A Nurse at the Russian Front

The name Florence Nightingale is well known the world over for her work in the Crimean War. Much less well known, but no less brave and committed, is Florence Farnborough – a nurse on the Russian Front in the 1914-18 conflict. The following is my precis of her diary of late January 1916.

Florence and her team had arrived at Volochysk on Sunday 17th January at about 2 a.m.; had a brief sleep; woke at 6 a.m. and by 7.30 a.m. had breakfasted and were ready for work. Though it was not a big city, Volochysk was ‘famous’ in that it was the “gateway” to the Ukraine. In 1913 Volochysk had nearly 200 private shops, over 250 students and various cultural establishments including a club, a cinema, two libraries and three book shops. When Florence was there, things had changed and she described it as a ‘miserable, dirty little place’ although it ‘has really beautiful surroundings’.

They did not stay there for long. On Friday 22nd January 1916 they ‘were once more on the road’ and heading for Chortkpv. She records in her diary: ‘Frost was very sharp during the early morning and my hair was soon stiffened and whitened with it.’

They passed through Pod-Volochysk – a very different scene to the town they had left. Whereas there had been virtually no damage to see in Volochysk, in Pod-Volochysk ‘it was difficult to find a house or building which had not suffered. Here and there, among heaps of brick debris, a tall chimney would be seen, rising up in solitary state and completely unscathed.’
They spent the night in the ‘small town of Grzhimalov’ and next morning, Saturday 23rd, set off to one more stop. The stop on that night was ‘at a Jew’s house; the room is small and very dirty.’ It is also, it seems, not quite what they would have liked! Florence records in her diary: ‘In the adjoining room an animated conversation is being carried on in the nasal twang of Polish Jewry. If only they would stop jabbering and let us sleep. If only the walls were not so dreadfully thin.’

Next morning, Sunday 24th January 1916, they moved on one more time, reaching their destination in the afternoon. Florence writes: ‘We are in Chortkpv at last! Yesterday we were complaining of the absence of fortifications; today there is no need for such complaints. Trenches, guarded by wire meet us at every corner; the wire entanglements themselves seem of an especially complicated pattern. In some places there are six to ten rows, one behind the other, with the wire bent to form large, empty spaces, like loop-holes. Perhaps these are a new device for entrapping the unwary soldier; they certainly do not make for ease of action.’

Florence and her team were scheduled to be at Chortkpv for a month – moving on in late February 1916. Her diary entry of Wednesday 24th February 1916 tells a sad story. ‘The hope of leaving on the morrow and starting work with our new division was very bright during the first week here; the second week it paled somewhat; the thirds, it waned entirely; and this last week we have grown reconciled to the fact that we may have to remain here for many weeks to come’.

It was not until Saturday 8th April 1916 that Florence and her team moved on – to a new station at the village of Dzurin. Perhaps we’ll come back to Florence around then.

In the meantime – if you want to read more of Florence’s story than I shall tell –
my paperback is ‘Nurse at the Russian Front. A Diary 1914-18’.
It was published in 1977 by Futura Publications Ltd, with ISBN 0 8600 7582 6
Amazon and AbeBooks have copies of the original Constable & Co book published in 1974

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