Kitty’s War by Janet Butler

Kitty's War by Janet Butler, (St Lucia, Qld:  University of Queensland Press, 2013).

Kitty’s War by Janet Butler, (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2013).

This is the kind of history I want to read.  Thorough research, deep analysis and compelling writing, Kitty’s War by Janet Butler engaged me from cover to cover.

In Kitty’s War author, Janet Butler, does not merely recount what she has learned from the diary of World War I nurse, Kit McNaughton, she interrogates McNaughton’s diary, draws heavily on a myriad of contemporary historical resources and produces a searching analysis of war, gender and the nature of diary writing while maintaining an engrossing narrative.

Kit McNaughton served with the Australian Army Nursing Service from 1915 for the duration of the war.  Initially stationed in Egypt, she served on the island of Lemnos treating men injured men at Gallipoli.  After the withdrawal from Gallipoli she was transferred to northern France where she served in a number of hospitals in northern France treating enormous numbers of soldiers injured in the horrific battles on the Western Front.

Looking back through my notes in my reading journal I see that I have repeatedly used the word ‘perceptive’.  Butler does not take the diary at face value and the book is all the better for it.  The chapters about Butler’s service on the island of Lemnos treating soldiers injured at Gallipoli would have been bland if Butler had not dug deeper.  Butler is sensitive to the cultural constraints under which the nurses worked.  The ideals of a ‘good nurse’ required nurses to be stoic in the face of difficulty, ministering angels only thinking of the needs of the patient and not of their own.  McNaughton reflects these ideals in her diary hence she makes little mention of the awful conditions under which she is working.   Drawing on other sources Butler allows the reader to understand the context in which McNaughton’s diary is written. Continue reading