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Nursing Sister Katherine MacDonald

of Brantford, Ontario

Women were not allowed to enlist as soldiers, sailors, or pilots in World

War I. Their role in the military was quite limited. Still, about 1000 women
signed on to drive ambulances and took on other jobs with the Red Cross.
However, their most prominent role was nurses. Wounded soldiers needed
medical care. These nurses worked often in overcrowded and stressful
conditions. Hospitals were set up in tents or barns, and were
underequipped to deal with the massive casualties and deaths the battles
of the war brought. They shared in the extreme dangers of trench warfare
even though they were not allowed to enlist as soldiers. Nursing sister
Katherine MacDonald lost her life at the age of 25 after an enemy air
attack on the 1 Canadian General Hospital on May 19 , 1918. For some
Canadians, images and news of nurses working hard at the front and
sacrificing their lives helped to change notions of women as fragile
helpless creatures.


Mae Belle Sampson, pictured in the middle, on her graduation day from Hamilton
General Hospital School of Nursing.

Mae Belle Sampson was the first nurse in the Hamilton area to enlist for
service overseas during the outbreak of the First World War as a member
of the Canadian Army Medical Corps and was selected in the first draft of
nurses for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In Britain, she
was assigned to the Orpington Hospital, which was referred to locally as
the "Canadian Hospital. There, she helped to treat 15,000 troops over the
course of the First World War in a hospital with only 2,000 beds. Sampson
volunteered for hospital ship duty and was assigned to the Llandovery
Castle in March, 1918. Hospital ships were tasked with carrying the
wounded back home to Canada. Although the Hague Convention, which
set out the rules of war, stated that hospitals must be spared from attacks,
and the ship was marked with red crosses that lit up at night, a German Uboat (submarine) torpedoed the Llandovery Castle at 9:30pm on June 27,
1918. Of the 258 people on board, only 24 survived, all 14 nursing sisters,
including Mae Belle Sampson, were dead.

Nursing sisters and patients outside a ward tent, No. 2 Canadian General Hospital,
Le Trport, France. Note the dog with a bandaged paw sitting at the centre of the group.
Although this is a humorous element, it is clear that nurses were tasked with a huge job of
caring for many wounded patients in primitive conditions.

A nurse delivers electric shock therapy to a soldier with shell shock in WWI.
Some 10,000 Canadians were among those labelled as suffering from shell shock
during the Great War. Nurses tried their best to deal with this mysterious ailment but

military medical instructions that victims were to return victims to the trenches as
soon as possible.

A front page headline of a Canadian newspaper in 1918 declares that

Sampson and fellow Nursing Sisters on board the Llandovery Castle have been the
victims of "Hun (German) Savagery".