A Duty To Care: The Emotional Community of British Nurses on Active Service during the Second World War

  • Katherine Roberts

Student thesis: Phd


Over the course of the Second World War, 12,000 nurses served with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QA's). The majority of these women were civilian reservists with no military experience. Most had never been overseas and few had ever encountered the kinds of traumatic injuries that would characterise their wartime work. The thesis investigates the emotional experience of QA's working within the novel environment of overseas military service. It asks how their emotional community influenced the ways in which active duty QA's processed and communicated their emotions. This research aims to broaden current understanding of the emotional experience of the Second World War and to provide insight into the profound demands that an emotional community can have on an already emotionally demanding profession. Current nursing research has highlighted the role of emotion in nursing through its examination of nurses' use of emotional labour as a critical element of patient care. In addition to its consideration of the impact of this emotional labour on patient experience, this research has critically examined the emotional impact of this kind of labour on nurses themselves. Within the field of nursing history, there has been some consideration of the emotional experience of military nurses, but existing literature has focused primarily on nurses' use of emotion work for their patients' well-being and their response to traumatic experiences. The thesis expands its focus on nurses' emotions beyond those felt in moments of trauma and shifts its consideration of nursing care from its impact on the patient to its impact on the nurse who delivered it. Drawing on Barbara Rosenwein's theory of emotional communities, the thesis engages in a critical examination of contemporary wartime media in order to establish the characteristics and expectations of the emotional community of Second World War Britain. It then utilises close textual analysis of the personal narratives composed by seven active duty QA's in order to gain insight into the emotional experience of military nursing service. The thesis argues that Britain responded to the strain of the Second World War by developing a strictly structured emotional community with a limited repertoire of socially acceptable forms of emotional expression. The combination of this emotional community with that of pre-war British nursing created an environment in which QA's were expected to act as consistent sources of emotional aid. Little consideration was given to the emotional needs of the QA's themselves or to the extreme demands that wartime circumstances placed upon them.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJane Brooks (Supervisor), Ana Carden-Coyne (Supervisor) & Laura Green (Supervisor)


  • Emotional Community
  • Military Nursing
  • Nursing
  • Second World War
  • Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service
  • Emotional Labour

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