A number of Canadian nurses died on active service – largely as a result of disease – the first Canadian nursing casualties as a result of direct enemy action took place in May 1918, claiming the lives of three nurses over the following days.
All were serving at 1st Canadian Hospital near Etaples, France, an area where there were many hospitals and camps.
Above: A map of Etaples. Photo – Great War Forum
On the night of 19/20 May 1918, the 1st Canadian General Hospital was bombed. The War Diary for the hospital records:
‘At the close of what had been a peaceful Sunday enemy aircraft came over the camp in large numbers viz at 10pm. The hospital was wrapt in slumber when the planes were immediately overhead. The raid was obviously planned to take place in relays, and during the first stage the part that suffered most was the sleeping quarters of the personnel, particularly that of the NCO’s and men.A number of bombs, incendiary and high xplosive, were droppdin the midst of the mens’ quarters. Fires were immediately started which offered a splendid target for the second part of the attack. The scene was immediately converted into a conflagration and charnel house of dead and wounded men. Bombs were also dropped on the Officers’ and Sisters’ quarters, buildings being wrecked’.
Above: Damage sustained in the bombing of the hospital
The Diary recorded that the total casualties sustained included one nursing sister, with seven others wounded. Captain D.E. Howes and 51 other ranks were also killed in the raid, with 8 patients killed. The wounded included one officer, 45 other ranks and 31 patients.
On the day following the raid (20 May 1918), the Diary records:
‘A beautiful morning broke after the night of disaster. The sun shone from an almost cloudless blue sky’. The chief work of the morning was ascertaining the seriousness of the loss we had sustained’.
Nurse Katherine Maud Mary MacDonald was the Nursing Sister killed during the air raid on 19/20 May 1918. She was born in Brantford, Ontario in January 1893 and enlisted in March 1917. Katherine had trained in London, Ontario, graduating in May 1915. She later left for England in April 1917, serving in hospitals in Eastbourne until she moved to France in January 1918, where she initially served in No 10 Canadian Stationary Hospital.
Katherine joined No 1 Canadian General Hospital in March 1918.
Above: Katherine MacDonald – Photo – Canadian War Museum
Above: "Circumstances of Death" document
Above: Katherine MacDonald’s grave in Etaples Military Cemetery, and the cemetery. Photo - CWGC
Gladys Maude Wake was one of the Nursing Sisters injured in the air raid. She was born in Victoria, British Columbia in December 1883, enlisting in January 1916. By September, she had arrived in England from where she embarked from Southampton for Salonika to serve in No 1 Canadian Stationary Hospital until August 1917. Gladys only joined No 1 Canadian General Hospital a few days before the air raid, in which she was dangerously wounded. She died of her wounds on 21 May 1918 and was also buried in Etaples Military Cemetery.
Above: Gladys Wake
Above: Photo of the funeral of Gladys Wake
The final nurse to die as a direct result of the air raid was Margaret Lowe (Low in Scottish records) - it was from researching Margaret’s life and death that this wider article on the events of 19/20 May 1918 developed.
Margaret was born in Granary Street, Burghead, Morayshire on 26 January 1886, the younger daughter of Thomas, a salmon fisher, and his wife, Christina. Thomas and Christina had married on 4 September 1874 at Findhorn in the Parish of Kinloss, Morayshire. Elizabeth was born in 1883, followed in 1886 by Margaret, although her birth record indicates that her given name was Maggie-Ann. By 1891, the family was living in Dyce, Aberdeenshire. In June 1893, Christina died of cancer in Aberdeen and just three years later, Thomas and his two daughters emigrated to Canada, travelling from Glasgow to Quebec on the ‘Siberian’. The family settled in Binscarth, Manitoba.
Above: Margaret Lowe
In the Canadian Census 1916, Margaret was lodging in Winnipeg whilst training as a Nurse. She later enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on 27 March 1917. By this point, her name was recorded as Lowe. Margaret’s service record indicates that she arrived in Liverpool in June 1917 and served initially at the Ontario Military Hospital, Orpington. She moved to France at the end of January 1918. During the air raid she was wounded in the chest and also suffered a skull fracture. Margaret died of wounds in No 24 Canadian Hospital, Etaples on 28 May 1918.
Above: Circumstances of death document, and below, a closer view of the paragraph with the detail
Margaret was buried in Etaples Military Cemetery
Above photos Courtesy of The Canadian War Museum
Although Margaret is not commemorated in her native country, her name is included on the Binscarth War Memorial in Manitoba.
Above: Binscarth War Memorial
Margaret’s name is also included on a plaque commemorating nurses of the Ontario Military Hospital.
Sadly, further losses of Canadian Nurses as a result of enemy action would occur at the end of May 1918 with the bombing of No 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Doullens, and on 27 June 1918 with the sinking of the Hospital Ship Llandovery Castle.
Original films of the events leading to the deaths of these three Nursing Sisters and their funerals can be viewed here:
Article submitted by Jill Stewart
Honorary Secretary, The Western Front Association
Canadian Expeditionary Force Research Group
Canadian War Museum