Tag Archives: nursing

A Canadian Nurse in the Great War: The Diaries of Ruth Loggie, 1915-1916 Edited by Ross Hebb

At the beginning of the First World War, Canadian nurses were accorded a rank (officer) and a rate of pay (equal to men) unprecedented amongst the Allies. The “Bluebirds”, called such for their distinctive blue uniforms, were rightly revered as angels of mercy by the men they cared for on hospital ships, in England, and in France where they staffed the hospitals at the coast and ventured close to the front lines in the Casualty Clearing Stations. Fifty-eight of them paid the ultimate price, felled by enemy fire or disease. Fourteen Canadian nurses drowned in one night alone, when the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle was torpedoed off the coast of England on its return from delivering wounded men to Halifax, NS. Canadian nurses were awarded medals for bravery just as the men received. Their story, however, as Dr. Ross Hebb reveals in his new book, A Canadian Nurse in the Great War, was nearly lost when the war was over. As the opening words of his book say: “The Great War diaries of Ruth Loggie are a rare find…for while 420,000 men served overseas during the Great War, only 2100 Canadian women served as army nurses.”

I was thrilled to be asked to review Dr. Hebb’s book. Having read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, I was deeply curious to read a Canadian’s own words of her experience in the hospitals of France. Once I started, I was completely captivated. This was a quick read; as well as riveting, it is not a big book. Disappointingly – because what she did write is so enlightening and fascinating – Ruth Loggie either ceased keeping a record of her daily life or lost her diaries for the second half of her service. What is in this book covers the period of May 1915 to November 1916.

“I was charmed by her spirit and vigour for life. She was not above making fun of her superiors, had strong opinions, calling the management a “disgrace to Canada”, but her heart was completely for the men.”

I was charmed by her spirit and vigour for life. She was not above making fun of her superiors, had strong opinions, calling the management a “disgrace to Canada”, but her heart was completely for the men. You can feel her heartbreak in her short entries. “Such terrible wounds…and such nice men,” she said early on her arrival in France. “…it is so unnecessary.” Her dedication to the men in her care extended to their families, as she continued writing to many of them, often after the man had died from his injuries. Most poignant was the entry, which she wrote simply and matter-of-factly, that she went, on July 1st, to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of the Canadian dead.

While much of the diary covers delightful trips to the beaches and shopping in the cities and towns, dinners out and tea at the shore so too does it lay out the hardships, the terrible days during big battles when the casualties poured in, the sadness of loss, and the worry over brothers and friends in the trenches. The women suffered not only mentally but physically. With the long hours on duty, primitive living conditions and hard work Loggie and her fellow nurses faced, it is a wonder they had the energy for long walks and longer bicycle trips. It is unsurprising that some succumbed to illness, and Ruth mourned deeply the loss of colleagues, even ones she did not know personally. One must admire these intrepid women, who, having fearlessly crossed both the Atlantic and the English Channel with all their perils, traipsed around France during a war, while trying to make life as comfortable as they could for the men in their care.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

Dr. Hebb does an outstanding job piecing together Loggie’s life, chasing down the threads of her family (she was the last surviving member of her family when she died in 1968), friends, and the sometimes cryptically named people she mentions in her diaries. His introduction is well written and informative, and along with the timeline of Loggie’s Canadian Army Medical Corps tenure and the cast of characters, sets the reader up to understand the context of the diary entries. His narrative is discreetly woven through the diary, moving Loggie’s story along masterfully. As well, copious notes complement the narrative, unobtrusive but easily referenced as needed.

While perhaps of particular interest to New Brunswickers, this book is an important part of Canada’s history – a very personal and intimate history. Dr. Hebb has shined a light on a side of the First World War not often seen and illuminated the contributions of strong, caring, and inspirational Canadian women.


Although originally from Nova Scotia’s South Shore, Ross Hebb is now a long-term resident of his adopted province of New Brunswick. A graduate of King’s College and Dalhousie University, Dr. Hebb received his Ph.D. from the University of Wales, Lampeter in 2002. Along with volumes on Maritime Church history, he has also written about the golden age of shipbuilding at St. Martins on the Bay of Fundy. In 2014 he edited the collection Letters Home: Maritimers and the Great War, 1914-1918, and 2018, In Their Own Words: Three Maritimers Experience the Great War. Dr. Hebb is married and lives in Fredericton, NB.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing Limited (Sept. 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 184 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774710129
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774710128

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Heather McBriarty
Some Rights Reserved  

Adventures of a Grenfell Nurse by Rosalie M. Lombard

There is a meme floating around the Internet that states: “Don’t live the same year 75 times over and call it a life”. For at least two years of her substantial life (born in 1927, she is still alive as of this writing), Rosalie Lombard could not be accused of any sort of repetition as she served as a nurse for the Grenfell Mission in St. Anthony, Newfoundland. Train wreck, dogsled trips to assist very remote patients, delivering a baby onboard a steamship, sailing trips and more made up the years 1952-1954.

A small, but important piece of Newfoundland & Labrador history has been preserved for the ages by Ms Lombard.

What is engrossing about Adventures of a Grenfell Nurse (2017, Flanker Press) is the time period: the early 50’s and Newfoundland & Labrador is no longer a British colony, but part of the Dominion of Canada. Getting around “the Rock” is still fairly primitive: the narrow-gauge railway on which the “Newfie Bullet” runs, good roads in rural areas are pretty much non-existent (especially in winter) and medical supplies are hard to come by. Surgeries had to be done with the most basic of equipment, yet patient outcomes were favourable for the most part, thanks to the expertise of Dr Gordon W. Thomas to whom the book is dedicated.

Fully half of the book is taken up by the fascinating day-to-day narrative of a voyage onboard the Northern Messenger, a 45-foot ketch-rigged ship (fitted with a 25 HP motor) which once sailed up and down the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador for the Grenfell Mission, ferrying patients to and from hospitals. However, in 1953 it was half submerged in waters off Murray’s Point and had to be righted and put into dry dock before she could be sailed anywhere. This was done and Rosalie and a few others were off on another adventure, using some free time to act as crew members attempting to get the owner to Boston in time for the birth of his first child, “with a little luck, in ten day’s time”. Things turned out much differently than anticipated, however!

In her “Afterthoughts – 2016” at the end of her book she writes:

“During the past five to ten years, my thoughts have increasingly turned to the time I spent in St. Anthony and the realisation that those experiences were truly unique. Although it was just a two-year slice out of my eighty-nine years, it has had a profound impact.”

It is evident from reading this book that Ms Lombard genuinely enjoyed her short period of time which she spent with the Grenfell Mission. Her lively recollections are as vivid as if they just happened, though over sixty years have passed. Her reminisces in Adventures of a Grenfell Nurse will be of particular interest to health care professionals, as well as the armchair adventurer. A small, but important piece of Newfoundland & Labrador history has been preserved for the ages by Ms Lombard.

Adventures of a Grenfell Nurse
by Rosalie M. Lombard
Flanker Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

A Splendid Boy by Melanie Martin

Since it has been one hundred years since the Battle of the Somme in WWI, there have been numerous books produced, both fiction and non-fiction that deal with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and its heavy involvement in the Great War. A Splendid Boy (2016, Flanker Press) by Melanie Martin is a fine example of the type of historical fiction Flanker Press produces.


A Splendid War is about an adolescent love between a merchant’s daughter (Emma Tavenor) and a poor fisherman’s son (Daniel Beresford) that is torn apart by not only Emma’s father’s disapproval (with which he punishes Daniel’s father who is heavily in debt to him) but by the war, which Daniel uses as an excuse to make a clean break from Emma, for he has promised Mr. Tavenor to cease his association with Emma in return for absolving his father of his debts. Of course, Emma knows nothing of this, and once she finds out that Daniel has enlisted with some friends (but not knowing why he did so), is off to St. John’s in pursuit, hoping to try to convince him to stay. Missing him in St. John’s, she then tries to track him down overseas.

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A Well-researched Story

The book is exceptional for its depictions of the hardships of war in both Gallipoli and in Northern France for the Battle of the Somme. Ms. Martin has certainly researched this aspect of the war extensively to which she credits Frank Gogos, a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment advisory council, even making travels to England, France, Belgium and Turkey to visit various sites. Also significant is the spotlighting of the work that the women of the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) performed. Members of the VAD were typically upper-class women wanting to do their part for the war effort. They assisted nurses and often sat with dying soldiers, writing and reading letters for them and such. Emma, in an effort to track down Daniel volunteers for this service and even asks to get posted nearer the front so she can find Daniel, if he is still alive. Ms. Martin is especially adept at conveying the thoughts of a battle-hardened Daniel:

Daniel didn’t think anything could beat the horrors at Gallipoli. He’d never believed such a level of misery existed until they’d arrived at the Western Front. Hundreds died every day…eventually the dead would fade from living memory, but what was happening here on this land couldn’t easily be forgotten. One hundred years from now, the land would still bear the scars from the atrocities committed here, but would anyone remember the men who fought here?

In 1981, Daniel (as the last remaining soldier of the “first 500”) is invited to attend the 65th anniversary of the battle. He is taken on a tour of the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in France. He needs no tour guide or map; the topography is indelibly etched in his mind. The memorial park ensures that the men who fought will be remembered.


The majority of this book is taken up by the events of WWI, both in Gallipoli and in Northern France, and it is book-ended by events occurring in 1981, leading up to the reunion in France. Their love story, while engaging, is secondary to the action. In fact, once the war is over, we really don’t know that much more about Daniel and Emma or how they spent the intervening 65 years.

I highly recommend the book solely for the realistic descriptions of Daniel’s and Emma’s overseas ordeals in WWI.

A Splendid Boy by Melanie Martin
Flanker Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved