Shrewsbury School

Bastille Society Lecture: Nurses & Spies - the role of women in the Great War

Friday 12 October 2018

As a joint venture with Shrewsbury Bookfest and part of their series of events to commemorate the centenary of WW1, the Bastille Society welcomed Philip Stevens to tell the stories of some of the remarkable women who served during the War.

Report by Ebrahim Jamshid (SH U6), Joint President of the Bastille Society:

On 5th October, the Shrewsbury School Bastille Society had the pleasure of collaborating with Shrewsbury Bookfest to host a lecture by Phillip Stevens, a former soldier, battlefield guide and author of the successful book The Great War Explained.

Over dinner I had the opportunity to talk to Mr Stevens and during one of our conversations he talked about his past and what brought him to write his book; it was here that I realised that Mr Stevens is proudly not a historian in the traditional sense – something he readily admitted in the beginning of his lecture – but rather prefers to be much more tactile with his history, as seen by his love of battlefield touring. From reading the first few pages of the copy he gave to me, I was able to see how this love of tactile learning translated to an extremely clear and fluid narration of the War.

This clear, easy-to-follow fluidity was also present in his lecture, where he told an audience of around 200 people, from both within and outside the School, the thrilling stories of Edith Cavell, the “canaries” and Flora Sandes.

I was especially interested in Flora Sandes, who followed an unusual course. Having first served as a nurse in Serbia, she joined the Serbian Army for her own safety during the retreat and became the only British woman officially enlisted as a soldier in the First World War.

I was also shocked to hear about the unacceptable treatment of women during the War, where not only were they subjected to terrible working conditions and a lower wage than their male counterparts, but were also left unemployed after the War had finished.

Questions from the floor were concluded with Mr Stevens exhorting that he didn’t believe that women had been given their due amount of notice in history and that more still needed to be done to tell their stories. The Bastille Society and Shrewsbury Bookfest were all delighted to welcome Philip to The Schools in a fitting centenary commemoration of the War’s end in 1918.

L-R: Lucy Morris (Shrewsbury Bookfest), Ebrahim Jamshid, Philip Stevens, Harry Mackridge (Head of History)



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