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Army Nursing in World War II – Uniforms

US Army Nurse Corps in World War II, part 3 - Uniforms

During World War II, members of the US Army Nurse Corps took care of the sick and wounded throughout the world, often in dangerous and difficult conditions. These brave women inspired four of my novels (A Memory Between Us and the Wings of the Nightingale series), so I’m sharing a four-part series on US Army nursing during the war.

Part 1: Who Could Serve in the US Army Nurse Corps

Part 2: Recruitment, Training, and Military Rank

Part 3: Uniforms

Part 4: General Nursing Practice

Ward and Dress Uniforms

At the beginning of the war, nurses wore a white ward dress with the white nurse’s cap on the ward. For outdoor use, they were also issued a set of “dress blues,” a dark blue service jacket and a medium blue skirt, a white or blue shirt, black tie, black shoes, and a dark blue garrison cap or service cap. This uniform is pictured on the cover of my second novel, A Memory Between Us. A dark blue cape lined with red and an overcoat were also used for outdoors wear.

US Army Nurse Corps recruiting poster, WWII, showing the white ward dress, and the blue-and-maroon cape.

US Army Nurse Corps recruiting poster, WWII, showing the white ward dress, and the blue-and-maroon cape.

A Memory Between Us, by Sarah Sundin, showing the US Army Nurse Corps dress blues uniform from WWII

A Memory Between Us, by Sarah Sundin, showing the US Army Nurse Corps dress blues uniform from WWII

Starting in July 1943, the blue uniform was replaced with an olive drab service jacket and skirt and cap, khaki shirt and tie, and brown shoes—but implementation was slow and sporadic. It was first issued for overseas use, and later for stateside use, with conversion complete by June 1944.

US Army Nurse Corps recruiting poster, showing the olive drab dress uniform worn starting in 1943

US Army Nurse Corps recruiting poster, showing the olive drab dress uniform worn starting in 1943

Field Uniforms

In combat areas, white ward dresses and skirted suits were absurdly impractical, but the Army was slow to provide appropriate clothing for women. In 1942 during the early campaign in North Africa, the women resorted to wearing men’s herringbone twill fatigues and boots—in men’s sizes.

The Army then provided brown-and-white seersucker ward outfits. Although seersucker is easily laundered, the nurses didn’t care for it, since seersucker was traditionally worn by nurse trainees. The wraparound dress was unpleasant to wear in windy conditions, so a skirted outfit and a trousers outfit in seersucker were provided by August 1943. A matching jacket was issued to convert to outdoor use. The seersucker uniform was worn with brown shoes and hat.

The nurses were eventually issued WAC (Women’s Army Corps) field uniforms and the popular Parson’s field jacket, which were better accepted.

To learn about uniforms worn by flight nurses in World War II, please see Medical Air Evacuation in World War II–The Flight Nurse.

US Army Quartermaster supply catalog QM 3-2, 7 October 1943, showing the olive drab and blue dress uniforms, the seersucker jacket, and the cape of the Army Nurse Corps (Source: US Army Service Forces)

US Army Quartermaster supply catalog QM 3-2, 7 October 1943, showing the olive drab and blue dress uniforms, the seersucker jacket, and the cape of the Army Nurse Coprs (Source: US Army Service Forces)

The service and dress uniforms worn in the US Army Nurse Corps in WWII (US Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History)

The service and dress uniforms worn in the US Army Nurse Corps in WWII (US Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History)

Insignia

The dress uniforms had maroon piping on the garrison cap, epaulettes, and cuffs. The rank insignia (a single gold bar for second lieutenants, the vast majority of nurses) was worn on the epaulettes. A gold “U.S.” pin was worn on each collar, and a gold caduceus with a red N was worn on each lapel.

For fatigue uniforms, ward dresses, or whenever the service jacket wasn’t worn, the rank insignia was pinned to the right collar, and the caduceus on the left.

US Army Nurse Corps Caduceus, WWII

US Army Nurse Corps Caduceus, WWII

Sources:

http://history.amedd.army.mil/ANCWebsite/anchome.html (The official website for Army Nurse Corps history.)

Brayley, Martin. World War II Allied Nursing Services. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002. (Detailed description of military nurses’ uniforms).

6 Responses to “Army Nursing in World War II – Uniforms”

  1. MichelleH

    I just don’t understand why seersucker was even a thing. It always looks wrinkly and blah! 😛

    • Sarah Sundin

      I’ve always liked it for summer – although I haven’t seen it in ages. But I agree…not on the job.

  2. Janice Laird

    Seersucker is actually a marvelously cool fabric in warm and tropical climates. And it needs little ironing, a boon in those days when everything needed to be pressed.
    I recall a scene in “So Proudly We Hail” when our intrepid heroines arrive in the Philippines and they are immediately told to not bother wearing their whites (uniforms), because the herringbone twill was much more practical at the front. They spent the rest of the movie in coveralls.

  3. Tisha Martin

    Heaven knows why wraparound dresses were invented, even if they were “convenient.” I really like the nurses’ pin, though. Makes me think of Florence Nightingale, coming in on eagle’s wings to tend to the wounded.

    • Sarah Sundin

      I remember when wraparound skirts were all the rage – and then we wore them. There’s a reason they went out of style pretty quickly!