show that time periods have lapsed. For example in the same paragraph we have Antonio asking Dorothy to wear her blue dress the next day and in the next words it is the following morning and she is wearing the dress. This happens throughout Dog Dirt Doris and made have to re-read sentences in case something was missed to show that a new scene was being played out.

There are also spelling and grammatical errors throughout the book, far too many to have escaped a professional proof reader and it could be assumed that Dog Dirt Doris may not have benefited from the services of a proof reader or editor. For example new instead of knew, fore instead of for, died instead of dead and of instead of off. This may sound like a minor nit pick but sadly there are far too many errors throughout Dog Dirt Doris that soon the reader begins to sigh and get cross with each one and it is distracting from this interesting story.

That said think most former QAs would enjoy reading Dirt Dog Doris, especially those few survivors from the Second World War. It is a welcome novel that helps to maintain an interest in the history of military nursing and events endured by nurses of World War Two. We owe them so much and their stories remain mostly untold.

It would have been good to see a photo of Howard Ward on the back of the book and a small biography. Instead we get a small insight into the author written by his employer and a friend. We also get a hint of a second novel and understand that Mr Ward is somewhere in the Desert. We do hope he writes a second book because he does have an easy to read style where the reader gets to know and empathise with the characters and can visualise how they look and act as we read his text. Dog Dirt Doris is a great first book by Howard Ward and was published in America by Tate Publishing and Enterprises who specialise in marketing unknown authors. Dog Dirt Doris does not appear to be on sale in UK bookshops such as Waterstone's or online at though we do hope this changes when it is published to coincide with Armistice Day on the 11 November 2008.

Read more about the author and Dog Dirt Doris at the website where you can buy a copy online or pay to download an ebook.

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