“They amputated a leg, and I had to take the wretched thing away”
MARJORIE GRIGSBY c1898–1996
Marjorie was the first nurse we filmed, in the mid-90s. We interviewed her in a nursing home, where we were surprised to find her smoking in her room. She was an indomitable character from a well-to-do background, who had smoked since she was a teenager and had no intention of giving up now. She had started smoking when she became one of the ‘Roses of No Man’s Land’: young, unpaid volunteer nurses who earned a reputation for their care and compassion for injured and dying soldiers.
Like many others, Marjorie was so keen to serve that she lied about her age. “I was interviewed over a double desk and he said: ‘How old are you?’ so I said: ‘20, sir,’ and he said: ‘How old?’ I can see him now looking over the top with his glasses, and I said: ‘20, sir.’ I saw him write down: ‘Age 20, apparent age 16,’ and I said: ‘I know you’ve written it down, sir, in black and white – you can’t alter it – but it isn’t 16, it’s 17.’ And he grinned and left it as it was and passed me.”
When I got to the front, you were called the dirty nurse and you had to do all the mucky things. They’d just amputated a leg and they put it in a bucket and I had to take the wretched thing away down to the incinerator. I didn’t like it – you had no idea what a leg weighs when amputated. I had to lug it with the foot sticking up all the way down to the incinerator. I didn’t enjoy that at all.
The girls of my age were all inexperienced girls, but of course in war you do different things from what you do in other times. You just carry on and do your duty.” At the end of the interview, Marjorie lit up again. Sadly, she died a year later. It was an honour to have recorded her story.
Marjorie lied about her age to join up – and encountered the war’s gruesome reality as a nurse at the front