Veiled Warriors Cover

Veiled Warriors

Allied Nurses of the First World War

Christine E. Hallett

Oxford University Press, 2021, 384 pages

Book Review published on: January 21, 2022

Christine E. Hallett provides a comprehensive history of nurses and their contributions in health service support during the Great War in Veiled Warriors: Allied Nurses of the First World War. Hallett has published several books about nurses in World War I, and in this work, she explains the evolution of the profession during the conflict. In addition to the western front, Hallett also describes nurses’ experiences on the Russian, Serbian, and Italian fronts, as well as those involved in the Allied operation at Gallipoli. The research is thorough with numerous primary and secondary sources cited in the content.

The book’s structure is chronological with Hallett addressing the early years of the war when trained nurses were few in numbers. Perceived mostly as semitrained volunteers, nurses dealt with contempt among military medical staffs as they attempted to integrate. However, such petty issues were eventually dispensed when medical organizations were overwhelmed with enormous numbers of wounded soldiers as the Allies mounted offensives to break the deadlock of trench warfare that developed early in the conflict. Out of necessity, nurses filled gaps in medical care that were exposed by the huge flow of battlefield casualties. By the time of the war’s armistice, nurses were integral to militaries’ health service systems.

The trauma of the significant casualties experienced by the Allies, conveyed in most history books about World War I, is ever more evident in Hallett’s book with nurses’ accounts of treating wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Hallett amplifies the severity of conditions with her descriptions of health service capabilities that were crude or limited at the time. Resources, systems, and procedures taken for granted today were only emerging back then. Details of soldiers severely wounded by cannon and machine gun fire, enduring hours of discomfort before treatment by overwhelmed medical teams, is enough to shiver most readers. The physical and emotional toll on the nurses themselves were severe as well. Their narratives of the continuous flow of wounded soldiers through aid stations and into hospitals is dishearteningly repetitious throughout the book. Nurses endured long shifts for days at a time as they maintained clean dressings and sanitary facilities to stem infection rates among the wounded. The nurses also found themselves providing emotional support for soldiers realizing the severity of their wounds. The most trying of nurses’ experiences were comforting those whose wounds were beyond the medical staffs’ means


Hallett’s book is succinct but comprehensive as she conveys the rise of the nursing profession during World War I. While several momentous evolutions in military operations occurred during the war, the solidification of effective health care was a substantial development. Hallett’s narratives of nurses’ experiences, and of medical systems and operations, enable readers to understand and appreciate the important gains the Allies achieved in treating and managing war casualties at the fronts and at home stations at an unprecedented scale. This is a worthwhile reading for any military professional because Hallett explains the hard lessons that the Allies learned about health-care service during the war, and imparts the significant importance of nursing as part of the medical profession.

Book Review written by: Dirk C. Blackdeer, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas