Extracts from the News

Canadian Nurses Heroic Under Fire

Crag & Canyon [Banff, Alberta]

Saturday, July 13, 1918

Transcribed by: M. I. Pirie

This report, due to censorship, doesn't specify the dates and locations of the hospital bombings that are described, but one may be the bombing of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital at Etaples, France on 19 May 1918.   One of the deaths resulting from this incident was Nursing Sister Margaret Lowe (photos and articles ) of Binscarth, Manitoba.  Another was Nursing Sister Gladys Maude Mary Wake.   Former Toronto public school nurse Georgina Dean Long was badly injured.  She spent thirteen weeks in hospital in England before she was fit to return home in October as a "stretcher case".

An earlier bombing incident was at Chatham House at Ramsgate in England.  This was used as a Canadian military hospital and was bombed late August 1917.  

Nursing Sister Lawrie Stewart was mentioned in despatches in December 1917 for brave conduct shown during an air raid on a hospital in France.   The raid took place at night and Miss Stewart had been sleeping, yet she was able to assist in moving the patients to safety (The Leader / Regina - 26 Feb 1918).

Canadian nurses died from enemy action in a number of ways.  Some drowned in the sinking of the Llandovery Castle Hospital Ship 27 June 1918 (ie. Matron Margaret Marjory FraserNS Mary Belle Sampson).   Despite the risks, there was no shortage of women willing to enlist, and many were anxious to be transferred from British military hospitals to hospitals nearer to the front line. 


But German Officer Showed "Yellow" When Countrymen Dropped Bombs

A remarkable story of the heroism of Canadian nurses is contained in the cable received by the department of militia and defence from overseas, which tells how women of the Dominion had to wear gas masks for hours while carrying out their gentle tasks.  The article was written by Roland Hill from war correspondents' headquarters, France, and was cabled to Ottawa by Sir Edward Kemp, minister of the overseas forces.

"Carry on" has been the motto of Canadian nursing sisters since the Hun airmen bombed their hospitals, and their courage and steadfastness has gained them the admiration of all British, French and American soldiers who have come under their care.  Night after night for over [missing segment] Canadian hospitals worked steadily, although they were in the very centre of one of the heavily bombed areas.  Several of the nursing sisters were killed and wounded and several of the staff were wiped out.

The colonel of one hospital decided to send the blue gowned girls to a distant hospital on the coast, practically immune from raids.

A few were started for this haven; then from the others came a great protest.  "We will carry on," they declared and the colonel permitted them to remain.

Each night the sisters on duty were served with shrapnel-proof shields to wear under their uniforms.  Emergency operations were carried through without a hitch, and many a soldier's life was saved, although the surgical hut rocked with the force of explosions from bombs, that dropped only a few yards off.   In other huts, when the raid siren was blown, these indomitable girls from Canada went through their wards and gently lifted helpless patients to the floor, where, under the shelter of the sandbag barrier that lined the hut, they were comparatively safe from flying shrapnel.

Then, and then only, they sought shelter in the bomb-proof shelters.

If unluckily a ward was hit by a bomb one of the first to rush to the rescue would be a nursing sister as cool as she was courageous -- a wonderful tonic for the shell-wrecked men who were in her care.

In the Canadian casualties clearing stations closer to the lines, girls faced daily death and possible capture with an ever-changing front. More than one hospital has been heavily shelled during a battle when the rush of wounded was so continuous there could be no thought of evacuating the place.

One some  occasions during the March and April offensive, the hospitals were drenched with enemy gas and the sisters had to wear gas masks for hours doing what gentle tasks they could with such a handicap.  When forward casualty clearing stations were swept away little bands of these brave girls marched with the retiring troops, occasionally getting a lift on an ambulance until they reached some other overworked hospital, and there they would forget their fatigue and join their comrades in the work of mercy.  Some Canadian sisters who came through that ordeal actually did duty in as many as five different hospitals in the week, scores of miles apart.

There is a story told of a sister from eastern Canada, at one of the big base hospitals which was badly bombed.  In her ward was a German officer, from one of the raiding Gothas, shot through both legs, and his machine was destroyed by one of our patrols.  He spoke English and had told the doctor that if the English put hospitals near the railways they must expect them to be bombed.  The signal siren for a raid went, and presently a bomb dropped some dozen huts away.

"I demand to be taken into a dugout," shouted the Hun in manifest terror.  "It is an outrage on the rules of war to keep an officer here, and I will see you are punished for this."

"Are you afraid of your own cultured friends?" the nursing sister asked.  She was staying at her post of duty with patients.  "If there is any punishment coming you will get it from one of your own bombs," she added.

She went about her task attending the patients in the ward, undeterred by the explosion from other bombs.  When she returend to the end of the hut where the German was, he had fainted away.

In the big base cemetery alongside the graves of hundreds of the empire's bravest are the little white wooden crosses that mark the resting place of these heroic Canadian sisters who died on duty.  "Killed in action" is the simplest inscription, and mothers and fathers in Canada can be proud of it, for it is the same as that which the fighting soldier earns when he falls storming an enemy trench.  They are of the same breed, these tender, valiant sisters from overseas. 


Background - Canada's Nursing Sisters

List of Canada's Nursing Sisters (1914 - 1918)