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Let’s not forget these unsung heroes

Bill FoxBy Bill Fox/Columnist

From an early age I knew that one of the greatest vocations and careers someone could have would be in nursing. My wife’s two aunts who passed away this summer were nurses. Aunt Mona served in Brockville while Aunt Mary Lou was in Kitchener.

After writing a column about Mona’s funeral in Brockville, a local Express reader contacted me to tell me that she recalls her mom telling her that Mona Latham helped in her delivery. If you are a nurse, you may never fully realize the impact you can have on your patients.

When I was about eight, I was hospitalized at Toronto East General Hospital for 10 days with pneumonia. I remember very clearly that the day I was being discharged I had tears in my eyes. Those nurses that cared for me were so wonderful that I was sad that I might never see them again.

My only other stay in a hospital was when I was 36 and my appendix had ruptured in the operating room as they tried to remove it. Again, I was hospitalized for about 10 days, this time in Stevenson Memorial Hospital in Alliston. Once again the nurses were really fantastic and again I have wonderful memories of the nurses that treated me during my stay.

As I see it, doctors greatly rely on the nurses for input on how patients are doing. While doctors get the credit for the patient recovery, they could not function as well without the unsung heroes of hospitals, the nurses.

I recently saw a moving speech, in which Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte paid special tribute to Canadian war veteran and Oshawa resident, 94 year-old, Don White, whose regiment helped liberate the Netherlands from the Nazis in the Second World War. As Remembrance Day approaches we remember and are thankful for the many soldiers such as Don White who risked their lives for our lives and for our freedoms.  During Remembrance services we may hear many stories that will remind us that Wars are the most horrific events in history.

I do not ever recall reading or hearing about the nurses that served in our wars. The organizing of battle nursing and the dispatch of women as nurses, begun by Florence Nightingale for the British, soon found its way to Canada.

As an example, with the outbreak of World War II in 1939, once again civilian nurses came out in droves to enlist. The average age of the nurse volunteers was 25 and the number of volunteers was so high that the military had to freeze enlistment only 10 days after the initial call. Each year the waiting list to join grew longer and longer and some Canadian nurses were so determined to help out that they joined the American, British, and South African nursing services.

Our Canadian nurses were no longer a Canadian Expeditionary force attached to the British army; rather they were fully integrated into the Canadian military. By the end of the war, 4,480 Canadian nurses served in the military, with 3,656 in the army, 481 with the air force, and 343 with the navy.

With the soldiers going overseas, the sisters travelled by ship in large convoys, running the perilous gauntlet of German submarine action in the North Atlantic. Upon arrival in England, they worked in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps’ hospitals at Taplow, Bramshott and Basingstoke. To illustrate the demands of their work, following the Dieppe raid, the hospital at Basingstoke received more than 600 casualties and in one 19 and a half hour period, 98 operations were performed. The surgical staff took only a few minutes’ break to rest between operations.

My hope this Remembrance Day is that we also remember the female war heroes who served our nation. I know I will now. I’m at bdfox@rogers.com, where I would welcome you sharing any stories of women serving in the military.