Canadian Army nurse served with ‘gallantry and devotion’

Article / November 7, 2018 / Project number: 18-0401

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — More than 3,000 Canadian women volunteered to serve as nurses during the First World War, which broke out two years before they were granted the right to vote.

On personnel records from the time, “He” is the default pronoun used and on Matron Edith Campbell’s records, as would have been the case with other women who served, an ‘S’ had to be added manually.

Despite their unequal status, Matron Campbell and her fellow Canadian Army Nursing Service members, known as ‘bluebirds’ for their trademark blue dresses, were very much appreciated for their bravery and compassion.

Montreal-born Ms. Campbell was appointed to the Canadian Army Medical Corps at the age of 42 with the rank of Matron (equivalent to the rank of Major) in September 1914. She was among the first Canadian nurses to arrive in England the following month.

There, she assisted in the set-up of a field hospital in Taplow, just west of London, and later treated casualties from battles in France.

She was mentioned in dispatches regarding her duties in England and France on June 22, 1915.

In October 1915, Matron Campbell earned a Royal Red Cross medal, First Class. Instituted in 1883, the Royal Red Cross is given to military nurses who show exceptional devotion and competence in their duties.

She was mentioned in dispatches again in 1917 for her actions in saving others following the bombing of her hospital in France.

On September 25, 1918, Matron Campbell was one of six Canadian nurses to receive the Military Medal for bravery during enemy air raids. She had been serving at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital in Etaples, France.

The citation reads, “For gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy air raid. Regardless of personal danger she attended to the wounded sisters and by her personal example inspired the sisters under her charge.”

A number of Matron Campbell’s personal items, letters and medals are part of the collection of the Canadian War Museum. Along with the Military Medal and the Royal Red Cross First Class, her medals collection includes the 1914 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and 1935 Jubilee Medal.

She returned to Canada in April 1919 and took on the role of Superintendent of the Toronto Branch of the Victorian Order of Nurses. Her date of death is not known.

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