Our surgeons never flagged

Florence Farmborough in 1915
Photo: IWM via Wikimedia

Florence Farmborough was an English nurse, photographer, and diarist who moved to Russia in 1908, aged twenty-one, to work as a governess for a Kiev family. Six years after her arrival, when World War I began, Farmborough joined the Red Cross as a nurse and was immediately sent to the Eastern Front where she found herself in the thick of some of the war’s most brutal battles, and from day one she kept a diary that would eventually total almost half a million words. She wrote the following in July of 1916 during the Brusilov offensive, the most lethal battle of the entire war, on a particularly bloody day. Farmborough died in Manchester, England, in 1978. She was ninety-one.

The Diary Entry

Thursday, 28th July

More than 100 wounded came during the night. They have been arriving in numbers all day and in the late evening were still being brought in. We have all been working in tremendous haste; most of the bandaging has been left to our hospital-orderlies; we, the surgical staff, have been cleaning, operating, dressing. Austrians of all ranks were among the wounded. All night long, the operating-table was occupied: eight major operations had been performed before daylight. Candles, kerosene lamps and torches supplied the only available light. Stomach wounds were by far in the majority. Our surgeons never flagged; they were chain-workers. Prostrate form replaced prostrate form on the table. The room was filled with agonising groans, stertorous breathing, the rustle of moving arms, the murmur of voices, the clink of surgical instruments, the slash and click of surgical scissors, and always the deeply-drawn breathing of men performing a task of intense importance.

Further Reading

In 1974, Farmborough’s diaries were trimmed and published by Constable with the title, Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary, 1914-1918. Her insights are not only of the war but also of Russian culture and society at a time of tumultuous change. An invaluable record.


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