From April 8 to December 31, 2023, the Great War Museum in Meaux offers a temporary exhibition "Nurses – Silent Heroines of the Great War". Labelled with the National Interest (EIN), this exhibition shows the participation and strong commitment of nurses among health workers mobilized on the front, but also behind, with civilian populations. Meeting with Audrey Chaix, Director of the Museum.


Volunteers or salaried, military or civilian, trained or simply dedicated to the care of the wounded, the nurses worked in the service of the victims of war, without really knowing the reality behind the many stereotypes associated with them during the First World War.

the Great War: a major turning point for this profession


Photo, distribution of linen to evacuees from the North © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux

Indeed, the Great War was a major turning point for this profession: the conflict made it possible to advance towards a recognition of this profession, which combines medical knowledge and body knowledge. It is unfortunately the dedication of the nurses if, even if it was real, remained in the memories more than their skills, acquired in contact with the wounded of war.

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Nursing outfit for little girl, France, 1915-1918, Wool, cotton and metal sheet © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux – CE2022.4.2-9 / David Rase & Uniforme de l'infirmière Sidonie Pocquet France, ca 1915-1918 © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux / Yannick Marques

Spread over 300 m², the objects and documents that make up this exhibition are mainly from the collections of the Great War Museum. Loans from institutions that are partners in the exhibition as well as from private collectors have also helped to enrich the exhibition’s discourse, which revolves around three main axes:

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Photo © Great War Museum, Meaux

  • The statutes of nurses during the war, which are very numerous and on which depends their level of qualification and remuneration;
  • The nursing practices of nurses who, alongside physicians, make a vital contribution to the care of the injured, and who contribute in an essential way to their recovery;
  • The imagery and stereotypes that are associated with nurses during the conflict, and that have been remembered.

Edith Cavell, Elizabeth of Belgium, Sidonie Pocquet...

Throughout the visit, eight portraits of nurses, some known to the general public, and others who remained anonymous, allow the visitor to give names and to associate faces to all the women who contributed to the war effort. Édith Cavell and Élisabeth de Belgique are presented alongside lesser-known women such as Sidonie Pocquet, whose clothes are kept in the museum, as well as objects and documents that belonged to her, such as her nurse’s booklet, her identity card or her diploma.


Photo - In the operating room France, ca 1915-1918, Photograph on glass plate © Great War Museum, Meaux

The scientific council of the exhibition, composed of members of the museum’s team, has also been enriched by the contributions of Virginie Alauzet, head of the French Red Cross’s Records Management Systems and Archives Division, Christophe Debout, IADE, Senior Health Officer, PhD, Educational Manager at the Théodore-Simon Interhospital Training Institute (Neuilly-sur-Marne), Sciences Po/IDM Health Chair UMRS 1145, and Frédéric Pineau, historian specializing in women’s history at the 20the century.


Nurses caring for the wounded, Pierre-Albert Leroux (1890-1959) France, Oil on canvas © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux / David Rase

The exhibition proposes mediation mechanisms to materialize the nurses' working environment during the conflict. They are intended for a family audience, from 10 years. Facsimiles to be manipulated are presented, accompanied by an audiodescription; a booklet presenting the fictional newspaper of Sidonie Pocquet is distributed free of charge to visitors at the reception of the museum; A small questionnaire to test his knowledge is presented at the end of the exhibition. On the other hand, guided tours and conferences will be offered by the museum throughout the duration of the exhibition, so that visitors can deepen the theme. All programming is detailed on

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The Graduate, the good girl, Lingenuous Marthe Buhl (1887-1942) France, 1917 Postcard drawn in watercolour © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux – CE2021.13.7; CE2021.13.8; CE2021.13.9

Available in the museum’s shop as well as in specialized bookshops, the exhibition catalogue is rich in contributions from historians as well as specialists in the period and world of health. This catalogue thus presents the history of nurses during the Great War and tells the shattered destinies of many of these women. The book, which has received the support of the Fondation La France mutualiste, reveals how nurses become essential figures in societies at war and is a real tool to understand their sufferings, the difficulties they face and the development of their profession.

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The wounded of tuberculosis, Alfred Roll (1846-1919) France, 1916 - Colour lithography on paper © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux – 2006.1.3571 / David Rase

What was your reaction when you learned that the exhibition had received the label "Exhibition of National Interest"?

The entire team was very pleased with this news, which is a fine recognition of the work carried out by the museum since its opening in 2011. We were all the more surprised that our previous exhibition, "Tranchées", also received the label, we did not expect to receive it two years in a row! This label rewards the work carried out by the museum’s conservation department, which contributes to the valorization and dissemination of the museum’s collections. It also highlights the actions put in place by our public service, since mediation is always at the heart of our concerns to enable as many people as possible to be made aware of the history of the Great War through the object.

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Gestures of nurses, Sketch 1916-1917, Olga Bing, France, 1916-1917 Prints © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux – Don Verney

Why did you choose to present an exhibition dedicated to nurses?

It is a theme that we knew for a long time that we would propose an exhibition dedicated to it. The museum has many objects and documents that shed light on the role of nurses in the Great War, and we wanted to be able to highlight them. The decision to host this exhibit in 2023 came at a time when there was a lot of talk about the role of caregivers in the fight against Covid-19.

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Miss De Gesse, nurse major armed and decorated by her patientsFrance, 1912-1918Paper, gelatin-silver prints © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux – Don Barbez

By dedicating an exhibition to nurses in the Great War, it was possible to draw a parallel between the current situation and the role of these caregivers during another major crisis in contemporary history. The elected representatives of the Communauté d'agglomération du Pays de Meaux have also voted for a special reduced rate (5€ instead of 10€) for nurses who will visit the museum during the duration of the exhibition.

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Nurse’s booklet of the Heine-Fould Hospital of the nurse Sidonie Pocquet, France, 1er quarter of the 20e century, Paper © Museum of the Great War, Meaux

What types of collections are presented in this exhibition?

The exhibition features numerous documents that explain and illuminate the status and role of nurses during the Great War, and which will shed light on the stereotypes attached to them. The exhibition also focuses on illuminating photographs, which show the nurses in the situation in daily activities. We also present two sets, one of lithographs and the other of sketches, made by women who were also nurses. The 24 lithographs are the work of Louise Ibels, sister of the nabi painter Henri-Gabriel Ibels, and tell a day in the hospital in a humorous tone and with a great sense of observation of everyday gestures. The other set is a series of 25 sketches by Olga Bing entitled "Gestures of Nurses", which shows the technical gestures made by nurses with great accuracy and realism.

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A day in the hospital/ Louise Ibels (1891-1965), France, 1916 - Colour lithographs on paper © Musée de la Grande Guerre, Meaux - CE2022.8.3-21

We also present several objects related to the daily life of nurses, including medical instruments and medals that nurses were decorated with, but also several nursing outfits, including the uniform of nurse Sidonie Pocquet, the holding of the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (lent by the Archives of the Society of the Daughters of Charity), or the uniform of the nurse Geneviève Hennet de Goutel, lent by the Bugner family, her descendants.