How Agatha Christie’s Terrible Experience As WWI Nurse Helped Inspire Hercule Poirot


Agatha Christie

Well-founded speculation abounds that famed mystery author, Agatha Christie, used her experiences as a war time nurse in plotting and detailing the killings in her novels. While most point to WWI, at least one source says it was rather WWII in which she learned most about poisons – her favorite method of murder.

Christie was brought up in Torquay on the coast of Devon, England, in a somewhat well to do family. Her education consisted of several years with a governess, learning math and writing at a school in town, and finishing school in Paris.

Her focus at school in Paris was in music and she became an accomplished pianist. Some say she met a Belgian gendarme refugee while playing piano at a party and it was upon this man that she based her most famous character, Hercule Poirot.

At some point prior to the Great War, Christie received her certification as a First Aid and Home Nurse, although she infers in her autobiography that this education would be little to prepare her for her duties during the war.

Just after her fiancé flew off to France with the RAF, she joined the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse. She was one of 90,000 Brits to do so. She went to work at the local town hall that had been converted into a hospital of 50 beds.

There she worked in the operating room, attended to the gruesome clean-up of amputations, and assisted the severely wounded soldiers.

According to Annabel Venning of The Daily Mail, Christie soon bucked up to the challenge, but of her first surgery, she commented , “Suddenly the theatre walls reeled about me . . . It had never occurred to me that the sight of blood or wounds would make me faint.”

While her hospital experiences and the doctors she met there helped inform her writing, it wasn’t until she returned to the hospital after a bout of sickness that she found some of her real inspiration – poisons.

She had been home sick with the flu for several weeks before returning to the hospital to find that they had completed the new dispensary. She studied for and passed exams so that she could leave the monotonous work she had been doing to work there. She learned pharmacology from the pharmacists in the dispensary and from a local druggist.

Her position was as a dispenser, which entailed mixing the medicines and tonics that make up a prescription. As a volunteer, she had worked 3400 hours without recompense, but as a dispenser, she earned £16.

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