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It's a Long Way to Tipperary British and Irish Nurses in the Great War by Yvonne McEwen

Review of the book about nurses and nursing in the First World War with extracts and photographs taken from the book and where to buy It's a Long Way to Tipperary at a discount price with free delivery available:

It's a Long Way to Tipperary was written by Yvonne McEwen and has generated a great deal of interest amongst readers because of her comprehensive list of the deaths of nurses of the Great War with their cause of death, date of death, name, age, rank or status and any distinctions. This includes members of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC), St John's Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Territorial Nursing Service (TANS), Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), the British Red Cross and other nurses who served in the First World War such as the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and Canadian Army Nursing Service (CANS). This Roll of Honour is an ongoing project as the author continues her research with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Imperial War Museum and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The publishers of It's a Long Way to Tipperary, Cualann Press at can sell the book direct to any address throughout the UK with free delivery and also to Europe and worldwide for a small delivery charge. Visit to order or buy It's a Long Way to Tipperary: British and Irish Nurses in the Great War at a reduced price and with free delivery available from Amazon online bookshop.

The main appeal of It's a Long Way to Tipperary British and Irish Nurses in the Great War by Yvonne McEwen that was of interest to the QARANC website team was the testimonials gathered from records of those nurses who served in the Great War. There are several extracts further below this review that demonstrate their emotive power and the conditions endured by these brave nurses.

During the Great War many of the nurses and nursing assistants were VADs and not professional nurses before the outbreak of war. Much has been written about their war experiences and Yvonne McEwen concentrates on the stories of those nurses who were professionally qualified before the war and served at the Great War in the field at casualty clearing stations (CCS), in base hospitals or aboard hospital barges and hospital trains. Narratives and accounts are restricted to the Western Front of France and Flanders and the Civil War in Ireland in 1914 and the Easter Rising in 1916.

Build Up To The First World War

The world was a changing place prior to the build up to the First World War. Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale had died, King Edward VII reigned for a short time before his death, George V became the new King, the role of women in society was changing, the women's suffragette movement was active and the QAIMNS was formed after the South African War and recommendations from the Commander in Chief of the Army Medical Services Lord Roberts. It's a Long Way to Tipperary sets the background of this period by discussing historical events. Points of interest to members of the Army Medical Services and the QARANC are extracts from letters between the Commander in Chief and the Secretary of State for War, John Broddick, as they discuss the formation of the QAIMNS and the type of nurse needed for the new service.

The political, social, economic and diplomatic events that lead to Great Britain entering World War One after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand are described. This is followed by accounts of meetings and actions by Herbert Henry Asquith the Prime Minister at the outbreak of the Great War with key military figures such as Field Marshall the Earl Kitchener of Khartoum the Secretary of State for War and Winston Churchill the First Lord of the Admiralty.

British Expeditionary Force

In the meantime the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were preparing to mobilise for war. Yvonne McEwen continues her book by describing events throughout Europe interspaced with events in Great Britain and how the BEF were mobilised and more troops recruited from Britain and the Commonwealth and the effects this would have on nurses and nursing.

As the BEF departed from docks such as Dublin so too did members of the QAIMNS. It's a Long Way to Tipperary includes accounts of QA nurses such as Sister Evelyn Luard and her voyage to the front aboard the troop ship SS City of Benares.

German Atrocities

Conditions were harsh aboard ship and ashore at Belgium, especially during the retreat at Mons which included the evacuation of the field hospitals as the German army advanced. Those left behind and who survived told of the atrocities by the troops of Germany which include rape, murder and looting. Civilian patients were murdered in front of nuns at the convent hospitals, British and French soldiers who were too injured or ill to move with the British evacuation were killed in front of the doctors who bravely remained to offer comfort and care.

Base Hospitals in the UK

Base hospitals in the UK increased wherever suitable buildings could be found to cope with the increase in wounded British soldiers and seamen. This included private homes, local schools and universities, hotels and entertainment theatres. Many women wanted to do their part for the war effort and volunteered for the VAD or Territorial Reserves. Adverts for nurses and VADs appeared in many nursing journals and an example is given in the book. There is also a copy of the appeal made by Queen Alexandra who was the President of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and also the President of the British Red Society for public funds.

Many of the nurses who served at the Front wrote diaries which they sent home.

Extracts of war diaries kept by nurses are cited in the book. Examples of these extracts are cited further below. There are also correspondence and editorial from nursing journals and magazines such as The Nursing Times and the British Journal of Nursing included in the book.

Problems of Sanitation

The author discusses typical wounds, injuries and illnesses treated during World War One and includes the problems of sanitation which many RAMC Doctors and QAIMNS Matrons considered to be aiding diseases and illnesses such as Enteric Fever. A chapter is devoted to describing the latrine and sanitary problems encountered by British troops and nursing personnel.

Other problems that directly affected the Army Medical Services was lack of supplies and the overwork of staff, particularly the doctors who worked for days on end, often in bloody and muddy conditions. They often operated or treated patients without strong anaesthetic due to shortages.

Wounded Horses of the Cavalry

Men were not the only patients that nurses attended straight from the battlefield. Nurses were often called upon to tend to badly wounded horses of the cavalry. Often this involved shooting dead badly wounded horses that were beyond treatment. This added to the emotional distress of the QAIMNS and VADs. Pages in the book describe how this prompted the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to gain permission from the Army Council to work with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) for the welfare and care of the horses. The Blue Cross Fund raised money for the welfare of the Great War animals.

First World War Would Be Over By Christmas

Soldiers and personal of the QAIMNS often thought that the first world war would be over by Christmas. But it was not to be and many celebrated Xmas as best they could and a chapter is devoted to how nurses, doctors and patients celebrated the festive period of Christmas and New Year.

A Great War Photo taken from It's a Long Way to Tipperary:

Army Hospital Staff Celebrating Christmas

The Great War Photo above has been kindly given to the website from the author and publisher. It shows Royal Army Medical Corps doctors, and Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service nurses celebrating Christmas. Like everyone else they believed the war would be 'over by Christmas'.

Fighting Conditions

As with modern day military nursing nurses can better understand the soldiers they treat and their injuries by learning of their living and fighting conditions. In the Great War many soldiers suffered from trench foot, frostbite, pneumonia and bronchitis due to the continual wet and cold conditions in the trenches. Hygiene was difficult in the trenches and on the battlefield and cases of dysentery was common. Rats, fleas and lice infestation was common. Soldiers tried to treat their own conditions and It's a Long Way to Tipperary discusses such methods as applying the rum ration or other obtained alcohol to boots or warming numbed and frozen feet on coke braziers. This caused further injuries such as burns when men could not assess the heat of the fires because of their lack of feeling.

Traumatic Wounds and Injuries

Traumatic wounds and injuries and the effects of chemical warfare are described. In addition to physical conditions such as the fatal gas gangrene Yvonne McEwen also discusses psychological conditions which the psychiatrists of the Great War called shell shock and what a modern day psychiatrist would call post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nurses also suffered from this condition though many were diagnosed as suffering with depression or a new diagnosis called Neurasthenia.

Many contracted physical problems with their feet and ankles because of the long hours they worked. There were many deaths amongst the nurses of the Great War and these are cited as including septicaemia, drowning, dysentery, tuberculosis, pneumonia and meningitis. Some nurses had to return to Great Britain and Ireland because of ill health from strokes, kidney failure, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease and osteomylitis.

Many were able to claim a war pension because they were unable to nurse upon their return to civilian life and were left with serious injury or illness. The author has compiled a list of some of these nurses with the nature of their disability and pensionable years. There is also a copy of the letter written by King George that sick and injured service personal were sent. On the letter was written:

A Message to You From The King.

The letter had the crest of Buckingham Palace and read:

The Queen and I wish you God Speed, a safe return to the happiness and joy of home life with an early restoration to health. A grateful Mother Country thanks you for faithful services.

Each letter bore the signature of King George.

History of Chemicals Used in Shell Attacks

The history of chemicals used in shell attacks is given and there are some harrowing first hand accounts of soldiers who witnessed and survived lethal gas attacks on their comrades. There are also accounts from nurses who treated gas attack soldiers.

Triage System of Clearing Casualties

The history and development of the triage system of clearing casualties is described along with the formation of the Regimental Aid Post (RAP), Advanced Dressing Station and the developing role of the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO).

Throughout the Great War the German army committed more atrocities. One such atrocity which shocked the world was the execution of a nurse called Edith Cavell and the circumstances surrounding her execution in Brussels is described in It's a Long Way to Tipperary.

Religion and Superstition

Soldiers drew comfort in many ways which included religion and superstition. Nurses and doctors would frequently find crosses, crucifixes and rosaries worn by soldiers they were treating. Some carried lucky charms and there were some that were specially made for soldiers of the First World War such as the Touchwood charm by Mr H Brandon. Lavender bags were sent to the wounded and sick and the book cites Mrs Henry Lee from Llandrindod in Wales who was asked by an army Chaplain to sent 30,000 more because of the positive effect they had on military patients. Nurses learned to ensure their patients carried the lavender bags when they were evacuated from the front line to base hospitals.


Many soldiers gained comfort from the Padres, many of whom went into battle with their men to offer last minute comfort and act as stretcher bearers or offer comfort to dying men on the battlefield. There are accounts of those Padres who won the Victoria Cross (VC) and those who died with their men.

Music and Poetry

Music and poetry not only entertained the troops but gave comfort to many wounded soldiers of the Great War. Concert parties did much to increase the morale amongst patients and nurses. Many hospital poems were written by patients and featured life in a field or base hospital and often featured their nurses. The author gives several examples which includes the titles Hold On!, My Little Irish Nurse and Camp Life.

Venereal Disease

Some soldiers succumbed to temptation and sought comfort from prostitutes in French brothels. Venereal disease was treated at a time without antibiotics and was a major problem for the military. The author sites one brothel where each prostitute was able to retire with the money made from just one battalion of men over a three week period.


Romance blossomed between patients and their nurses and several romances that led to marriage are described in It's a Long Way to Tipperary.


Soldiers kept pets such as stray dogs and cats and even nurses in hospital trains and base hospitals kept a pet to increase morale. One touching story told in It's a Long Way to Tipperary tells of an Aberdeen Terrier found by an army Captain and kept by his men. It was named Jock and stayed with the troops for months until one day it went missing. The soldiers searched for Jock but could not find him and had to move location without him. However weeks later he found the men 80 miles away and remained with the soldiers and even went back to Great Britain after the war.

Extracts of World War One Diaries

The author, Yvonne McEwen and the publisher, Brid Hetherington at Cualann Press have kindly given permission to share the following extracts and photographs from It’s a Long Way to Tipperary: British and Irish Nurses in the Great War of extracts of World War One diaries:

One staff nurse posted to a military hospital at Rouen, and living in less than suitable accommodation, was quite philosophical about her situation:

I am still living, sleeping, feeding and working under canvas … a fellow nurse from the same hospital back home shares a bell-tent with me, and if we sometimes wonder whether the next gust of wind will leave us homeless and roofless, we are now quite accustomed to dealing with such trifling accidents. One stormy night one of the large tents holding thirty patients was lifted bodily, and sailed away in the distance, leaving the occupants looking up at a stormy sky, a most amusing episode when we found that no one had been hurt.

We have now been given wooden floors to our tents, and so no longer have the pleasure of the company of the little worms at night. The weather has been appallingly cold, and the cases of acute frostbite from the trenches have been numerous.
cited from page 70.

Between March and June, 8 nursing sisters died in enemy air raids on Casualty Clearing Stations and Base Hospitals and between 15 May and 1 June, Base Hospitals on the north coast of France were bombed seven times killing 248 and wounding 593. Included were 5 sisters killed and 11 injured. A sister claimed 89 nurses who had been shelled out of Casualty Clearing Stations arrived at her Base Hospital.

They had a most awful experience. One English sister was killed instantaneously. The shell burst just outside the tent – a piece of shrapnel shot through her tent piercing the subclavien artery – she died ten minutes later. Three orderlies were also killed and several wounded. At the Canadian Casualty Clearing Station a sister lost her right eye. Goodness knows what is going to happen. It was awful seeing these sisters when they arrived just collapsing on the floor – some fast asleep with their heads resting on their kit-bags just like the boys. Several of the sisters have had to be evacuated because of shell shock.

The tragic loss of life from bombing raids on Casualty Clearing Stations was summed up in a poignant obituary:

In ever loving memory of Lieutenant —— of the Middlesex Regiment (the ‘Die Hards’), the darling son of —— who was foully bombed to death the 30th of May during an air raid on one of the hospitals in France, where he was lying utterly helpless after an operation (he was taken there on the 27th of May), aged nearly 21.

It is not surprising that, in 1918, higher instances of debility, nervous debility, neurasthenia and conditions such as ‘Exhaustion Psychosis’ were diagnosed in nurses. Despite coping with the hardship of their physical surroundings, some nurses could no longer endure the sight of so much human suffering in some of the men they nursed. One sister nursing gassing victims was under considerable emotional strain:

I have had a particularly hard ten days, and have been on duty from a quarter past seven to nine at night. We have had a very bad convoy in, terribly burnt, and with their lungs in a dreadful state and, in spite of all we could do, a great number died in terrible agony … I have seen things here that I shall never be able to forget … I have the small wards for the very bad cases, and the isolation-room for the dying, and since I have been here, particularly the last fortnight, I have felt as though I was living through a hideous nightmare, with visions of choking men, with blackened, burnt faces being held down by orderlies and attached to their beds to prevent them throwing themselves out of the window in their last struggles for breath.

Another sister believed that, in her four years of war nursing, caring for the victims of gassing was the most fatiguing; there is an indescribable feeling of tiredness, lassitude and depression and it is very sad, very sad, so many dying, and the death so agonising.

In spite of everything they witnessed, nurses were not, in the main, debilitated by psychological problems. This point was made about women generally in a report by Dr George Robertson, Physician-Superintendent, of the Royal Edinburgh Mental Hospital:

The amount of insanity amongst women has not increased, but has tended to decrease. Although there have been many cases of mental breakdown among women from excitement from overwork and exhaustion, and from worry and anxiety, on the whole the strain and conditions produced by the war have not resulted in an increased amount of insanity.

Although there were cases of nurses breaking down under the strain of war, it was the conditions in which they lived and worked that affected them most. Their physical ill health was caused by tuberculosis, bronchitis, pneumonia, heart disease, arthritis and injury which, since 1914, had been the most common causes of long term sickness and retirement from the military nursing service.

The tenacity and dedication of some nurses is explified in a report in the Liverpool Daily Post of Sister E. J. French of the QAIMNS, a native of Liverpool attached to the BEF who had crossed to France in a cattle boat in August 1914. In her time with the army she had travelled in cattle trucks, slept on brick floors and under canvas for months, was shelled, gassed and, finally, contracted trench-fever. From her hospital bed at No 2 General Hospital, Le Havre, where she lay dangerously ill, she wrote that she was not too well but was going to stick it out, as I came out with the ‘Old Contemptibles’, I should like to go home with them.

Great War Photo

Christmas Dinner during World War One with Patients Nurses and Doctors

Christmas 1915: soldiers who sustained jaw and head injuries. The horrific head and facial injuries that became all too commonplace throughout the war led to pioneering developments in neuro and reconstructive surgery.

There are over 20 images, illustrations and pictures throughout the book and this includes a photograph of the It's A Long Long Way To Tipperary patriotic souvenir handkerchief which was produced to raise funds for the war effort and had an image of Great Britain with a soldier waving goodbye to a child and women from each country of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland.

Yvonne McEwen

Yvonne McEwen is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh Centre for the Study of Two World Wars. She is now researching endurance and survival in combatants. Yvonne McEwen graduated at the University of Edinburgh with degrees in nursing and history.

The author has fond memories of hearing her grandmother playing the tune It's a Long Way to Tipperary and viewing photos of her grandfather, a Royal Irish Fusilier, and uncles from WWI. Her interest in military nursing was further established during her nursing career when she cared for veterans of the first and second world wars. This included patients with shrapnel still embedded in their bodies that modern medicine and nursing care could safely remove and those with respiratory problems because of gas attacks during the war.

Sadly there is no index in the book which runs to 208 pages and would have been a useful addition. A further edition is thought to be planned because Yvonne McEwen is still researching the number of nurses of died in the Great War and the QARANC team hope she will include an index because It's a Long Way To Tipperary is a most informative book about the First World War and has been added to the website library for further reference.

We were also surprised that the words to the song It's a Long Long Way to Tipperary were not included in the contents of this first edition.

We highly recommend any military nurse to read the book to better understand the history of army nursing and the hardships faced by nurses of the newly formed QAIMNS and how they overcame difficulties for the benefit of their patients. It's a Long Way to Tipperary will be a useful read for military and nursing historians, those with an interest in WW1 or those whose relatives fought or nursed during the Great War.

It's a Long Way to Tipperary British and Irish Nurses in the Great War by Yvonne McEwen was published by Cualann Press of Scotland in 2006. The ISBN number is ISBN-10: 0-9544416-5-6 and the new ISBN-13:978-0-9544416-5-4. The recommended retail price is £12.99. It was printed by Bell and Bain Ltd.

Buy It's a Long Way to Tipperary: British and Irish Nurses in the Great War at a reduced price and with free delivery available.

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It's a Long Way to Tipperary Lyrics

The It's a Long Way to Tipperary lyrics were written by Jack Judge on the 30 January 1912. Jack Judge had a wager with a friend that he could write and perform a new song within a day. On his way home Jack Judge hear a man say It's a long way to.. but not the end of the phrase. Jack Judge added the word Tipperary and so the It's a Long Way to Tipperary lyrics were born. Jack Judge performed It's a Long Way to Tipperary at a reception at The Grand Theatre in Stalybridge the following night.

Newspapers reported home that The Connaught Rangers sang the It's a Long Way to Tipperary lyrics as they marched to Boulogne on the 13 August 1914. The popularity of the lyrics spread amongst troops and their families at home.

The singer and music hall entertainer Florrie Forde adopted the song along with other World War One songs such as Pack Up Your Trouble In Your Old Kit Bag. In the Second World War she continued to entertain the troops and sadly died in Aberdeen on the 18 April 1940 whilst singing for the troops.

The Agatha Christie book Postern of Fate, which was the last she wrote and is the exploits of two former agents who seek out a German spy during the war, has a short version of It's a long way to Tipperary which goes:

It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go,
It's a long way to Tipperary
And the rest of it I don't know!

Many soldiers of the Great War would sing an alternative and naughty version of It's A Long Way To Tipperary which began It's The Wrong Way To Tickle Mary.

Forces War Records

Forces War Records are a genealogy site where you can find military records of over 6 million British Armed Forces personnel cross matched with over 4000 Regiments, Bases and Ships. This link includes a free search and a special discount of 40% off membership offer for visitors who use the discount code AF40 if they decide to become a member.
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