Nursing Sisters

 Until the NORTH-WEST REBELLION of 1885, women who cared for the wounded worked without official military recognition. At this time, Hannah Grier Coome, mother foundress of the Sisterhood of St John the Divine in Toronto and Kate Miller, head nurse at the Winnipeg General Hospital, were requested by Lt-Col Darby Bergin, surgeon general of the Canadian Militia, to arrange for the care of the wounded in units at Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, respectively.

In the SOUTH AFRICAN WAR, women volunteering in 1899 for nursing service were sent overseas under Georgina Fane POPE to serve with the British Medical Staff Corps as nursing sisters. The third group sent in 1902 were commissioned as lieutenants in the Canadian Army Nursing Service, an integral part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

Between 1914 and 1918, more than 3000 nursing sisters with officer rank served in Canada, England, France, Belgium and around the Mediterranean. Nicknamed the "bluebirds" by soldiers grateful for a glimpse of their blue dresses and white veils, they received many honours and gained a high reputation for their courage and compassion. Forty-seven lost their lives while on active duty, victims of enemy attack or disease contracted from patients.

 With the declaration of war in September 1939, hundreds of nurses rushed to enlist. By the war's end, 4480 nursing sisters had served - 3656 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. On duty overseas and in Canada, they staffed more than 100 major hospital units and cared for over 60,000 wounded Canadians and numerous casualties from other countries.

The nursing sisters during WWII received lectures on military law, map reading and security, instruction in gas warfare and casualty evacuation, and training in large-scale military maneuvres. They worked in conditions ranging from canvas tents with wooden floors to established hospitals. They were torpedoed while on ships, were interned as prisoners of war in Hong Kong, and were casualties of accidents and disease. Sixty nurses served in the Korean War, and at present 469 serve in military bases in Canada and Europe.