The best books on women’s experiences in WW1

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Moore is a journalist and author of five non-fiction books on medical and social history. Her writing has appeared in the Guardian, Times, Observer and Lancet. Her new book is about Endell Street Military Hospital which was run and staffed by women in London in the First World War.


I wrote...

Book cover of No Man's Land: The Trailblazing Women Who Ran Britain's Most Extraordinary Military Hospital During World War I

What is my book about?

No Man’s Land tells the story of the pioneering women who set up and ran a major military hospital in the heart of London in the First World War. Apart from a handful of men Endell Street Military Hospital was entirely staffed by women. The staff treated 24,000 men sent back from the frontline and when war ended the hospital stayed open to care for the victims of the Spanish flu pandemic. I wrote it to give voice to the women who worked there and the men who were treated there.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Testament of Youth

Wendy Moore Why did I love this book?

It would be impossible to list books about women in the First World War without putting Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth at the top. More than any other writer, her memoir captures the experience of the generation who lived through that war. Brittain was 20, about to study at Oxford, when war broke out. She gave up her plans to nurse the wounded in London and France. She lost her fiancé, her brother and two close friends to the war and it changed her forever. “The world was mad and we were all victims,” she wrote. Peace brought little solace as she remembered those who had died or lost their loved ones. “The War was over; a new age was beginning; but the dead were dead and would never return.” She became a pacifist, a socialist and a feminist.

By Vera Brittain,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Testament of Youth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An autobiographical account of a young nurse's involvement in World War I.


Book cover of Women as Army Surgeons: Being The History Of The Women's Hospital Corps 1914-1919

Wendy Moore Why did I love this book?

Murray’s book was the inspiration, guide and companion for my own. Flora Murray and her life-long partner Louisa Garrett Anderson were both doctors and suffragettes. Murray was honorary doctor to the suffragette movement and Anderson went to prison for four weeks for smashing a window. As women doctors they were confined to treating only women and children. They seized the war as a chance not only to do their bit but to prove women doctors were equal to their male counterparts. They ran two hospitals in France before setting up Endell Street in 1915. Murray wrote her book, first published in 1920, as testament to the achievements of all the women involved. Her account is bracing – in the manner of the wartime “Blighty spirit” – but packed with fascinating detail and heroic acts.

By Flora Murray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women as Army Surgeons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Flora Murray's book is a record of the Women's Hospital Corps in France and the Endell Street Military Hospital, London. Despite a lack of training in trauma and orthopaedics, and with no previous experience in military medicine, she met the challenge of treating often horrific wartime casualties and returning battle-injured men to society. She, along with her partner Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson, redefined gender roles in military medicine.


Book cover of Elsie and Mairi Go to War

Wendy Moore Why did I love this book?

Atkinson’s book tells the story of Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm who were friends and motorcycle enthusiasts. When war broke out they joined a voluntary medical unit heading for France and set up a first aid post near the frontline. They were fearless, sometimes reckless, and always cheerful as they saved the wounded. I loved the way Atkinson’s book captured their youthful exuberance and gung-ho courage.

By Diane Atkinson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Elsie and Mairi Go to War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When they met at a motorcycle club in 1912, Elsie Knocker was a thirty year-old motorcycling divorcee dressed in bottle-green Dunhill leathers, and Mairi Chisholm was a brilliant eighteen-year old mechanic, living at home and borrowing tools from her brother. Little did they know, theirs was to become one of the most extraordinary stories of the First World War.

In 1914, they roared off to London 'to do their bit', and within a month they were in the thick of things in Belgium driving ambulances to distant military hospitals. Frustrated by the number of men dying of shock in the…


Book cover of Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War

Wendy Moore Why did I love this book?

Shipton’s book is a brilliantly researched account of the thousands of incredible women who refused to sit at home knitting socks when war began. Using diaries, letters and memoirs, she tells the story of the women who put on uniforms of various hues to drive ambulances, carry stretchers, nurse the wounded and even to bear arms close to the frontlines of World War One. They included the wonderful Flora Sandes who went to Serbia to nurse casualties and ended up joining the Serbian Army. It’s a testimony to women’s bravery, daring and refusal to take no for an answer.

By Elisabeth Shipton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Female Tommies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The First World War saw one of the biggest ever changes in the demographics of warfare, as thousands of women donned uniforms and took an active part in conflict for the first time in history. Female Tommies looks at the military role of women worldwide during the Great War and reveals the extraordinary women who served on the frontline.

Through their diaries, letters and memoirs, meet the women who defied convention and followed their convictions to defend the less fortunate and fight for their country. Follow British Flora Sandes as she joins the Serbian Army and takes up a place…


Book cover of Between the Lines: Diaries and Letters from Elsie Inglis's Russian Unit

Wendy Moore Why did I love this book?

History is just “one damned thing after another” is a common phrase. For me this is the book which has led me to my next project. Cahill traces the story of the women who went to Russia in 1916 with the voluntary outfit the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Set up by a Scottish surgeon, Elsie Inglis, the SWH became the biggest women’s medical organisation serving abroad in the war. The SWH women ran hospitals in France, Serbia and Russia. Here Cahill tells the story of their astonishing adventures in Russia – driving ambulances close to the firing line, retreating with the Serbian and Russian armies, surviving the cold, food shortages and the Russian Revolution – through the women’s own words. It’s staggering stuff – and great material for my next book about one of those incredible women pioneers.

By Audrey Fawcett Cahill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Between the Lines as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shipped from UK, please allow 10 to 21 business days for arrival. First Published by PENTLAND, EDINBURGH, 1999 BETWEEN THE LINES: Letters and Diaries from Elsie Inglis's Russian Unit. Arranged and edited by Audrey Fawcett Cahill. 372 p., ill., maps A very good, near fine soft-cover copy.


You might also like...

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

Book cover of A Diary in the Age of Water

Nina Munteanu Author Of Darwin's Paradox

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Ecologist Mother Teacher Explorer

Nina's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This climate fiction novel follows four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. Told mostly through a diary and drawing on scientific observation and personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Her gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity.

Single mother and limnologist Lynna witnesses disturbing events as she works for the powerful international utility CanadaCorp. Fearing for the welfare of her rebellious teenage daughter, Lynna sets in motion a series of events that tumble out of her control with calamitous consequence. The novel explores identity, relationship, and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

What is this book about?

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 1, Russia, and health care?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about World War 1, Russia, and health care.

World War 1 Explore 882 books about World War 1
Russia Explore 352 books about Russia
Health Care Explore 58 books about health care