Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
Nursing Sisters, Canada

Nursing Sisters, No. 10 Canadian General Hospital, Normandy, France, 23 July 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194288)

Canadian Nursing Sisters

In April 1885, orders were issued from Ottawa requesting that a medical and surgical department be organized for service in the Northwest.  This led to Canada’s Nursing Sisters taking to the field later that year, providing care to the Canadian troops sent to put down the North-West Rebellion.  A total of seven nurses, under the direction of Reverend Mother Hanna Grier Coome, served in Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan served a tour of duty which lasted four weeks, providing treatment to wounded soldiers.  With the discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1898, a contingent of Royal Canadian Dragoons was sent to the Klondike to reinforce the Northwest Mounted Police.  Included with this contingent were four members of the Victorian Order of Nurses.  

Nursing Sister Minnie Affleck, First Canadian Contingent, South African War, 1900.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3407158)

Following the formation of the Canadian Army Medical Department in June of 1899, the Canadian Army Nursing Service was created and four Canadian nurses were dispatched along with the volunteer force of 1,000 other Canadians to South Africa.  They were granted the relative rank, pay and allowances of an army lieutenant.  Before the war was over on 31 May 1902, eight Canadian Nursing Sisters and more than 7,000 Canadian soldiers had volunteered for service in South Africa.

Canadian Nurse Deborah Hurcomb, 2nd Canadian Contingent, 1900, Boer War.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3217003)

Nursing Sister, First World War.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194834)

Canadian Nursing Sister ministering to a soldier in the Great War (1914-1918), manequin display in the New Brunswick Military History Museum, 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, New Brunswick.  Women have cared for wounded soldiers throughout Canada's wartime history.

Nursing Sister, First World War.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3523170)

At the beginning of the Great War of 1914-18 there were five Permanent Force nurses and 57 listed in reserves.  By 1917, the Canadian Army Nursing Service included 2,030 nurses (1,886 overseas) with 203 on reserve.  In total, 3,141 Canadian nurses volunteered their services.  Because of their blue dresses and white veils they were nicknamed the "bluebirds".

Nursing Sister, ca 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3523168)

Nursing Sister, ca 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3523169)

Matron Laura May Hubley, seated, front row centre, and the nursing sisters of the Dalhousie University Medical Unit, was known overseas as No. 7 Stationary Hospital. The unit arrived in England in January 1916 and landed in France in June, returning to Nova Scotia in April 1919. Miss Hubley was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 1st Class, for her services, while two other nurses received the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class, and three others were mentioned in dispatches. The hospital treated 60,000 sick and wounded during its time overseas. (Photo courtesy of the Army Museum, Halifax Citadel)

 

Nursing sister Ruby Gordon Peterkin standing at the entrance of a tent, possibly somewhere in Greece, ca 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3198751)

Ambulance, advanced dressing station, Sep 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395790)

Great War Ambulance with Red Cross girls (St. John Ambulance).  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4167328)

Canadian Field Ambulance, Battle of Amiens, Aug 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395883)

Nursing Sister, N.C.O.s and Men of 2nd Stationary Hospital who have received the Mons star. February, 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3404882)

In many ways, the First World War was a time of great change and innovation in the field of military medical services.  At first, medical units were set up in hospitals.  However, the eventual establishment of Casualty Clearing Stations provided faster and more effective treatment to the injured at the front line.

Nursing Sister being presented with a dog by Canadian soldiers at a Casualty Clearing Station, Oct 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395812)

A nursing sister is assisting a doctor in a ward at the tent hospital. She is holding out a tray for him to take medical tools from.  Le Treport, France, 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3603392)
Nursing sister is preparing to assist a patient with a drink at the No. 2 Canadian General Hospital in Le Treport, France, ca 1916.  (Frank Benbow Fox, Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3607161)
Nursing Sister Ruby G. Peterkin, No.4 (University of Toronto) General Hospital, C.A.M.C., in her tent, April 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3192175)
Nursing Sisters, Queens's Canadian Military Hospital, Shorncliffe, Kent, UK, ca 1916.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3604424)
 
Nursing Sister H. Corelli and A/Matron J. Stronach, ca 1918.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194266)
 
Nursing Sister Spalding, R.R.C.1918.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3221272)

Nursing Sisters, 4th Casualty Clearing Station, Valenciennes, Nov 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395903)

Nursing Sister M. MacAffee, R.R.C. ca. 1918.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3218522)

RMS Llandovery Castle photo and postcard, ca 1917.  (UKGOV-PD Photo)

RMS Llandovery Castle Hospital Ship, ca 1918.  UKGOV-PD Photo)

One of the innovations of the First World War Medical Services was the introduction of the hospital ship.  These ships were also subject to the dangers of enemy attack.  On the night of 27 June 1918, the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle was torpedoed by U-86, a German U-boat and of the 258 people on board, 234 lost their lives, including all 14 sisters on board.

According to the Hague Convention, an enemy vessel had the right to stop and search a Hospital Ship, but not to sink it. U-86 made no attempt to search the ship, but rather torpedoed it. ?Even though the Llandovery Castle sank within ten minutes, a number of boats were lowered successfully and the ship was abandoned in a calm and efficient manner. Three boats ultimately survived the sinking of the vessel undamaged and proceeded to rescue survivors from the water. They were interrupted by Patzig, who intercepted the boats and started interrogating crew members to obtain proof of the misuse of the hospital ship as an ammunition carrier. When no proof could be obtained, Patzig gave the command to make clear for diving and ordered the crew below deck. ?Patzig, two officers (Ludwig Dithmar and John Boldt) and the boatswain’s mate Meissner stayed on deck. The U-boat did not dive, but started firing at and sinking the life boats to kill all witnesses and cover up what had happened. To conceal this event, Patzig extracted promises of secrecy from the crew, and faked the course of U-86 in the logbook so that nothing would connect U-86 with the sinking of the Llandovery Castle. ?Only one lifeboat survived the attack. It was picked up by the destroyer Lysander on the morning of 29 June, 36 hours after the attack. Twenty four people survived the attack on the lifeboats, including six members of the Canadian Army Medical Corps. All 14 Nursing Sisters on board lost their lives.

After the war, the British initiated a War Crimes trial against the officers of U-86. The commander, Helmut Patzig could not be found and was never brought to trial. The two other officers, Ludwig Dithmar and John Boldt were tried and convicted. The men were sentenced to 4 years of hard labour, but escaped while underway to the prison. It is unclear if they were ever recaptured, but it is certain that they never served more than 4 months.  (http://www.canadiangreatwarproject.com/writing/llandoveryCastle.asp)

A total of 3,141 Nursing Sisters served in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and 2,504 of those served overseas in England, France and the Eastern Mediterranean at Gallipoli, Alexandria and Salonika.  By the end of the First World War, approximately 45 Nursing Sisters had given their lives, dying from enemy attacks including the bombing of a hospital and the sinking of a hospital ship, or from disease.  The Nursing Sisters’ Memorial in the Hall of Honour in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa commemorates their service.

Canadian Nursing Sisters in the Second World War

 During the Second World War Canada’s Nursing service was expanded to all three branches of the military: the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).  Each branch had its own distinctive uniform and working dress, while all wore the Nursing Sisters’ white veil.  They were respectfully addressed as “Sister” or “Ma’am” because they were all commissioned officers.  With the average age of 25, by war's end 4,480 Nursing Sisters had enlisted, including: 3,656 with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, 481 with the Royal Canadian Air Force Medical Branch, and 343 with the Royal Canadian Naval Medical Service.

The army sisters, after training in Canada, were the first to go overseas, where they joined units which had preceded them to the United Kingdom.  With the soldiers going overseas, the sisters travelled by ship in large convoys, running the perilous gauntlet of German submarine action in the North Atlantic.  Upon arrival in England, they worked in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps’ hospitals at Taplow, Bramshott and Basingstoke.  To illustrate the demands of their work, following the Dieppe raid, the hospital at Basingstoke received more than 600 casualties and in one 19 1/2 hour period, 98 operations were performed.  The surgical staff took only a few minutes’ break to rest between operations.

Nursing Sisters Eloise MacDiarmid and Francis Caddy on night duty, No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Andria, Italy, Feb 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3599964)

After three years in England, Nursing Sisters were sent into action on the continent. Donning battle dress, steel helmets and backpacks, No. 1 Canadian General Hospital arrived in Sicily, the first women to land in the Eighth Army area.  Almost all hospital units deployed to the continent were initially set up under canvas.  Later, they were moved into abandoned or bombed-out buildings.  As in the First World War, Nursing Sisters faced many dangers and obstacles in trying to provide medical care in the battle zone.  During an air raid on Catania, Sicily, on 2 Sep 1943, an anti-aircraft shell fell on No. 5 Canadian General Hospital and 12 Nursing Sisters were wounded.

The second unit was deployed to El Arrouch, Algeria.  Soon after, two more units were dispatched to Italy.  En route, the S.S. Santa Elena, which was carrying No. 14 Canadian General Hospital, was attacked, forcing all to take to the lifeboats.  Fortunately, there was no loss of life.

Nursing Sisters of No. 15 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, El Arrouch, Algeria, 15 July 1943. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3599960)

As the medical units followed the front north through Italy, they were frequently within range of enemy guns and subject to shelling.  Enemy action kept Nursing Sisters extremely busy.  For example, in the Ortona salient, the No. 4 Casualty Clearing Station would receive more than 2,000 patients in December 1943, 760 of whom were surgical. After the fall of Rome, there was a comparatively light period of activity, and the sisters settled into routine hospital life caring for Canadian patients and German prisoners alike. As the Italian campaign drew to an end for the Canadians, three medical units moved on to France; the others were disbanded and the sisters posted to other units.

Nursing Sisters, RCAMC, standing beside a destroyed German Anit-Aircraft gun in France, 17 July 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3661969)

Thirteen days after D-Day, 6 June 1944, the first two Canadian Nursing Sisters, with No. 2 Royal Canadian Air Force Mobile Field Hospital landed in Normandy at Bernières-sur-Mer.  They followed others assigned to Nos. 2, 3 and 6 Casualty Clearing Stations.  The Stations were set up in the Caen area. By mid-July, Nos. 7, 8, and 10 Canadian General Hospitals were established west of Bayeux.

Nursing Sisters, RCAMC, wreck of German tank, Normandy, 17 July 1944.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395922)

As the front moved across northern France and into Belgium, in pursuit of the fleeing German armies, the medical units moved with them.  Antwerp, which had been captured, was the target of the dreaded German V-2 rockets, and with the Battle of the Scheldt raging to free the Channel ports, the units moved to Nijmegen.  The casualties were heavy, 3,934 in four weeks.  Fortunately, the end was soon near.  The Spring offensive was on and the German Army was driven across the Rhine, where surrender was imminent.

With the end of the war in Europe, the medical units gradually disbanded.  Some of the Nursing Sisters as well as other personnel stayed on with the Army of Occupation to care for both military and civilian prisoners of war being released from the horrors of the camps.

Two Canadian Nursing Sisters, Kathleen G. Christie and Anna May Waters, had accompanied the force sent to Hong Kong.  Later, when the garrison fell, they were taken prisoner by the Japanese. These brave women stayed with the wounded Canadian men, working under atrocious conditions, until they were finally forced into a civilian internment camp.  After two years in captivity, they were repatriated to Canada.

Nursing Sisters, RCAMC, on the hospital ship Lady Nelson, Naples, Italy, 29 Jan 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3227113)

During the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted for the duration of the war, the Canadian Navy had two hospital ships, the Letitia and the Lady Nelson.  Both were staffed by army sisters.  The navy sisters served on naval bases on both coasts of Canada, in Newfoundland, and at HMCS Niobe, Scotland.  The only Canadian nurse to die due to enemy action during the Second World War was a navy sister, Sub-Lt. Agnes Wilkie. Despite the heroic efforts of her companion, Sub-Lt. (dietitian) Margaret Brooke, Sister Wilkie died following more than two hours of struggle to hold out in a life boat, after the sinking of the SS Caribou on 13 October 1942, in the Cabot Strait off Newfoundland. Margaret Brooke was awarded membership in the Order of the British Empire, the only Nursing Sister to receive this honour.

Nursing Sister Brooke, a dietician at the Royal Canadian Naval Hospital, St. John's, Newfoundland, 17 July 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3524718)

The Nursing Service of the Royal Canadian Air Force was authorized in November 1940. More than 100 station hospitals were built and the Nursing Sisters were more and more in demand.  Some of them were trained for evacuation by air, 12 served in Newfoundland to participate in air-sea rescue missions and 66 served overseas.  By the end of the Second World War, 3,649 Nursing Sisters had served in the Army, 481 in the Air Force and 343 in the Navy.

No account of military service in the Second World War would be complete without mention of the contribution made by the four special branches of the nursing service - the Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Dietitians and Home Sisters.  Also, the sisters who served on the hospital trains returning the wounded to destinations across Canada.

The end of the Second World War brought the closure of military and station hospitals across Canada.  A total of 80 nurses, 30 RCAMC, 30 RCAF and 20 RCN sisters joined the permanent force and served at military establishments across the country; many more staffed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospitals to care for hundreds of returning Veterans.  (Internet: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/women-and-war/nursing-sisters)

 (Photo courtesy of Andrea Folster)

Lieutenant Mary Pauline Montgomery, born 9 Jan 1913, in Woodstock, New Brunswick was one of the Nursing Sisters who served in Northwest Europe during the war.  Her parents were Agnes Josephine Sproul(e) and Charles Augustus Montgomery.  She graduated from Woodstock Secondary School and took a commercial certificate at Carleton County Vocational School.  She later graduated from the Saint John General Hospital School of Nursing.  Before the war she served from 1935-37, Private Duty Nursing;  1937-39 1 year General Duty Nursing at Long Island College Hospital; and 1 year at St John's Hospital, Brooklyn, New York.  1940-41, Private duty Nursing and 2 months floor duty at Montreal Shriners' Hospital.

She enlisted in The Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) on 10 Mar 1942 and was appointed as Nursing Sister to the Sussex Military Hospital, New Brunswick, serving there and at Saint John, Sussex (again), and Brockville, Ontario.  On 10 Sep 1942 she was commissioned (Service No. 87349) as a Lieutenant in the RCAMC and on 14 Sep 1943, despite the fact that she was terrified of flying, left Montreal, Quebec on a drafty, noisy flight via Gander, Newfoundland and Reykjavik, Iceland to England to serve with No. 2 Canadian General Hospital (CGH) at Colchester and Bramshott.  On 10 Aug 1944 she flew to France and was posted at No. 2 CGH at Bayeux, Normandy and in December at No. 10 CGH at Ghent, Belgium, where she remained until her return to Canada on 30 Jul 1945.  She was returned to Reserve Status on 9 Mar 1946.  Source: Library and Archives Canada, File A-2011-05138 / KJ.  (Official History of the Canadian Medical Services 1939-1945 Volume 1. Organization & Campaigns, Feasby B.A., M.D., W.R., Queen's Printer, Ottawa. 1956).

Nursing Sisters, No. 10 Canadian General Hospital, Arromanches, France, 23 July 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194289)

  (Photo courtesy of Andrea Folster)

Her Service Medals include the  1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal 1939-45; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and clasp; and the War Medal (1939-45).

 (Photo courtesy of Andrea Folster)

Nursing Sister Mary Montgomery with a group of Canadian Army Nurses by the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, fall 1944.  Following her wartime service, she took a job with the Federal Government at Dorval Airport in Montreal and then worked at The Montreal General Hospital.  On 20 Feb 1951 she married Hugh Hammond Folster in New Denmark, New Brunswick.   For many years she was an active member of the IODE, the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Auxiliary of All Saints Anglican Church in Grand Falls.  She died on 20 Nov 1991, in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Canadian Nursing Sister in Blue uniform.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232428)

Nursing Sister Ruth Webster, North Africa, ca 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232810 and 4232807)

Nursing Sisters, North Africa, ca 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232816)

Nursing Sister Dorothy Rapsey with Cpl. Bill Kay in North Africa, ca 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232814)

Nursing Sister Mildred Arnold helps Sgt. F. Benthamin North Africa, ca 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232811)
Pte. F. Madore with Nursing Sister M.F. Giles waiting for an air-evacuation from an R.C.A.F. Spitfire base, Normandy, France, 16 June 1944.  (Lt Ken Bell, Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3395947)
Staff of the Neuropsychiatric Wing, No.10 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (R.C.A.M.C.), Bayeux, France, 2 August 1944. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3198847)
Nursing Sister Mary Godson tending to P/O Tony White, 9 March 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4205637)

Nursing Sister Elaine Wright, No.1 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (R.C.A.M.C.), Andria, Italy, February 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3599965)

During the Second World War the Canadian nursing service was expanded to all three branches of the military, each branch having its own distinctive uniform and working dress, while all wore the Nursing Sisters’ white veil.  They were all commissioned officers.  By the end of the war 4,480 Nursing Sisters had enlisted, including: 3,656 with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, 481 with the Royal Canadian Air Force Medical Branch, and 343 with the Royal Canadian Naval Medical Service.  During an air raid on Catania, Sicily, on 2 September 1943, an anti-aircraft shell fell on No. 5 Canadian General Hospital and 12 Nursing Sisters were wounded.  With the end of the war in Europe, the medical units gradually disbanded.  Some of the Nursing Sisters as well as other personnel stayed on with the Army of Occupation to care for both military and civilian prisoners of war.

Nursing Sister with Blue uniform & Cap.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4232881)

Her Majesty's Hospital Ship Letitia arriving at Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia, ca 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4233321)

Her Majesty's Hospital Ship Lady Nelson, ca 1943.  (Alberg22Photo)

During the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted for the duration of the war, the Canadian Navy had two hospital ships, the Letitia and the Lady Nelson. Both were staffed by army sisters.  The navy sisters served on naval bases on both coasts of Canada, in Newfoundland, and at HMCS Niobe, Scotland.

SS Caribou, ca 1940.  (Archives and Special Collections (Coll. 115 16.07.002), Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL)

SS Caribou

Sub-Lt. Agnes Wilkie died following more than two hours of struggle to hold out in a life boat, after the sinking of the SS Caribou by U-69 on 13 October 1942, in the Cabot Strait off Newfoundland.  As a civilian vessel, she had women and children on board, and many of them were among the 137 who died.  Her sinking, and large death toll, made it clear that the war had really arrived on Canada's and Newfoundland's home front, and is cited by many historians as the most significant sinking in Canadian-controlled waters during the Second World War.

Nursing Sister Betty McIntyre, Windsor, Ontario, 1954.  She is wearing medals she earned during the  the Second World War: 1939-1945 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, and the War Medal 1939-1945.  (Angus J. McIntyre Photo)

RCAF Nursing Sister, white uniform and with cape, 18 Dec 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583104, and 35831023)

RCAF Nursing Sister with dark uniform and with cape, 18 Dec 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583106 and 3583102)

RCAF Nursing Sister with overcoat, and with dark uniform, 18 Dec 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583100, and 3583101)

RCAF Nursing Sister with dark uniform and gloves, 18 Dec 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583105)

The Nursing Service of the Royal Canadian Air Force was authorized in November 1940.  More than 100 station hospitals were built and the Nursing Sisters were more and more in demand.  Some of them were trained for evacuation by air, 12 served in Newfoundland to participate in air-sea rescue missions and 66 served overseas. By the end of the Second World War, 3,649 Nursing Sisters had served in the Army, 481 in the Air Force and 343 in the Navy.

Nursing Sisters, No. 15 Canadian General Hospital, RCAMC, El Arrouch, Algeria, 15 July 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3604053)

Nursing Sister Constance Browne of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (R.C.A.M.C.) sitting in a jeep, Leonforte, Italy, 7 August 1943.  (Capt. Frank Royal, Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3206360)

Nursing Sister D. Mick reading patient's chart during rounds of a ward at No.15 Canadian General Hospital, R.C.A.M.C.  August 1943, El Arouch, Algeria.  (Frederick G. Whitcombe, Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3205979)

Nursing Sisters of No. 10 Canadian General Hospital, RCAMC, landing at Arromanches, France, 23 July 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3194287)

Nursing Sisters, No. 13 Canadian General Hospital, 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3604053)

RCAF Nursing Sister onboard a Canso Flying Boat, 2 Sep 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3222276)

Canadian Red Cross Women, No. 12 Canadian General Hospital, RCAMC, Bruges, Belgium, 10 Dec 1944.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208723)

Canadian Red Cross Ambulance Convoy, Charlton Park, UK, 7 Jan 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3203404)

Canadian Red Cross Ambulance (St John's Ambulance) driver Salley MacKean, checking air pressure, 4 Feb 1945.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3208172)

At the end of the Second World War a total of 80 nurses, 30 RCAMC, 30 RCAF and 20 RCN sisters joined the permanent force and served at military establishments across the country; many more staffed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospitals to care for hundreds of returning Veterans.  Nursing Sisters continued to serve with the Armed Forces after the end of the Second World War.  During the United Nations Operations in Korea, 60 RCAMC Nursing Sisters served in Japan and Korea.  RCAF Sisters qualified as Flight Nurses, flew air evacuation with casualties to Canada.  Others served on the Air Ambulance in Canada.  Another specialty was the formation of a para-rescue service with five RCAF volunteering, four of whom received the Para-rescue Badge.  With Canada’s commitment to NATO, Canadian nurses served in Europe with the RCAMC in Soest, Germany, while RCAF Sisters served at fighter bases in France and Germany.

Nursing Sister at Fort Churchill, Manitoba, preparing to board an RCAF De Havilland Otter.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234435)

Nursing Sisters evacuating a patient by air at Fort Churchill, Manitoba.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4234436)

In November 1950, Flying Officer Joan Fitzgerald became the first RCAF flight nurse to participate in the Korean War.  The RCAF flight nurses program in the Pacific was continuous from November 1950 to March 1955 and involved some 40 nurses who served in pairs during that time. These nurses never served in Korea nor did they fly with the RCAF’s 426 Squadron during their Pacific tours with the United States Air Force.  (RCAF Photo)

Pararescue Nursing Sisters, ca 1951.  Airforce Magazine article, Spring 2009.

Flying Officer Marian Neilly,  May 1955 in Trenton, Ontario.  (DND Archives Photo PL130186)

Flying Officer Marian Neilly, an RCAF para rescue nursing sister who participated in Operation Pike's Peak at Lowry Airforce Base, Denver Colorado, on March 24, 1955.  The Joint USAF/RCAF exercise aided the two services’ rescue units in adopting a system whereby both can participate in rescue missions in either country.  (DND Archives Photo PL-76256)

Flying Officer Marian Neilly (left) and Flight Officer Marion MacDonald, both nursing sisters, wear their para rescue jumping gear during Operation Pike Peak in Colorado in March 1955.  (DND Archives Photo PC-676)

 

Nursing Sister Grace MacEachern.  (MacEachern Family Archives Photo)

Gracie (Gagnon) MacEachern Grace “Gracie” MacEachern (née Gagnon) was a pioneer for women at a revolutionary time for women’s roles and rights. She was a “parabelle”, a romantic term coined for para-rescue nurses from the 1950s in the Canadian Forces. That not only made her an asset in redefining gender roles, but also in what would become modern day search and rescue (SAR) in Canada. In the words of her son, Bruce MacEachern, a major in the Air Force, “she really blazed a trail for women and for the Air Force itself”. Following the death of her first husband, Cranston Woodward, she enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1951, where she received a commission as a pilot officer just prior to joining the para-rescue course at the age of 32. The para-rescue course offered in the 1950s was attended by nurses and doctors, who at the time were the only medical personnel to jump out of airplanes on rescue missions and they did so on a voluntary basis. The course was the foundation of, and at that time the only equivalent to, today’s vigorous and demanding SAR technician training course While the ground-breaking achievements of all the para-belles are worthy of commemoration, Mrs. McEachern was especially noteworthy for the fact that she was the first woman to do an operational jump in para-rescue. This first jump was in Mount Coquitlam, B.C., and one month after she took the para-rescue course, to rescue a geologist.

Grace MacEachern and crew at an air show in Abbotsford, British Columbia.  (MacEachern Family Archives Photo)

Pilot Officer Isabelle Thomson, a nursing sister from North Bay, Ontario, and a student of the third peacetime para rescue course in Jasper, Alberta, uses a signal mirror.  (DND Archives Photo PL-52552)

Para Rescue Team 29811, Leading Aircraftman C.L. Hegadorne, Flying Officer (Nursing Sister) E.R. Kelly and Corporal R.E. Crawford, study a map before take-off.  (DND Archives Photo PL-87049)

Nursing Officers continue to serve in the present day Canadian Armed Forces Medical Service, many having deployed on tours of duty overseas in the Gulf War, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Somalia and Afghanistan.  Internet: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/women-and-war/nursing-sisters.

Although not military, post-war Nurses were employed by the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance service.

Cessna 195, Nurse, Saskatchewan Air Ambulance service.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3604110)

Nursing Sisters Who Lost Their Lives in the First and Second World Wars

Nursing Sisters—First World War

Nursing Sisters—Second World War