Naomi Mitchison in the Great War

Naomi Mitchison youngBy the early part of 1915, almost all her friends in Oxford joined up, except for Aldous Huxley (who had by then only partially recovered his sight). Dick Mitchison appeared before her in his uniform. Later she wrote:

I am inclined to think now that I might have said yes to the first man (I beg your pardon: officer) in uniform who asked me to marry him in August 1914. It would have been ‘war work’; it would have been involvement in the great excitement (quoted Calder 32-33).

Dick proposed, and she accepted. Each time Dick went to the front, Naomi thought  she would never see him again.

In Summer 1915, she passed her nursing exams, and she was allowed by her parents to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) as an auxiliary nurse. It had been started in 1909, and between 1914 and 1918 supplied 23000 nurses and 15000 orderlies to hospitals looking after service personnel. She did her nursing at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. “Hard to hold one’s basin steady when a man is writhing about in his bed, white with pain and begging the nurse not to go on,” she wrote to her aunt (quoted Calder, 41).

In February 1917 she got married in the Oxford registry office: she cut the wedding cake with Dick’s sabre. In the early summer he was seriously wounded; she went to France, and nursed him in hospital. He came back to England, and recovered slowly.

The above information comes from Jenni Calder, The Nine Lives of Naomi Mitchison (London: Virago, 1997).

 

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