The following column appeared in print in March 11, 2017. Additional data has been added that would not fit into the published format.
Maritime Nursing Sisters of the Great War
Diane Lynn Tibert
Canadian nursing sisters first saw action in 1885 when the government sent them to Saskatchewan to support soldiers fighting in the North-West Rebellion. The next time they were called into service was during the Boer War (1899 – 1902). Canada sent four nurses to South Africa as members of the newly-formed Canadian Army Nursing Service, part of the Canadian Army Medical Department (CAMD). They were Georgina Fane Pope, Minnie Affleck (both of Charlottetown, PEI), Sahara Forbes and Elizabeth Russell (Hamilton, ON). By the end of the war, eight more had joined them.
This set the stage for the nursing sisters’ involvement in the First World War (1914 – 1918). According to The Nursing Sisters of Canada, only five permanent force nurses and 57 reserve nurses were in service at the start of the war. By war’s end, there were 3,141. They were nicknamed ‘bluebirds’ due to their blue dresses and white veils.
These nurses served at military hospitals in Canada, including ones at Halifax, NS, and Saint John, NB, as well as 12 Canadian hospitals in England and four (or five) in France. These hospitals held 400 to 1,000 beds each. Nurses also served in casualty clearing stations near the front lines and on hospital ships that travelled between Europe and Canada.
Nurses weren’t immune to danger. A German U-boat torpedoed the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle on June 27, 1918, and 234 lives were lost, including those of 14 nurses. In total, approximately 45 nursing sisters lost their lives during the war due to enemy attacks and disease.
There has been much written on many aspects of the First Word War, but only recently have discussions centred around nursing sisters. Historian Ross Hebb of Fredericton, NB, author of Letters Home: Maritimers and the Great War is working to change that. He has gathered the names of 48 nursing sisters who served in the war, and he’s looking for more.
He’s interested in hearing from anyone who has a story to share of a woman who served as a nursing sister. They could have been posted at a hospital in Canada or at one overseas. He’s looking for names, letters, memoirs, photographs and any other snippet of information that would help bring these stories to life.
The women on his list are mainly from Saint John, NB, but he’s interested in learning about women from across the Maritimes. Amongst the names on his list are Ada Aldene Burns, Bessie Eunice Gaskin and Julia Peters.
According to Hebb, the women who joined when the war began were different from those who joined a few years later. The first women were older, single, well-educated, financially independant and world travelled. Their view of events came from a more mature point of view, which was evident in the written material they left behind.
The women who grew up during the war, entered the nursing profession and served at the tail-end of it provided a different point of view.
If you recognise one of the names on the list and have information to share, or you know of a nursing sister from the Maritimes who served during the First World War, contact Ross Hebb by phone (506-450-9687) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). To learn more about this project, which Hebb hopes to publish in book format, visit his Facebook page Letters Home – Maritimers and the Great War.
Nursing Sisters Recorded by Ross Hebb and noted on his Facebook Page
Mary Elizabeth Barnhill, Fairville
- Eliza Margaret Baskin
- Sarah Louise Baxter
- Elizabeth Brittain
- Ada Aldene Burns
- Alberta L Burns (sister to Ada)
- Louisa Bell Burns
- Musetta Alice Compton, Fairville
- Margaret Christine Crawford
- Ethel Mary Delaney
- Mary Lucretia Domville
- Nellie Donohue
- Margaret Ponsford Dunham, West Saint John
- Hannah Estabrook
- Pearl Allison Everett
- Bertha Forgey
- Nora Gleeson Foss, Fairville
- Georgie Perkins Foster
- Bessie Eunice Gaskin
- Maude Pearl Gaskin (sister to Bessie)
- Clara Teller Gerow
- Alma Godin, Grantham, Saint John County
- Helen Margaret Gleeson
- Edna May Granville
- Lyla Hattie Gregory
- Elsie Robertson Hatheway
- Catherine Margaret Hare
- Alice Parker Hegan
- Edith Tilley Hegan (sister to Alice)
- Edith Sarah Kerr
- Ruth Kingston
- Edith Louise MacRobert
- Charlotte Enid Mallory
- Marion Crawford Maxwell
- Edith McCafferty
- May Veronica Murphy
- Margaret Parks
- Julia Peters, Rothesay
- Inez Dayton Rawlins
- Catherine Regina Shea
- Mary Lucille Skillen, St Martins
- Anna Irene Stamers
- Alice Amelia Thompson, Chance Harbour
- Gertrude Clayton Wilson
- Nellie Myrtle Wilson
- Joyce Thompson Wishart
CBC Interview: Researcher seeks stories of New Brunswick wartime nurses
The Nursing Sisters of Canada: On the Veterans Affairs Canada site
AngloBoerWar.com: Information on the Boer War which includes info on the Nursing Sisters
Miss Georgina Pope, c1898 [Head Nurse of First Canadian Contingent during the Boer War. Possibly in her nurse’s uniform from Bellevue Hospital, New York; Credit: Alfred George Pittaway / Library and Archives Canada / e002283119; Restrictions on use: nil; Copyright: Expired; Canadian nurse who served with distinction in the Boer and First World Wars. First Canadian to receive the Royal Red Cross, she is one of fourteen figures from Canada’s military history commemorated at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa. Miss Hope was the daughter of William Henry Pope, one of the Fathers of Confederation and later judge of the Prince County Court. MIKAN No. 3603364]
Miss Minnie Affleck, c1900 [Nursing sister, First Canadian Contigent, South African War.; Credit: Library and Archives Canada / C-028733; Copyright: Expired; Mikan No. 3191871]
Nursing Sister Blott, R.R.C. and Nursing Sister M.F. Parkins. [1914-1919; Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/Restrictions on use: Nil; Copyright: Expired; MIKAN No. 3395703]