Tuesday 3 November 2015

I Don't Want to Get Well

A favorite activity of our historical society is our monthly meeting where we get together for presentations on local heritage (and enjoy some fantastic eats afterwards). At our October session we were delighted with a talk by local author, Shawna Quinn, on New Brunswick’s Nursing Sisters in World War I. 

Shawna’s book, Agnes Warner and the Nursing Sisters of the Great War, explores the incredible hardships these women faced, tending to the sick and wounded on the edges of Europe’s battlefields. The women worked tirelessly to provide medical care for the wounded but they also provided moral support – beacons of calm in a landscape gone mad with violence.

The talk brought to mind an unusual artifact on display in our World War I exhibit – a song sheet titled “I Don’t Want to Get Well”. The song, written by Harry Jentes, Harry Pease and Howard Johnson, is a comical depiction of an injured soldier in a field hospital who writes to his buddy saying:

"I don't want to get well, I don't want to get well,
I'm in love with a beautiful nurse.
Though the doctor's treatments show results
I always get a bad relapse each time she feels my pulse
I don't want to get well, I don't want to get well,
I'm glad they shot me on the fighting line, fine,
She holds my hand and begs me not to leave her
Then all at once I get so full of fever,
I don't want to get well, I don't want to get well,
For I'm having a wonderful time." 

The song is a chirpy little number, full of fun and good cheer, belying the serious situation most men found themselves in when injured at the front. In a time before antibiotics and modern surgical techniques, soldiers of World War I were dependent on the careful care of medical staff at the front, especially from the nursing sisters who managed the bulk of the care to keep wounds clean to ensure healing. Despite the song’s levity, “I Don’t Want To Get Well” still manages to point out the importance of nursing sisters. Just like the cheery lyrics of this war time tune, the nurses offered a measure of brightness in a world gone dark..... and the hope of better days to come.

To enjoy the tune yourself, have a listen to this 1918 recording of the song!

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