The World Health Organisation (WHO) was inaugurated in 1948. Formed in a period of post-war devastation, WHO aimed to develop and meet goals that would rebuild the health of shattered populations. The historical study reported here examined the work of the Nursing and Midwifery Unit (NMU) of WHO's European Regional Office during the later part of the twentieth century. The study examined archive sources lodged at the NMU archive. The sources included manuscripts relating to important NMU initiatives, reports and papers published by WHO, and a range of secondary sources. The study identified three main driving forces in the work of the NMU of the European Regional Office of WHO. One of the strongest of these was a drive to develop and promote the nursing profession within the countries of the European Region. The second was the promulgation and implementation of the positive public health strategies of WHO, particularly its '38 Targets for Health for All by the Year 2000'. The third focussed on securing equity across the European continent and on promoting the development of the nursing professions in poorer and less-developed countries. The study concludes that the nursing professions in European states grew in strength and influence, and that the health of populations improved throughout the continent between 1970 and 2003. It discusses the extent to which the role of the NMU in these advances may have been significant.