But where did the design originate from? This week, we explore the roots of this classic tattoo motif.
During the First World War, ‘No Man’s Land’ was the title given to the region between trenches which was vulnerable to attack. It was extremely treacherous terrain, often cratered and littered with barbed wire and explosives. Between battles, volunteer Red Cross nurses would risk their lives to tend to the wounded and return them to the trenches. Many nurses died along with the soldiers in this savage environment.
A song – ‘La rose sous les boulets’, or ‘The Rose of No Man’s Land’ in English, was written by French music publisher Leo Feist to honour the women undertaking this essential and devastating work. At the end of World War II, an English version with lyrics by Jack Caddigan and James Alexander Brennan became a famous and much-loved tribute to the nurses who had risked it all to support the casualties of war.
It’s the one red rose the soldier knows, It’s the work of the Master’s hand; Mid the War’s great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse, She’s the rose of “No Man’s Land”
Naturally, many soldiers wanted to express their gratitude to the Red Cross nurses and the motif began to appear in tattoos. The iconic design is composed of a nurse’s face, donning a Red Cross cap, surrounded by or appearing from a rose. The design may have been inspired by the illustrated music sheets which had accompanied the songs.
Though it’s impossible to trace exactly where the Rose of No Man’s Land tattoo first appeared, we know that many early tattooers such as Gus Wagner, Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins and more featured a version on their flash sheets.
Today, the design still evokes strong feelings of gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifices all nurses make to preserve our health and remains a popular choice amongst collectors.