The range of weapons used and the conditions faced by soldiers during the First World War meant that there were a huge number of different reasons medical treatment was required.  

Nurses like Nellie Spindler played a crucial role in caring for the injured, helping those who could to return to their duties and helping others reach additional medical care.

The daughter of a police inspector in Wakefield, Spindler had trained as a nurse at Township Infirmary in Leeds. She was described as being popular during her training and in October 1915, she applied to join the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service.

Portrait of nurse Nellie Spindler © IWM (WWC H21-9-1

In order to join the service, you had to be over the age of 25 – Nellie was only 24 at the time she signed up. On her application form, she said her year of birth was 1889 rather than 1891. It is possible that this was a mistake – but she may have concealed her true age so she would appear to be old enough to serve.

She was accepted and just over a month later, she was working as a staff nurse at the Whittington Military Hospital in Staffordshire.

By May 1917 she was in France and on 19 July that year, she and the rest of the staff of Casualty Clearing Station 44 moved to Brandhoek siding in Belgium. Wounded men might be treated close to the battlefield at a regimental aid post or an advanced dressing station – but if someone needed further treatment, they would usually be taken to a CCS. 

It was a basic hospital and the closest point to the front where female nurses were allowed to serve - when the Battle of Passchandeale began on 31 July, Nurse Spindler and her colleagues would be as close as they could be to care for the wounded. 

The British Journal of Nursing (BJN) would later write: 'She was right in the danger zone, but while recognising it her letters were hopeful and cheery.'

On 21 August, her station was caught in an attack. she was seriously injured – the BJN reported that she 'became unconscious immediately and died twenty minutes later' in the arms of another nurse.

She is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium, alongisde more than 10,000 men. Nellie is the only woman who rests there - her gravestone includes the inscription 'A noble type of good heroic womanhood'.

Find out more about Staff Nurse Nellie Spindler’s story at Lives of the First World War

Related Content

Men of the West Yorkshire Regiment sitting in a captured German pill box waiting to go into action, near the St Julien - Grafenstafel road during the Battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September - 3 October, part of the Battle of Passchendaele.
First World War
Voices of the First World War: Passchendaele
Episode 31: The Ypres Salient was one of the most intensely fought over sections of the Western Front. Hear about the British high command's plans in early 1917 to seize control of the area once and for all.
Elsie Knocker (left) and Mairi Chisholm in Pervyse, Belgium in 1917.
IWM Q2663
Women in Wartime
5 Inspirational Stories Of Women In The First World War
From ambulance drivers to translators, women served Britain in a variety of ways during the First World War. Discover their stories now.
Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells: Singer Manufacturing Company, Clydebank, Glasgow, 1918
© IWM (Art.IWM ART 2271)
Women in Wartime
12 Things You Didn't Know About Women In The First World War
The First World War brought many changes in the lives of British women. It is often represented as having had a wholly positive impact, opening up new opportunities in the world of work and strengthening their case for the right to vote. The reality is more complex.