there is a frightful compromise which generates a sense of impropriety in the act of witnessing, of the nurse registering the shame of the patient at his awareness of the nurse's knowledge.
The detailed, often gruesome, descriptions of wounds that one finds in nurses' memoirs is not only prompted by the weight of memory but is also an attempt to transmit the pain.
there were also feelings of guilt and shame resulting from the involvement, voluntary or involuntary, in the nationalist and patriarchal war machine through the institution of nursing.
Does the lack of surprise and the absence of direct threat to one's life modify the psychodynamic structure of traumatic witnessing and account for the detailed body memories of the nurses, set forth with such painful accuracy and articulacy, rather than a blank, a gap, a void? The ordeal of the nurses was usually one of witnessing and helplessness rather than of survival or of any direct 'threat to life'.
the figure of the nurse is strangely left out: neither a soldier not a civilian, she is not granted a place even in this medical 'no man's land'. Entrusted with the repair of minds and bodies the war has ravaged, she is thought to be immune to war trauma. If the nurse falls prey to trauma herself while sifting through her cargo of mutilated flesh, hers is a shame that dare not speak its name.
For both Borden and Brittain, the act of writing becomes a way of ordering experiences. The very titles of these works-The Forbidden Zone and The Testament of Youth-echo the act of reclaiming their previous selves which, having hovered too long in No Man's Land, have become 'No Women'.
The unique phenomenon of soldier-writers and our awareness of their private hell-the weight of historical knowledge-succeed in surmounting an ontological impossibility: to participate in another's physical pain.
Both the alienation and the agony spring also from witnessing the actual debris of the male body at hand, from a realisation of the gap between the witness and the body in pain.
the strident repetition of 'we as 'one life', cancelling all distance between the soldier and the nurse, shows an over-eagerness to stake a claim on contemporary events whose underside is moments of isolation and anxiety.
The V.A.D recruitment campaign conflated class prejudices with the idea of service: it worked on the assumption that upper- and middle-class women by dint of their 'character' and 'breeding', were more fit to serve and represent the country than working-class women.