The main problem is Inever have come across anything to indicate that the British military acceptedwomen who were not trained nurses to work as military nurses in any capacity.Their nursing corps consisted of women who were already trained and qualifiednurses, and there was no reason for them to accept women interested in becominga nurse but needing the four years of training that would qualify them for thatrole.
(They did rely on VAD volunteers, too, but these women were not trainednurses and from what I understand not enlisted in the military. They did tasksthat were not reliant on nursing training, and they tended to be held indisdain by the women who were qualified nurses. Also, from what I understand,they were usually kept out of field hospitals very close to the front becauseof this lack of experience. Based on what we know about Claire, I think it’ssafe to assume she was not a VAD.)
As I mentionedearlier, all British nurses, regardless of affiliation with the military, atthis time were required to do a standard 3 years of training in a hospital,which included rotation through a variety of wards, and then they did a trialyear at a hospital. I didn’t find any evidence of women receiving this initialtraining in military hospitals, either—they did the training at civilianhospitals.
Only then could nursestake the exam that allowed them to become a SRN (state registered nurse).Claire would have needed to be an SRN before she enlisted in the military, andeven then, I noticed in the memoirs/reminiscences I read that there was usuallya bit of lag time (a couple of months or a few weeks) between enlisting and gettingaccepted, before undergoing an orientation period and being assigned to amedical unit.
Because of theserequirements, the earliest Claire would have enlisted in the military is not inthe autumn of 1939, which is what the book/show strongly suggests, but ratherautumn 1943 if she immediately decided to become a nurse when war broke out inSeptember 1939. But that is assuming that she was accepted into a hospitalprogram without delay, did her training with no missed weeks (if you were outsick, that time was not credited to you as being part of your training—you hadto do the full time), took her exam with no delay as soon as she was eligible,and then was able to enlist immediately after receiving her qualifications, andwas called up straight away.
I think that timelineis generous, though, because I can’t think of any bureaucracy running thatsmoothly, so I think it is more likely for Claire to have finished her nursetraining very late in 1943 or sometime early in 1944 and then she would havehad another couple of months at least of enlisting, waiting to hear back fromthat, attending orientation, etc. This puts her actual military nursing careerstarting in spring 1944, give or take a couple of months.
Now, there is apossibility she was already in the middle of nurse’s training when the warstarted, so that would condense her timeline. However, that was not theimpression I got from the book or the show.
In any event, ratherthan Claire having spent years working as a military nurse, I think it’s morelikely that she would have spent about a year or a year and a few months as amilitary nurse at most and probably would have been first deployed in thesummer of 1944 in the wake of D-Day.
This all leads to the second problem with Claire’s war timeline—I don’t havethe book with me, but I’m pretty sure it’s suggested she achieves some level ofseniority during her time in the military. I can’t remember what level ofseniority Claire was supposed to be, but I know being a “ward sister” was arecognizable achievement, which involved overseeing more junior nurses. But itwas also a difficult one to achieve and required some years of provenexperience. I honestly don’t see how Claire would have achieved that or evenmaybe a lower rank of standing, given the amount of time she would haverealistically served. The British military had its own standing nursing force,as well as reserve nurses. I find it hard to believe that Claire, fresh out ofher training and new to the military, would leap-frog over so many other nurseswith considerably more experience as nurses and military members to a positionof authority.
Herexperience as a combat nurse also strikes me as a bit problematic, though I thinkit is more plausible, given again a more realistic timeline for herexperiences. From what I understand, the nurses who served in field stationsnear the frontline—Claire would not have truly been a combat nurse who sawcombat, though field stations were in danger of shelling and shiftingfrontlines—were specially picked and the doctors in charge reserved the rightto pick their own nurses and also reject ones they didn’t think were up to thejob. It was an honor to serve there (one reason why VADs weren’t allowedthere.) Again, considering the many other nurses with more experience nursingand in the military, I find it a little hard to believe that Claire would havejust vaulted into this position, new to the military and relatively new tonursing. But that being said, if she had proven herself competent and coolunder fire, I could see her being snapped up for field hospital work for thelast few months of the war as much more likely than her being promoted to wardsister or some other position of authority within a year of qualifying as anurse.
Thefinal problem I have with the timeline—and I know even Gabaldon herself hasacknowledged this as a problem—is exactly when Claire was demobilized. I mustconfess when I read the book, I just couldn’t let go of the incongruity ofClaire being out of the military and apparently having been for some time inMay 1945 because the war was still very much in progress. Though Germanysurrendered in May, Japan still held out for another couple of months. EverythingI have ever read indicates that, for the most part, people weren’t beingdemobilized until the summer or later when it was clear the war was truly over.
Thiswas especially true of British nurses—I’ve found that a lot of them stayed inthe military and overseas well into 1945 and even 1946 because their expertisewas still needed. Not only were they needed for the men in uniform who stillwere in hospitals, but the Allied forces were also tasked with tending tomillions of Holocaust survivors, displaced persons, German civilians, and alsoGerman prisoners-of-war, all while also contending with the fact that a lot ofGermany’s infrastructure (like hospitals) was damaged.
Anotherfactor too is that people tended to be demobilized based on time of service, sothose who had served longer (especially with extensive overseas postings) gotto go home first, in theory. Well, the way the series depicts her warexperiences, she probably would have been one of the first people home, but Ithink given the more realistic timeline for her experiences (about a year ofnursing during the war), she probably would have still been serving in postwarGermany as more experienced nurses with longer service records got to go home.Actually, if Claire had stayed in Europe for several months longer than she didin the series, I think it would have been more likely for her to get asenior-ish nursing position, despite her relative newbie status, simply becausethe more experienced nurses would have the option to go home, which might leadto some openings.
Iknow the show has Claire in Scotland in autumn 1945, which is a little morereasonable, but even then, I don’t know that she would have had been dischargedfor a while at that point.
(I’malso not sure Frank would have been demobilized for very long at this point,either, or that his discharge would have so neatly coincided with hers. I don’tknow anything about the intelligence service really, but the Allies werecontending with pro-Nazi operatives and also growing tension with the SovietUnion in Germany after the war was over. Everything, for instance, I have readabout Berlin at this time sounds like something out of the Wild West, timesinfinity, so I don’t know that he would have been out of a job yet, depending onwhatever his specialty was.)
So,those are my three problems with Claire’s military service, as presented in thebook and show.
Now in the midst ofall of my critiquing, I should point out, in all fairness, a couple of thingsthe book/show got right. One is that Claire’s basic background—early 20s,married, from a respectable social class—was exactly what the British militaryliked in its nurses.
They didn’t wantoverly young women—I don’t know if there was an age requirement is for WWII,but I know in WWI, they only accepted women over a certain age, mid-twenties, Ithink —and they preferred married women and upper/middle class women, allbecause they thought it cut down on shenanigans with the patients. So, eventhough I don’t see how she would have enlisted right away, I do think wheneverClaire did enlist, she would have been accepted pretty readily as a verydesirable candidate.
And also, though Ijust don’t buy her having so many years of military or nursing experience, Iwouldn’t at all dismiss her experiences because she only would have seen abouta year of overseas service. She still would have definitely seen/experiencedsome very disturbing stuff and worked with a lot of patients, not only duringher war years but also during her pre-military training because she would havebeen doing that in the middle of the Blitz. And just living during the Blitzwould have taken nerves of steel, let alone working in a hospital during it! Iread some really harrowing—and also inspiring--stories about nurses during theBlitz in London. Even if she wasn’t in London, if she did her training in acity of any size, she probably experienced her fair share of aerial bombinglong before she joined the military.
So, I definitely don’twant to imply that a more realistic timeline for her military service make hersomehow incompetent or inexperienced as a nurse. In fact, some of the nurses Iread about who served longer were not initially posted in war zones for thefirst couple of years of their service, so the series’ proposed backstory forher doesn’t necessarily guarantee her seeing more combat postings than a moreprobable timeline does.
In fact, that’ssomething else that always bothered me in the book—I felt like the idea ofClaire as combat nurse was emphasized to the point that her basicqualifications as a nurse who was trained to deal with a wide variety ofpatients and cases was ignored, so it makes it seem, at least to me, thatClaire is someone who, when not working in a military posting or a trauma situation,is not really as prepared for the job as a more general nurse would be, andthat just seems very inaccurate to me. It really stood out to me with Claireclaiming very little experience with patients in childbirth during Jenny’slabor, and I found that odd because, though she wouldn’t have been aspecialized midwife trained to deal with complications and with lots and lotsof experience, she wouldn’t have escaped some time working on maternity wardsduring her training period. In fact, I feel like it would be more likely thatshe would be nervous because her training/experiences were not something shehad enjoyed or that they had occurred a few years in the past and were not ofrecent memory (or when Jenny’s labor manifested complications, which she mightknow of in theory but not have extensive experience in working with), ratherthan she was lacking in basic experience with childbirth.
If you’re interested,I can recommend some of the websites and books I used when I was researchingthe subject! It’s not something I usually read/research, but it’s a fascinatingtopic! And if you’ve now read more than you ever want to know about it, that’scool too. J