Living and Working Conditions

Laura Gamble and a Colleague

Laura Gamble and a colleague

During World War I, Canadian Nurses had an extremely difficult purpose. They had to provide their services to wounded soldiers while maintaining a calm and respectful environment. Many were forced to provide the best service possible during food and water shortages, ensuring that they ensure their health and safety. The nurses also had the job of keeping their wounded patients distracted from their pain. Not only did some soldiers deal with physical and psychological injuries, but having to attend to accompany these soldiers would have most likely given these brave Canadian nurses psychological injuries as well.

In order to understand the trauma some nurses developed as a result of their experience in the war front, it is important to take a look at their living and working conditions. The writings and documented experiences of Canadian military nurses show how, when times were hard, nurses “put their own health at risk in the care of servicemen, as was expected of them.” (Quiney, 143). Studying the kind of challenges they faced in their daily lives as part of the war effort is critical for understanding their own views of the work they did and how those experiences impacted them in the long term.

Sophie Hoerner, Letter to Ann, July 9th, 1915

Sophie Hoerner - Letter to Ann - July 9th, 1915

This is a page from a letter from Sophie Hoerner to Ann, one of her friends, written on July 9th, 1915. In early 1915, Hoerner served as a nurse with the No. 1 Canadian General Hospital and then went on to serve with the No. 3 Canadian General Hospital. In this letter, Hoerner writes about cheering up the soldiers under her care by bringing by newspapers. She talks about how hard it can be sometimes to be there but also the friends she has made along the way. Hoerner’s writings depict a vivid picture of what day to day living for military nurses was like.

Hospital Ward - Anne E. Ross Photographs

Anne E. Ross - Hospital War Photograph

This is an image from the Anne E. Ross' collection depicting a large ward room lined with hospital beds and tables. Ross was a military nurse who served with the No. 3 Stationary Hospital and the Duchess of Connaught's Canadian Red Cross Hospital. The patients in the picture are resting while the staff are standing at attention. The picture shows what a standard ward room looked like during World War I.

Ruby Peterkin - Letter to Dear People - 03/12/1915

Ruby Peterkin - Letter to Dear People - December 3rd, 1915

This is a page from a letter Ruby Peterkin wrote to her family and friends on December 3rd, 1915. Peterkin was a military nurse who served with the No. 4 Canadian General Hospital and was mobilized to Montreal. She also served with the No. 5 Canadian General Hospital in Britain and with the No. 4 Hospital in Salonica, Greece. Peterkin wrote regularly to those she called "Dear People" detailing many of her experiences of the war. In this letter, she writes about water and food shortages as well as cold weather and how she coped with it. In this page, Peterkin declares there is never a dull moment and that "there is no lack of excitement."

Ballroom at Dmitri Palace

Ballroom at Dmitri Palace

This photograph was taken by Dorothy Cotton during her time as a nurse in St. Petersburg, Russia. It depicts the Dmitri Palace (sometimes called the Winter Palace) , the former home of several Russian monarchs until the end of the first world war. The palace became the base of the Anglo-Russian Hospital during the war, where many volunteer nurses including Canadian Dorothy Cotton offered treatment to Russian soldiers injured in the war. This photo is of the ballroom of the palace, which had become neglected and was transitioned into a medical bay. This shows not only the difficulty in finding safe areas to treat injured soldiers but the repurposing of the room from a place that brings joy to a treatment center for casualties is reflective of the dire circumstances brought on by the war and the equally desperate countermeasures deployed to remedy them.

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