Helen Fairchild (November 21, 1885 – January 18, 1918) was an American nurse who served as part of the American Expeditionary Force. Like many brave women who went to the frontline, Helen put her life on the line to help the soldiers injured in combat.
For America, the First World War began on the 6th April, 1917, after Germany began using submarine warfare on any ship close to Britain. Up to that point, America remained neutral. Helen Fairchild had just graduated from nursing school in 1913, and a month after the war was declared in America she decided to help. In May 1917, Helen was assigned to Flanders during the third battle of Ypres, most commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele. This battle is infamous during WWI, not only because of the 570,000 men who lost their lives on both sides but also for the terrible conditions of mud. Gas was also heavily used in the battle. Helen would have seen some devastating things, but she continued with her task until becoming seriously ill.
Before Helen went to France she suffered from intense abdominal pain, and in November 1917 she had another occurrence. She had this pain before leaving for France, and still put her suffering to one side to help the soldiers at the front. However, by Christmas time of that year she had gotten worse, and in January she fell into a coma and passed away shortly after surgery for a gastric ulcer.
Helen’s story was preserved by her family from the letters she sent home. These letters not only give us a glimpse of who Helen was, but also provides an American nurse’s viewpoint of the war. In her last letter home, she tells her mother about how she is glad to be helping the men and how truly grateful she is for the Red Cross and the YMCA.