Excerpt - Battlefront Nurses in WW I
From the Preface
Rediscovery of old photo albums of a nursing sister in The Great War led to a photo-essay on my website in 2008. It was written to mark the 90th anniversary of the armistice that ended the so-called War to End All Wars on November 11, 1918.
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Nursing Sister Elsie Collis, Matron Frederica Wilson and Nursing Sister Ethel Morrison are front and centre of this group of BC nurses on leave in Cairo in January, 1916.
That personal tribute to my aunt, Nursing Sister Mary Ethel Morrison, has been expanded since reading the previously unpublished diary of Nursing Sister Elsie Dorothy Collis, and finding remarkably similar photographs in both albums. They show the two nurses in the same places at the same times during most of the war.
Both joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps in Victoria in the summer of 1915 as soon as the British Columbia medical unit was formed. Both were at the Mediterranean Front in Salonika in 1916 with No. 5 Canadian General Hospital; both were in France near the front lines when German aircraft bombed Canadian hospitals in the Boulogne area in 1918.
The unpublished Collis diary follows their experiences through the war, complementing Nurse Morrison's memoir for The Canadian Nurse in 1938. Together they illustrate a large part of the British Columbia unit's service, whose story is rarely mentioned in WWI accounts. Recollections of nurses and doctors from other Canadian medical units in similar wartime situations have been included when relevant. Brief accounts of political and military events help to put their postings on context.
Their snapshots show the nurses photographed beside grand houses in England, a chateau in France and tent hospitals in Salonika, all identified as 'nurses' quarters.' They're shown in off-duty adventures playing tennis (in their long-skirted uniforms) at a Pasha's home near Cairo, climbing over a wrecked Zeppelin in Greece, atop the Rock of Gibraltar, and sightseeing wherever they were sent.
Bomb-shattered nurses quarters at Canadian General Hospital No. 1, Etaples, France, after 2-hour air raid on the night of May 19-21, 1918.
Then there are the pictures of the bomb-shattered nurses' quarters near Boulogne, and the sad lines of nurses at funerals of three of their colleagues, casualties of air raids in May, 1918. A 1917 London newspaper photo shows four Canadian nurses leaving Buckingham Palace, carrying Royal Red Cross medals presented "for bravery in the field."
Like all nurses in the 1914-18 war, these remarkable women were born during the Victorian era and graduated in the Edwardian decade as professional nurses from the earliest hospital training schools in Canada. It would have taken a great leap of imagination to picture them a few years later in huts and tents of military hospitals, caring for front line soldiers wounded or gassed, sick with typhoid, dysentery, pneumonia or malaria; on hospital ships in danger from U-boat attacks, and under fire from the air by aircraft and Zeppelins in Salonika and waiting every night for bombs to drop in the last months of the war.
Their courage and dedication are noted in quotes throughout the book.
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