Alice Isaacson was born in Ireland in 1874 and emigrated to America with her family shortly after her birth. Alice received her nursing training at St. Luke’s Hospital, Iowa and the Chicago Lying-In Hospital. Until the start of World War One in 1914, little is known about Alice’s work as a nurse or how she eventually joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in 1914. However, we do know that in 1916 she was transferred to the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) to work in hospitals in England and France. This is where Alice’s story really begins, as she left behind two diaries that detail her life as a nurse between 1916 and 1918.
In 1917, Alice was describing her patients and the nature of their physical and mental injuries. Alice was careful to denote rank, battalion, country and which part of the war in which her patients fought, leaving us with a first-hand account of what army fought when and where between 1917 and 1918. Also notable is the great care and diligence that Alice took in writing to parents and loved ones of deceased or dying patients, alleviating worries people had of their loved ones’ last moments. Alice also keenly followed America’s involvement in the war and noted on April 4th 1917 that the U.S. Senate had declared war on Germany.
Alice’s diary continues to describe the desperate attempts by the German forces to turn the war in their favour, including their increasing usage of the dreadful and feared mustard gas. Alice also records the end of WWI on November 11th 1918 as an end to the suffering of millions across Europe. Her diary is a personal and poignant reminder of the true human cost of war and reading such diaries reminds us of the human sacrifice behind the guns and bombs.