A MEMORIAL stone in Glasgow's Western Necropolis marks the final resting place of Annie Winifred Munro.

She died in 1917, aged 25, and was buried with full military honours.

In life, the nursing sister, from Natal prov-ince in South Africa, served in Gallipoli and France, experiencing more of the horrors of the First World War than anyone could have imagined in her worst nightmares.

Annie's road to war began in West Africa where there was fighting against the Germans before she served on a hospital ship off Gallipoli, then went to France to join the South African Expeditionary Force.

She worked in frontline hospitals tending to the injured, facing excruciatingly long hours with little or no equipment and fighting a losing battle against disease. Then she caught pneumonia.

Annie went to England to convalesce and, having partly recovered, decided to visit Scotland, the home of her father.

"She was unable to travel further north than Glasgow. There she was taken under the care of those who had known her father, and although she received all the attention the medics could have given her, complications set in," says historian and former nurse Dr Yvonne McEwen.

Sad beyond belief, Annie's story is not unique.

One of more than 20,000 young women whose work near the front line in the years from 1914 to 1918 was of immeasurable benefit to the war effort, it has been largely forgotten in commemorations to mark the centenary of the First World War.

As many as 500 of these women were mentioned in dispatches, 2500 of them received Royal Red Crosses, 152 were awarded military medals and at least 1000 died in the line of duty.

Some suffered from shellshock and many died when casualty clearing stations and hospital ships came under fire.

"Scottish nurses served all over Europe," says Yvonne, whose book In the Company of Nurses: the British Army Nursing Service in the Great War is due out this summer.

"Scotland mobilised quickly for the war and some of the first nurses out to the Western Front were Scottish.

"They came from all over. Some of the earliest came from as far as Stornoway. To come from Stornoway and end up on the Western Front within a few days of war being declared..."

She trails off, the inference being that what these women experienced was shocking.

They dealt with everything from horrendous injuries due to shelling and gassing to tuberculosis, heart conditions and infectious diseases.

Their lives were a million miles away from the Florence Nightingale images so often portrayed of nurses gently mopping the brows of wounded soldiers.

At the beginning of the Somme offensive, nurses were working 48 hours without a break.

When they did get a rest it was lying down on the operating theatre floor with a blanket over them to get a couple of hours sleep before the next rush came in.

The Edinburgh University historian, who is now campaigning for a memorial to be built in the nurses' honour, says: "Some hospitals at the beginning of the Somme offensive were designed to take up to 1000 patients and were admitting more than 2000.

"There were two train loads a day coming in to places like Rouen, a train load was supposed to be about 650 to 700 patients.

"There was no place to put them and many were lying in the back of ambulances while they cleared the men out of the hospitals and got them on hospital ships.

"It was like a conveyor belt, it never stopped."

Working on a hospital ship was one of the most dangerous assignments for a wartime nurse, constantly under threat from enemy torpedoes.

MANY nurses who lost their lives in the First World War drowned.

Those women who had worked before the war in large general hospitals near shipyards, railways and coal mines had some experience of dealing with crush injuries and fractures.

Yvonne says nobody was prepared for the new skills required in the war years because the weaponry had become more sophisticated.

"They had to go back to the drawing board and say, well that might have worked for a Mauser injury in the Boer War but there is no way that can work now. They had machine guns and high explosives.

"The whole apparatus became overwhelmed and there were never enough doctors, nurses and orderlies to cope with the demands of the war."

Nurses signed up on a six-month contract but many women renewed them when they were out in the field, incredibly some were away for all of the war years.

"Knowing what I know about some of these women and having read where they were working and what they were subjected to, I can't imagine anybody spending four-and-a-half years out there," says Yvonne.

"If you had a particular skill that was needed at casualty clearing stations or these big units where they were pioneering abdominal surgery, chest surgery and dealing with head injuries, to be seeing people coming in mutilated all the time, I can't imagine signing up and constantly renewing your contract."

The effects of the never-ending stress, trauma and lack of sleep took their toll.

No-one was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder then but nurses, like serving men, experienced shellshock.

Dying alongside Annie Winifred Munro, were Christina Wilson, 42, from Glasgow who suffered of pneumonia; Jean Barclay Smith, also 42, of Banffshire, died in France of rheumatic fever; Isabel Cruickshank of Aberdeen died in Alexandria; and nurse Agnes Mann, from Dundee, was killed when the hospital ship Salta was torpedoed.

"The one thing I keep in my mind is that the men they cared for would probably feel really badly that the women they shared a common hardship with have been so badly misrepresented.

"I think a lot of those men, if they had lived to see it, would have felt badly about the way the sisters were treated," says Yvonne.

angela.mcmanus@ eveningtimes.co.uk