Someone asked me "Why are you telling Ready to Serve again this year. You have been telling it across Maryland for six months - aren't you tired of it?"
"No." This will be my eighth consecutive year performing in the Capital Fringe for audiences of all ages who are terrific listeners which is vital for a storyteller. And, I love this story and the more I tell it the more I care about these women who stepped up when they were needed and then were forgotten.
Ready to Serve is a true tale of 64 professional nurses, trained at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Baltimore, MD, who joined the Army to serve in France with Hopkins Base Hospital #18.
Yes. Ready to Serve was premiered at the 2016 Capital Fringe last June. I am bringing it back to the Fringe after a year of touring the show in Maryland. June 14 their story turned 100 years old as that is the date they “shipped out” in 1917 from New York on the USS Finland .
From the day I started the research for Ready to Serve I have been determined to give these women a voice to tell their story… and to bring them out of the shadows of history during the WWI Centennial and that is NOW. The Centennial began April 6.
Ready to Serve is a one-woman show drawn from letters these nurses wrote home.
Their letters are filled with reports of brutal winter weather, spartan living
quarters which they called “our ridiculous plight”, and the sisterhood of
French nurses who prepared them for the battle wounds that would come into
their care at Base Hospital #18. “You can do it.” They told them. “if you know
what to expect.”
Mostly they write home about the courage, strength, and patriotism of the men they are tending.
The winters of 1917 and 1918 were punishing. Two of the nurses died and five were sent home because of the weather. The numbers of casualties from major battles were a test of their stamina but they did their best work through all the hardships. Yet their stories remained unknown. Ready to Serve shines a light on them and their work.
“I may forget the names of those boys ,” wrote one nurse, “but I will remember the faces of those brave lads forever.”
I hope this story will help people remember the nurses!www.wwonesnurses.weebly.com
The year of telling their story to varied audiences at different venues across the state has been a wonderful journey. By telling the story many times to different audiences I feel closer to the nurses and can bring more life to their story. And, I know Maryland better as I drive the back roads and highways.
The people who attend Ready to Serve are interested in the war and the story. Many are well schooled in the history; others want to know more about the Great War a hundred years ago. They are surprised by the women’s experiences, saying, “I never knew about that. I never heard of that.” There is sadness in their faces when they hear of the deaths of the doughboys from battle wounds and the nurses and corpsmen who died from diseases not bullets or bombs.
When I describe the battle wounds they wrote home about we have a glimpse of the reality of the war for the soldiers and for the nurses who saw it and experienced working with them, especially of the cost to men suffering after a gas attack. I have seen tears in many eyes. I often choke myself when telling of some incidents that I know quite well.
‘’ How do they do it,” a nurse asked to no one in particular in a letter she wrote to her family in 1918. “They take their "cup of courage", someone blows a whistle, they climb the ladder against the trench wall and then over into the battle. If they are lucky they are brought to us.”
During the Q and A audience members share WWl stories from their families, some bring scrap books to share and nurses come to hear their “sisters” remembered for their skills, kindness and courage.
While Ready to Serve focuses on Hopkins nurses the story is intended to honor all the nurses who served overseas.
As a spoken–word–artist, my joy is seeking stories of unknown women and bringing them to life.