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ARCHIVED - Canada and the First World War

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We Were There

Laura Gamble

Medical Services

Laura Gamble was born in 1887, in Wakefield, Quebec. A nurse at the Toronto General Hospital, she enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She served overseas in military hospitals in England, France and Greece. Her work earned her a citation, and a medal presented to her at a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Laura Gamble was one of the two thousand nurses who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Canadian military nurses were especially well-known for their kindness, efficiency and professional appearance.

Their work near the Front was difficult and entailed numerous risks. Death, which they encountered daily, also struck their ranks and several nurses lost their lives while on duty.

A Significant Nursing Presence

Military nurses played a crucial role in hospitals and care units, as described by Head Nurse Margaret McDonald of the Nursing Corps. The living and working conditions were often difficult and very different from what nurses had experienced in civilian hospitals. The rapid pace, the new kinds of medical problems and the proximity of hostilities were now part of their daily lives.

A Well-Known Uniform

Canadian nurses were the only nurses in the allied armies with the rank of officers. They were very proud of their rank, reputation and uniform. The uniform of the Canadian military nurses earned them the nickname "bluebird" for the colour, and identified them as members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and also as officers. The appearance of military nurses, while on duty and during their spare time, was of great concern to military authorities.

Difficult Nursing Work

During the First World War, health care professionals had rather limited medical knowledge. An individual's recovery depended in general on the quality of nursing care received. Providing care in times of war was complicated by the proximity of hostilities and the number of individuals who suffered from serious wounds and illnesses. In addition to difficult working conditions, the war brought new kinds of health problems that were difficult to treat and extremely painful, such as inflictions due to gas. The care provided by the nurses often brought some relief to the soldiers.

Death, a Sad Reality on the Front

One of the most striking consequences of the First World War is without a doubt the number of lives it claimed. Death was a reality that military nurses faced on a daily basis. Some nurses also lost their lives during the war, rare instances when women lost their lives while on duty. The most prominent cases of this were the deaths of four nursing sisters on May 19, 1918, during a bombing raid on No. 1 Canadian General Hospital at Étaples, France, and the death of 14 nursing sisters and over 200 other service personnel on June 27, 1918, when the HMHS Llandovery Castle was torpedoed and sunk by U-86.