Tag Archives: nurse

Newfoundland Nurse: Letter from the trenches

Archival Moments

June 13, 1915

Newfoundland Nurse: Letter from the trenches

nurseOn June 13, 1915 Maysie Parsons, 26 years old, originally from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland wrote to her father Edward Parsons from L’Hopital de L’Ocean, a field hospital in La Panne, Belgium. In her letter she wrote frankly about war and what she was witnessing. She wrote:

“My Dear Father

Although we are only six miles from the trenches, we never hear any war news. The only thing we do know is when there is a battle on this end. We can hear the guns and see the flashes and lightening, and tonight, oh, it is simply terrible. It is just the same as thunder and lightning and to think that every flash means so many deaths!

It is horrible. We do get terrible cases in. I know if you saw the poor patients, you would wonder how they could possibly live. It is impossible to sleep lots of nights.

War certainly is HELL

Tonight I am writing by the light of candle. We can’t get any sleep. And have been watching the flashes off the guns, etc., all along the lines for hours. It really seems that the fighting is all around us. I am glad I came but it certainly seems strange.

Wherever we go we very seldom meet anybody that can speak a word of English, and then if we go for a walk about every few yards we are held up by a sentry and have to produce our passports.”

Maysie was frustrated that she could not speak the language of the soldier boys that she was treating. When war broke out, Belgium did not have enough nurses so were dependent on nurses sent from British Commonwealth countries including Canada and Newfoundland. Masie signed up with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She wrote:

We get a lot of cases in here that only live a few hours. It seems terrible, they have not a person belonging to them, and I wish I could speak French. It is certainly hard to nurse every sick patient when you have to guess at what they want, and then not to be able to speak to them. Kindly and sympathize with them. I think a kind word often means a lot.

Maysie was also conscious that all of her letters would be read by censors and was careful not to disclose details that would result in her letter being delayed and or not delivered.

Yesterday we had quite a lot of patients come in, 61. I could write for hours about how thy have been treated, but you see, our letters are censored, and there are lots of interesting things we cannot tell.

Like other letters that were sent by sons and daughters from the trenches of Europe to parents back home in Newfoundland the letters would always make reference to other Newfoundlanders that they had encountered, their Newfoundland patriotic fervor was always evident.

The other day a man came and asked me what part of Canada I as from, so I told him not Canada, but Newfoundland, he told me he knew Sir Edward P. Morris quite well, and how he had to study up about the fisheries, for the Convention of the Hague. He was asking me about Newfoundland, and afterwards I found out he was the Editor of the London Times.

We found an English newspaper today, and you should see the bunch get around it, it was about a month old, but we read everything in it, even the advertisements. It was good to see something in English.

I sent some cards home, hope they get them.

Love too all,

From your Loving daughter


Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type  Great War Photograph  Collection  in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives


Where: Level 2  The Rooms: The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. Our “Great War” happened in the trenches and on the ocean, in the legislature and in the shops, by firesides and bedsides. This exhibition shares the thoughts, hopes, fears, and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who experienced those tumultuous years – through their treasured mementoes, their writings and their memories.


Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland Mother

Archival Moment

April 25, 1915

Australian Recruitment Poster, 1917

Australian Recruitment Poster, 1917

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day is Australia and New Zealand’s most important national day of commemoration. The day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces on 25 April, 1915 in Gallipoli, Turkey.

Fighting with the ANZAC forces was the Newfoundland Regiment serving as part of the 29th Division of the British Army fighting in Gallipoli.

Six months after the ANZAC forces had landed 1,076 Newfoundlanders came ashore along the shores of the Dardanelles Strait (Turkey) on September 20, 1915. The Newfoundlanders spent the first months digging trenches and keeping long night watches, spending time on the front line learning trench warfare techniques from the ANZAC forces.

Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland mother.

Australian Nurse writes a grieving Newfoundland mother.

During the almost four months the Newfoundland Regiment fought at Gallipoli, approximately 30 men died in action and 10 more died of disease. One of the young men who died was Joachim Murphy, Regimental # 696, he was 19 years old, the son of Joseph Murphy of Mundy Pond Road, St. John’s.   A young Australian nurse held him as he died and wanting to bring comfort to his mother wrote her this letter.


Australian Base Post Office

Alexandria, Egypt

December 6th 1915

 Dear Mrs. Murphy,

 I am an Australian Nurse on the Hospital Ship on which your son passed away when we were crossing from the Dardanelles to Malta.

 I have not much to tell you but thought it might comfort you in your sorrow to have a few lines from someone who was with him in his last hour. He was a very good boy and though so badly wounded was very brave and courageous, as I know he must have been when fighting.

 His injuries were such that his mental condition was not very clear so that he could not talk much about his home and friends but in his half delirium I often heard him say “Mother” as if he was thinking of his home. He suffered very little pain and passed peacefully away.

 He was seen by the priest before he died and had the Last Rites of his church. I am a Protestant myself and did not quite know what to do about a Crucifix he was wearing but thought it best to leave it to him when he went to his last resting place.

 These two letters I am enclosing were in the front pocket of his coat and were evidently treasured by him. I feel sure you would like to have them.

Trusting, that God will comfort you in your great loss and sorrow.

 I remain yours very sincerely,

 Jessie Reeves

 P.S.: The only address I have is St. John’s, Newfoundland so this may never reach you but am sending it; with the hope that it may do so. I think, St. John’s may not be a very big place so that it may get there.

Note: Jessie Reeves was a nurse with The Queen Alexandrea’s Imperial Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) She was originally from 5 Fenwick Street, Kew, Melbourne, Victoria. During the First World War (1914- 1918) she was at the Stationary Hospital in Ismalia,Egypt. After the war she did not marry, she died in Box Hill, Victoria in 1967.

Note: Joachim Murphy, Regimental # 696 was 19 years old was the son of Joseph Murphy of Mundy Pond Road, St. John’s. He died from shrapnel wounds that he sustained on a 4 November 1915. He was buried at sea on 7 November 1915 having died on the Hospital Ship.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 36 This collection consists of photographs related to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War. The collection consists of two photograph albums compiled in 1915-1916 in recognition of the services of Newfoundland Regiment soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign.

Recommended Activity: On April 25th visit the War Memorial in your town and remember the men of Newfoundland and Labrador who stood with ‘the diggers’ at Gallipoli, Turkey.

Recommended Reading: When the Great Red Dawn Is Shining by Christopher J.A.Morry; Breakwater Books Ltd. St. John’s, NL. On their march towards the Somme, and Beaumont Hamel, the young men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment raised their voices to sing “When the Great Red Dawn is Shining,” a song about returning home to the people they love. Howard Morry was one of the young men who managed to make it back. And now, one hundred years after the events that changed his life, we hear Morry’s voice, in these pages, rising from the silence to recount his days with the famed Regiment.

Recommended Web site: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/cr/pi-sheets/gallipoli-eng.pdf