dr. Vivien Newman

  • Posted on: 13 September 2015
  • By: marijke
About the participant: 

In 2004 I was awarded my PhD from the University of Essex for my “excellent” thesis Songs of Wartime Lives: Women’s Poetry of the First World War.  As well as being an educational psychologist working in the Higher Education sector, I now write for Pen and Sword Social History imprint: We Also Served: the Forgotten Women of the First World War (2014); Nursing Through Shot and Shell: A Great War Nurse’s Story (2015).  Tumult and Tears: An Annotated Anthology of Women’s Poetry of the First World War will be published in August 2016.  In addition, My War Too! The Children’s War and They Shoot Spies: The Untold Story of a Secret Agent have been commissioned for publication during the First World War Centenary Years. 

I am involved with the UK University of the 3rd Age and also speak widely to specialist and general (history) interest groups.  I am a BBC Expert Woman and speak on radio and local television about women in the First World War. 

Title of lecture: 
“Women Like That” Women’s Poetry from the Eastern Front

On 4th November 1916, the British Journal of Nursing informed readers that the Scottish Women’s Hospital Units were ‘doing splendid work with the Serbs who joined the Russian Army.’  In a separate paragraph the Journal added, ‘So impressed was the Prefect of Constanza [by the women doctors, surgeons, ambulance drivers and nurses] that he remarked, "No wonder Britain is so great if her women are like that!”'  This comment inspired Scottish Women’s Hospital Administrator Mary Henderson to compose ‘Like That’, one of a number of poems which explore the Scottish Women’s Hospital Units’ Service on the Eastern Front.

For decades the memory of the Great War was largely formed by the works of a select group of male soldier poets.  The naïve patriotism of Rupert Brooke, the angry cynicism of Siegfried Sassoon, the pastoral lyricism of Edward Thomas and the poignant pity of Wilfred Owen came to dominate the genre as did poetry relating to the Western Front.  Yet a significant number of women wrote poetry about their own experiences of war service and not only about the Western Front.  There is a still overlooked corpus of poetry by women who served on the War’s Forgotten Fronts.

This paper will consider the use of poetry as an historical source.  It will show how women’s poetry relating to predominantly but not exclusively Serbia reveals a wealth of information about this forgotten theatre of war written by and about long-overlooked women who, in Henderson’s words, gave a “clear-voiced answer when there came the call/For succour from a Nation like to fall.”  The paper will also consider how poetry was used to memorialise the service of those women who lost their lives due to their service on the Eastern Front.