Manchester, U.K. 1915-1934. Collection of three autograph books owned by nurse Agnes E. Johns, serving at the Manchester Hospital during World War I and the Spanish Flu outbreak. Totaling 137 pages across19 years. Comprised of 1) Small Autograph Book measuring 4x4.75" in pebbled cloth, dating 1915-1917 and containing 56 pages of manuscript and original artwork, 2) Medium Autograph Book measuring 5x5" in pebbled cloth, dating 1917-1918 and containing 72 pages of manuscript and original artwork, and 3) Large Autograph Book measuring 6x7" in floral cloth, dating 1929-1934 and containing 9 pages of manuscript and original artwork. With entries in multiple hands, the present collection makes research possible into the thoughts, experiences, and relationships of wounded men and the female staff providing their care.
During the First World War, "the flow of casualties from the various theaters of war overwhelmed the existing medical facilities in the United Kingdom, just as it did the recently established bases in France and Flanders. Many civilian hospitals and large buildings were turned over to the military to use," including the Manchester unit in which Agnes E. Johns worked (Researching Soldiers). Indeed, Ages' hospital served the dual purpose of treating soldiers for general injury and illness as well as providing "150 beds for limbless men" (Researching Soldiers). Examining the pages of her albums, it becomes clear that she not only provided medical care for the men she oversaw; she also provided a safe space for expressing anger and pain, for critiquing society and the political system, for thanking nursing staff, and for developing friendships among the wounded.
Though Agnes' ownership inscription is a playful poem about returning the book back to her after use, the first entry is a jarring contextualization for her time. Written on 28 March 1915 by Lt. Cpr. Arnold Rice Barnes 13058, who notes that he was "Age 20 years. Battalion Welsh Reg. Wounded at Ypres," the book opens: "Sing me to sleep where bullets fall, Let me forget the world and all, Damp is my dugout cold are my feet, Nothing but bully and biscuits to eat...Far, far from Ypres I long to be Where German snipers can't pot at me. Think of me croutching where the worms creep." Like this young man, many others write of fear, exhaustion, or loss -- topics considered taboo in conversation at the time. They find outlet here. By 1917, disillusionment grows. On 7th April 1917, C. Crawley 9711 of the 6th R1 Rifles writes "When war is on and danger nigh, 'God and the soldier!' is the cry. When war is over, and all righted, God is forgotten, the soldiers slighted."
Despite trauma and tragedy, the young men Agnes cares for are still young. Some of them maintain a sense of humor -- political, social, and gallows. They write dirty rhymes, draw pictures of their sweethearts, and comment on suffrage, nursing, and the variety of cultures brought together in one space at wartime. Their poetry and especially their artwork presents a chance to take control of the enemy (as in a drawing of "German Arms" on 28 May 1917 by Guy L. Appleby, A Battery 302nd Brigade RFA); comment on the changes they see in independent women (as in an anonymous drawing of a woman in harem pants captioned "Smart costume for a wife"); and remember home (as in a pencil landscape from C. B. Looper on 21-2-18).
The final book, dated in the years leading up to World War II, have limited pages, mostly focusing on women's portraits. It reflects a quieter time, a brief period of peace and domesticity.
An exceptional opportunity for research, including genealogy, military history, medical and nursing history, patient care in wartime, gender studies, fashion history, World War I and shifting social mores. (Item #3901)