We are the Nurses

The effects of the Great War on Canadian Women

Tried, tested and Transformed

From treating wounds to preforming operations, Canadian nurses played a vital role in World War One. The essential part played by women as nurses assisted in many things including winning the vote for women. This changed the lives of Canadian women forever.

We were tried, tested and transformed.

We were Tried (1914-1918)

We were initially enlisted into the First World War when we were recruited from the nursing services.

We were trained before the war had started.

This professionalization ensured that there were no partially trained women. It helped everyone come to a realization of its dependence on nurses and the importance to prepare them for war.

All of us were between the ages of twenty and forty and almost all of us were single.

Many of us had brothers or fathers serving in the war.

There was never a shortage of candidates because most of us were volunteers.

We did not work in the front line trenches but we were often very close to the front. There were three main areas were we were working. Some of us were working on field hospitals just behind the line, some were in evacuation hospitals ten miles behind the front and the other nurses were located at base hospitals which were very safe and far from the front.

As patients arrived, we were among one of the first to meet the wounded, injured soldiers.

Some of our roles included cleaning the soldier's wounds and providing care. We helped in surgery and watched for any infections. We treated many injuries daily.


We, as nurses, worked from sunrise to sunset and barely got any sleep or rest. The conditions were bitter and the mornings were dark. However, this was not our main concern. The sounds of the battlefield could be heard from where we lived.

Sometimes we shared rooms with civilians while serving in the war.

Food was quickly decreasing and meat was very occasional. We lived on beans, potatoes and soup made with the same flavors.

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Below is an image of what our uniform looked like. We were Nicknamed “bluebirds” because of our blue uniforms and white veils. With the windy weather, as we would walk around, the veils blew in the wind making it look like a bird flying.
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Living COnditions

At times, being a nurse was very difficult. There were many diseases and infections that spread where we were working due to the lack of hygiene in some areas, such as the influenza epidemic.

We had to endure such things as, exhaustion, harsh conditions, extremely cold winters, summer's intense heat and homesickness.

But being a nurse required much patience, care and kindness.

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We were Tested (1919-1923)

After the First World War ended, some of us remained nurses and some went back to reality. Those of us who went back returned to their normal lives. They waited for what seemed like forever for their father, husband, brother, or son to come back home. Some were working in factories, house cleaning or looking after the children. Those of us who remained as nurses gained refined medical skills and techniques. We were very experienced. In addition, in some Canadian provinces, women gained the right to vote.

This was a very exciting time for Canadian women.

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We were Transformed (1924-1929)

This was a part of what was known as the "roaring twenties". The soldiers waited to come home. all of us women were anxiously waiting for them to get home, as some of them were our fathers, brothers, sons or husbands. This was a good time period for most of us women as shortly after the Great War ended, more and more Canadian provinces gave women the right to vote such as Newfoundland.

There was a change in the attire women wore. The fashion changed including shorter dresses, less usage of corsets, and more hair shown. While there were great times, there were also upsetting times.

The Supreme Court of Canada declared that the British North America Act did not define women as people. This made women ineligible to hold public office. Shortly after, The Great Depression began.

All in all, this war has changed the lives of women forever because we have gained more respect compared to our rights before, because of our hard work throughout the war.

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Even though we were working almost all of the time, we played fun games to keep our hopes and energy up. This is a photo of some of us playing tennis. We would play with our uniforms and our veils were to stay on no matter what.
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Trench coats

Trench coats were raincoats made out of waterproof, heavy-duty material.

These coats were used to stay warm during the bitter cold winters and to help us work more efficiently.

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Nurses Theme Song

In my sweet little Alice Blue gown,

When I first came to Birmingham town.
I had had a bad trip, in a nasty old ship
And the cold in my billet, just gave me the pip.
We came out to nurse our own troops,
But were greeted with measles and whoops.
Now I'll be a granny, and sit on my fanny,
And keep warm with turpentine stupes.

In my sweet little Alice Blue gown,
When I return to my home town
They will bring out the band, give the girls a big hand,
Being a nurse in the force, I'll be quite renowned.
And I'll never forget all the fun,
That I had, since I joined Number One
I was happy and gay, to have served with MacRae
In my sweet little Alice Blue gown.