Hospital Bombed by German Airplanes
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.
Pieces of History
Associate Professor, History Department, Université de Montréal
A total of 3,141 nurses worked in the Canadian army, 2,504 of them overseas—over a third of all Canadian registered nurses. Some were posted to British or Canadian hospitals in England, but at least a thousand served in France and Belgium; some were even sent to the Mediterranean or Russia. Unlike nurses from the other allied countries, who were in auxiliary corps, Canadian nurses were full members of the Canadian Army Medical Corps and thus held military rank. Margaret Macdonald, appointed matron-in-chief at the start of the war, was also the first woman of the British Empire to hold the rank of major.
From the outset, the military authorities had planned to keep the nurses in stationary hospitals, 250-bed units with 16 nurses, and in the general hospitals farther from the front, which had between 500 and 1,000 beds served by a team of 72 nurses. In practice, however, it soon became apparent that these medical professionals were also needed in the most advanced posts, called casualty clearing stations, because the wounded soldiers taken there often required emergency surgery impossible to do without the help of nurses. Many nurses thus found themselves very close to the front lines, working in tents or huts with minimal hygiene.
Although farther from the theatre of operations, the stationary hospitals and general hospitals still did not have all the facilities that nurses were accustomed to. Established in big houses, ruined monasteries, unused schools or hastily built shelters, these hospitals were far from an ideal environment. The nurses had to tend patients while slogging through mud, surrounded by rats or, on the Mediterranean front, flies, while being careful to use as little water as possible.
The nurses’ work followed the rhythm of the battles, each bringing a massive influx of wounded. Working around the stretchers lined up on the ground, the nurses had to take care of hundreds of soldiers brought in by train or ambulance. Bullets, bayonets, shells and shrapnel caused extremely serious wounds that bled profusely and often necessitated amputation, the only way to get rid of gangrene. Amputation was also the fate of men who suffered frostbite from their time in the muddy trenches, while on the Mediterranean front, dysentery laid many low. Gas, first used extensively in the First World War, attacked the eyes and lungs. The nurse placed the lung patient in an oxygen tent, but that did not always work as hoped. Nurses were just as powerless to help those suffering from psychological problems, termed shell shock, whose numbers grew as the war intensified. On the other hand, they were perfectly capable of taking care of soldiers with tuberculosis or other common ailments, like the flu. Due to the high mortality rate of the wounded, such cases actually made up the bulk of their work. Towards the end of the hostilities, when the Spanish flu started to spread, they were called upon to tend to soldiers with influenza.
Life at the front had its quieter moments, though, and nurses took advantage of them. Between two deliveries of casualties, they could do their jobs more calmly, befriending the soldiers they tended often over long weeks. They also gave themselves small treats. When not on duty, they could go to dances, receptions and concerts also attended by soldiers, officers or even civilians. They also took part in sports or games and went cycling near their hospitals. Nurses stationed in England took tea with members of the British and Canadian army or with nurses from other hospitals, and played golf and tennis. On leave, some even travelled to Scotland or the south of France.
Army nurses were the only women to go to the front during the First World War. Thirty-nine lost their lives, twenty-one in battles on the continent or at sea, and eighteen as a result of illness. Seven others died in Canada while serving in army hospitals. Over 500 of them were decorated, including matron Ethel Ridley, named Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and Vivien Tremaine, who was awarded the Royal Victorian Order for caring for King George V, who was hurt when he fell off his horse while reviewing Canadian troops. These military honours acknowledged their courage and the esteem in which they were held. This acknowledgment also extended beyond the military sphere, however, for the involvement of nurses in the war greatly contributed to making medical and hospital authorities more aware of the importance of their role. By the end of the First World War, nurses had gained a professional status that could never again be questioned.
Allard, Geneviève, «Des anges blancs sur le front : l’expérience de guerre des infirmières militaires canadiennes pendant la Première guerre mondiale», Bulletin d’histoire politique, 8, nos 2-3 (hivers-printemps 2000): 119-132.
---, «Les anges blancs sur le front. Les infirmières militaires canadiennes durant la Première Guerre mondiale», [MA (Histoire), Université Laval], 1997.
Allemang, Margaret M. Canadian Nursing Sisters of World War 1, Oral History Program. Toronto: Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, 1977-1980.
Nicholson, G.W. L. Canada’s Nursing Sisters. Toronto: A.M. Hakkert, 1975.
Strong-Boag, Veronica. "Making a Difference : The History of Canada’s Nurses." Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine, 8, 2 (1991) : 231-248.
Remembering Those Who Died on the Field of Honour
Researcher for the Hector Fabre Chair in Quebec History at Uuniversité du Québec à Montréal.
During the war itself, soldiers were first honoured by their comrades on the front. Behind the front lines, isolated in no man’s land, simple, temporary wooden crosses marked the graves of those who had died in combat. Owing to the terrible extent of human losses, Canadian war cemeteries were established, starting in 1917, and maintained by the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). But the bodies of 19,598 Canadians were never found; many of them had been torn to shreds by the waves of violent shelling the infantry faced. The names of most of those men are engraved on the base of the war memorial at Vimy. In France and Belgium, where Canadian soldiers distinguished themselves during the war, 13 memorials in all were erected between the wars. The main one, and the most imposing, is the one at Vimy, which was inaugurated in 1936, with Canadian veterans and King Edward VIII in attendance. Located at the site of the Canadian victory of April 9, 1917, it honours all Canadians who fell on the field of honour during the Great War.
The Canadian soldiers of 1914–18 were also commemorated at home. Starting in November 1918, most Canadian municipalities signalled their intention to erect a monument in tribute to their dead, and to engrave on the marble, for posterity, the names of their citizens who died in the war. The war memorials gave civilians a way of publicly grieving and paying tribute to the war dead. These monuments were, for the first time in Canada’s history, on more than just a family or local scale: from sea to sea, over 1,300 cenotaphs went up, all commemorating the same event in which thousands of Canadians had taken part.
Between the wars, the federal government left it up to each community to erect its own memorial. Monument committees were set up, often on the initiative of women. The committees had to manage the finances, select an architect and determine a location for the monument, which, once inaugurated, was officially handed over to the municipal authorities. But a cenotaph was only a physical manifestation of the respect for the memory of those who died in 1914–18, and gradually, as the 1920s progressed, it became the focus of a commemorative ritual: Remembrance Day, November 11.
The choice of this date, originally known as Armistice Day, recalls first and foremost the end of the four years of slaughter and the peace won thanks to the soldiers’ sacrifice. The commemorative service of November 11 gradually took shape in the 1920s to honour the soldiers who had given their lives. Like religious rites, once established, the elements of the memorial liturgy were unchanging.
The November 11 ceremony is a structured space in which each player and each element of the commemorative rite has an important role to play:
– Since the early 1920s, the ceremony has generally opened with the national anthem, “O Canada.” This is the most meaningful moment, because at this instant, everyone present is united in the same respect and love of country that the soldiers being honoured died to preserve. The anthem confers upon the ceremony its duly patriotic character. Yet it is “God Save the King” (or later, the Queen) that closes the ceremony, recalling the constitutional link between Canada and Great Britain.
– After the secular, profane anthem, the religious dimension is reflected by prayers, often accompanied by hymns. Just as the national anthem serves to unite people in their love of their country, the religious element of prayer unites the members of various religious communities in the same place on the same occasion. Prayer is a reminder of the noble sacrifice of the dead for a cause deemed just by the living. Its function is nothing less than to glorify the dead in the eyes of the living in order to lessen the pain of their loss and give it meaning.
– Next follow two minutes of silence, introduced in 1919 on the recommendation of King George V, to give all those present a chance to turn their thoughts to those no longer among them. The silence is a time to reflect on the sacrifice of the men being honoured.
– The laying of wreaths is the funerary aspect of the ceremony and the implicit acknowledgement of the souls at rest. Decorated with flowers, the monument takes on the symbolic appearance of a collective tomb.
As part of the November 11 ceremony, the laying of wreaths by civilian and military authorities, but also by the crowd, expresses collective piety towards the war dead.
- Military units also take part. At the end of the ceremony, the units march through the streets, marking the return of life with a demonstration that calls for admiration of their handsome uniforms after the tribute to the dead.
The role of the army in the ceremony is not to celebrate the victory of November 11, but rather to represent the dead. The marching soldiers provide an eternally young and living image, a timeless image, as remembrance must be.
– The veterans, as well as the widows (dressed in black between the wars), are present, bearing witness for those no longer there and honouring comrades, sons and husbands. The spectators in the crowd also pay tribute to the veterans.
Along with war memorials and the Remembrance Day ceremony, a third tribute to the war dead is the wearing of poppies, which began in 1921. The poppy, celebrated in John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields,” was officially recognized in 1925 as the symbol of remembrance of those who died in 1914–18. Profits from sales were used to help war invalids. Wearing poppies each November 11 was a visible sign of respect for the memory of the soldiers who died in the Great War.
All these customs that were adopted in the aftermath of the First World War were also followed after the other wars of the 20th century, gradually diluting the specificity of the Great War: the war memorials, the November 11 ceremony and the poppies now honour all the dead of modern wars.
Djebabla-Brun, Mourad, Se souvenir de la Grande Guerre: la mémoire plurielle de 14-18 au Québec, Montréal, VLB, 2004.
Labayle, Éric, 9 avril 1917: les Canadiens à Vimy, Louviers, Ysec, 2001.
Shipley, Robert. To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials. Toronto: NC Press, 1987.
Vance, Jonathan. Death so Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000 (1997).
Wood, Herbert, and John A. Swettenham. Silent Witnesses. Toronto: A. M. Hakkert, in association with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Canadian War Museum, 1974.
Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence, National Inventory of Canadian Military Memorials:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In Flanders Fields
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
"In Flanders Fields" was first published in England's Punch magazine in December, 1915. Within months, this poem came to symbolize the sacrifices of all who were fighting in the First World War. Today, the poem continues to be a part of Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada and other countries.
Reproduced with permission from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Born in Guelph, Ontario, on November 30. John McCrae began writing poetry while a student at the Guelph Collegiate Institute. As a young boy, he was also interested in the military. He joined the Highfield Cadet Corps at 14 and at 17 enlisted in the Militia field battery commanded by his father.
While training as a doctor, he was also perfecting his skills as a poet. At university, he had sixteen poems and several short stories published in a variety of magazines, including Saturday Night. He also continued his connection with the military, becoming a gunner with the Number 2 Battery in Guelph in 1890, Quarter-Master Sergeant in 1891, Second Lieutenant in 1893 and Lieutenant in 1896. At university, he was a member of the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada of which he became company captain.
In 1898, John McCrae received a Bachelor of Medicine degree. He worked as resident house officer at Toronto General Hospital from 1898 to 1899. In 1899, he went to Baltimore and interned at John Hopkins Hospital.
The South African War
When the South African War started in October 1899, John McCrae was commissioned to lead an artillery battery from his home town. This Guelph contingent became part of D Battery, Canadian Field Artillery. After a year with his unit in South Africa, John McCrae resigned from the 1st Brigade of Artillery in 1904 after being promoted to Captain and then Major. He was not involved with the military again until 1914.
The Young Doctor
Back in Montréal in 1901, John McCrae resumed his studies in pathology. As Governor's Fellow in pathology and resident assistant pathologist, he had the dual function of research work in the Medical Faculty laboratories at McGill and autopsy duties at Montréal General Hospital.
In 1902, he was appointed resident pathologist at Montréal General Hospital and later also became assistant pathologist to the Royal Victoria Hospital. In 1904, he was appointed an associate in medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Later that year, he went to England where he studied for several months and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1905, he set up his own practice although he continued to work and lecture at several hospitals. He was appointed pathologist to the Montréal Foundling and Baby Hospital in 1905. In 1908, he was appointed physician to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Infectious Diseases.
The Cost of War
On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. John McCrae enlisted and was appointed brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery with the rank of Major and second-in-command. He took with him a horse named Bonfire, a gift from a friend. In April 1915, John McCrae was in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in the area traditionally called Flanders. Some of the heaviest fighting of the First World War took place there during that was known as the Second Battle of Ypres. John McCrae tended hundreds of wounded soldiers every day, surrounded by the dead and the dying.
The day before he wrote his famous poem, one of McCrae's closest friends was killed in the fighting and buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses marking the many graves. Unable to help his friend or any of the others who had died, John McCrae gave them a voice through his poem. It was the second last poem he was to write.
Soon after it was written, he was transferred to No. 3 (McGill) Canadian General Hospital in France where he was Chief of Medical Services. The hospital was housed in huge tents at Dannes-Cammiers until cold wet weather forced a move to the site of the ruins of the Jesuit College at Boulogne. When the hospital opened its doors in February 1916, it was a 1,560-bed facility covering 26 acres. Here the wounded were brought from the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the third Battle of Ypres and from Arras and Passchendaele.
John McCrae was deeply affected by the fighting and losses in France. He became bitter and disillusioned. For respite, he took long rides on Bonfire through the French countryside. Another animal companion was a casualty of the war, the dog Bonneau, who adopted John McCrae as his special friend. Writing letters and poetry also allowed John McCrae to escape temporarily from the pressures of his administrative duties at the hospital. His last poem, "The Anxious Dead", echoed the theme of "In Flanders Fields" but was never as popular as the earlier poem.
During the summer of 1917, John McCrae was troubled by severe asthma attacks and occasional bouts of bronchitis. He became very ill in January 1918 and diagnosed his condition as pneumonia. He was moved to Number 14 British General Hospital for Officers where he continued to grow weak.
On January 28, after an illness of five days, he died of pneumonia and meningitis. The day he fell ill, he learned he had been appointed consulting physician to the First British Army, the first Canadian so honoured. John McCrae was buried with full military honours in Wimereux Cemetery, just north of Boulogne, not far from the fields of Flanders. Bonfire led the procession, McCrae's riding boots reversed in the stirrups.
Reproduced with permission from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Women in War, Part A
Grade Level: Secondary 9-12
Time Allowance: 45 minutes
Film: Hospital Bombed by German Airplanes
Summary: Students reflect on gender roles during World War I. Follow up with the lesson Women in War, Part B.
World War I marked a turning point for women. Many replaced men in factories and businesses such as banks. Gender roles (the way societies assign separate roles to men and women) were altered dramatically. At the same time, women continued to occupy traditional roles (for instance, nursing), especially at the war front.
Watch the film Hospital Bombed by German Airplanes, to learn about gender roles during World War I.
1. The soldiers are carrying objects seldom seen in battlefield funerals. What are they?
2. Besides soldiers, who else is marching?
3. Who do you think is being buried?
4. Do other graves have flowers?
5. Were nurses’ uniforms practical, given battlefield conditions?
6. Not all nurses are wearing the same uniform. What do the differences signify?
7. Look at the uniforms of the soldiers in the procession.
a) Who are the ones with the white collars?
b) Why are there so many “white collars” at this funeral?
c) Who are the elderly men in the elaborate uniforms?
8. What do the answers to a, b, and c above tell you about this funeral?
9. Do you think that these soldiers regarded the death of women in battle to be normal or unusual?
Women in War, Part B
Grade Level: Secondary 9-12
Time Allowance: 45 minutes
Film: Hospital Bombed by German Airplanes
Summary: Students reflect on gender roles during World War I. Make sure that students have already viewed Women in War, Part A.
World War I marked a turning point for women. Many women replaced men in factories and businesses such as banks. Gender roles (the way societies assign separate roles to men and women) were altered dramatically. At the same time, women continued to occupy traditional roles (for instance, as nurses), especially at the war front.
Watch the film Hospital Bombed by German Airplanes, to find out about gender roles during the time of World War I.
1. Do you think this kind of funeral was given for all the soldiers buried in this graveyard?
2. Very few funerals were filmed. Why do you think that this one was?
a) Do you think that the presence of the camera influenced what happened at this funeral?
b) What impact might this film have had on those in Canada who watched it?
c) At the beginning of the war, women could not vote. At the end of the war, some women could. Do you think this film had an impact on the struggle for the right of women to vote?
3. Women were killed while nursing the wounded. What impact did this have on the status of nursing as a profession?
4. After the war, what impact did this have upon the status of women in Canadian society?
Add a few sentences to finish this paragraph:
Women did not actually fight during World War I. There were still major gender divisions in the Canadian army. However, the impact of the war…