Postwar Period

Postwar Period

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Hospital Bombed by German Airplanes

The Film




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Running Time
04 min 38 s

Topical Film Company

This film documents the mass burial that followed the German attack of May 19, 1918, on a bridge over the River Canche in Etaples, France. In the course of the German aerial bombing, both the No. 1 Canadian General Hospital and the No. 7 Canadian General Hospital were struck. Sixty-six Canadians were killed and 73 were wounded. The footage depicts the funeral procession, attended by large numbers of soldiers and army nurses, and some civilians. A second unrelated segment documents the burial of two members of a Highlander unit.

Canada’s Army Nursing Service, created in 1901, contained only 80 reserve nurses at the start of the First World War, but hundreds of nurses would enrol in the early days of the conflict. The first contingent of Canadian troops to leave for England in September 1914 included 101 nurses, led by Matron in Chief Margaret Macdonald. Unlike nursing units in other allied forces, the Canadian nurses were fully integrated within the military structure and assigned rank within the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Margaret Macdonald would become the first woman in the British Empire to be granted the rank of major.

By the end of the war, a total of 3141 women, over one third of Canada’s qualified nurses, had served with the medical corps. Of the 2504 who saw overseas service, about 1000 worked in France and Belgium. The remainder were posted in Canadian and British hospitals in England, with a small number working in the Mediterranean and on the Russian front. Most nurses were initially posted to stationary and general hospitals, housed within existing facilities - schools, convents, hotels, etc. - or in purpose-built shelters. However, it quickly became clear that nursing services were needed closer to the front, and a number of nurses would work in casualty clearing stations near the front lines, administering emergency care to wounded soldiers. In addition to treating battle wounds, army nurses treated contagious diseases such as tuberculosis and would assume an important role in confronting the terrible flu epidemic that swept through the general population in the closing months of the war.

It is worth noting that antibiotics did not come into use until two decades later, and that army nurses fought an ongoing battle against infection, doing their best to disinfect wounds with existing antiseptic chemicals. Also of note was the new focus on psychological injury. The term “shellshock” was coined to describe the mental disorders caused by exposure to battle, and the war would provide psychologists with new insight into what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.

During the attack of May 19, 1918, three Canadian army nurses were killed. Many nurses remained with immobile patients throughout the raid. Nursing sisters Helene Hanson and Beatrice McNair were subsequently awarded Military Medals for their outstanding devotion to duty, making them the first Canadian women to be decorated for gallantry, as opposed to service. Over 500 nurses would be decorated for their wartime service, including Ethel Ridley, who was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and Vivien Tremaine, who was awarded the Royal Victorian Order. The work of Canada’s army nurses was widely celebrated at home, and nursing as a whole enjoyed a new professional status in the post-war period.

Notice that some casket bearers in the footage are medical orderlies, wearing Red Cross badges on their sleeves. Note also that a giant Red Cross has been formed in painted stones on the ground for recognition from the air. Once the buglers have sounded the Last Post, the mourners depart, saluting the grave as they leave.


After a Bombing Raid in Étaples, France, 1918 He Died for the Empire

Other Materials

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae

Teaching Materials

Women in War, Part A

Women in War, Part B