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‘ “That glorious comradeship”: Nostalgia and imagined communities in French ex- war nurse associations and the QMAAC Old Comrades Association’

University of Leeds & King's College London

Alison Fell is Professor of French Cultural History at the University of Leeds. She is Co-I of the AHRC Gateways to the First World War Public Engagement centre based at the University of Kent, and has published widely on French and British women and the First World War.

This paper focuses on the collective expressions of ‘veteran’ identity amongst women who had been active during the First World War. It takes as its source material the publications and activities of two groups of women who were often seen as ‘war veterans’: French former war nurses, and British ex-members of the Queen Mary Army Auxiliary Corps. These groups of women formed associations in the early 1920s that were largely modelled on those formed by their male counterparts. As was the case for male veteran associations, they had both private and public functions, on the one hand providing networks of support and care for their members, and on the other operating as political lobby groups attempting to draw public attention to women’s sacrifices and contributions to the war, and arguing for equal treatment by the state in relation to pensions and other veteran benefits. I explore the uses made by women of these networks and associations, and in particular trace the discourses of nostalgia for the war evident in the ‘imagined communities’ of women war workers/ex-servicewomen that were constructed in the letters’ pages of their associations’ journals.