Somewhere in France

Somewhere in France

Monday, June 14, 2010

Two Nurses to Remember--Edith Cavell and Margaret Lowe

Hello again. Computer issues and family concerns have taken me away from my blog for two months. Happily, I’m back again and ready to catch up with you again. Today I’m going to profile another WWI nursing sister. But first, I’d like to recommend a book about a very famous British nursing sister who lost her life during the first war. Many people have heard of Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. However, few may know just who Edith Cavell was or what she did. In his book Silent in an Evil Time: the Brave War of Edith Cavell, (Tundra Books, 2007) writer Jack Batten explores Cavell’s short life and heroic actions. Although the book is intended for youth, it contains many interesting details about Cavell’s life, as well as interesting photographs that anyone interested in first war nurses will appreciate.

Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell was the matron of a clinic in Brussels when the First World War broke out. When German troops invaded Belgium, Cavell refused to escape to England and instead elected to stay with the hospital. By August 20, 1914, Belgium was occupied and German troops paraded in Brussels. Unfortunately, hundreds of allied soldiers had been caught behind enemy lines and were now in hiding in the Belgian countryside. A secret network was formed to help get these troops out of Belgium. Edith’s clinic became part of that escape line. She gave escaping soldiers clothes, shelter, disguises and even escorted some of the men herself. Eventually, her work was uncovered by the Germans and she was put to death, along with her friend and colleague Philippe Baucq. International outrage was so great that the execution of Cavell’s other co-conspirators was commuted to imprisonment. Cavell’s name quickly became synonymous with courage, valour and the central contribution of women to the cause of the allies.

In his book, Batten explores Cavell’s early life and work, as well as the many risks she willingly took during the war. The night before her execution, she told a priest: “I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.” Her final words before being executed were: “I am glad to die for my country.”

Nursing Sister Margaret Lowe
On March 24, 1917, Nursing Sister Margaret Lowe of Manitoba, was taken on strength in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Lowe was born in Morayshire, Scotland on January 26, 1888. At the time of her enlistment, Lowe was living with her family on Wolsely Avenue, Winnipeg. She began her work overseas at #16 Canadian General Hospital in Orpington, Kent. At the end of January 1918, she was transferred to France, where she served with #10 Canadian Stationary Hospital and then #1 Canadian General Hospital in Etaples. Only a few short months later, she was dead, a victim of the bombing of the Etaples Military Hospital Complex (see Gladys Wake’s profile in an earlier blog). In a BBC online forum, Neil Hill of Peterborough, Ontario noted that Lowe was his great great aunt and that she emigrated from Scotland to Binscarth, Manitoba. She trained at the Winnipeg Civic Hospital before enlisting. To see some of the photos of Lowe’s funeral, you may want to visit the following site, sponsored by Veterans Affairs Canada:

Another VAD: Gertrude Gwenydd Vaughan

Today, I’ve explored the life of a nurse who died at Etaples—Margaret Lowe. Trawling the internet, I found a reference to another nurse whose life was forever changed at Etaples. Gertrude Gwenydd Vaughan was born in 1880 at Heapham Rectory, Britain. She was educated at the Cheltenham Ladies College and at the age of 23 became Assistant Mistress, Queen Margaret's School, Scarborough. In 1906, she was a teacher at the Diocesan High School, Auckland, New Zealand. She served as a V.A.D. during the Great War. She began by serving in New Zealand. Then, between June 1916 and January 1919, she was stationed overseas in France. In 1918 she lost a leg as a result of an accident at Etaples. According to her descendants, “She never married, lived in the same house as her sisters Gwladys and Mildred, and died there 17/4/1952. Her great-nieces remember her as telling them wonderful stories and stabbing knives into her wooden leg!”

1 comment:

  1. Good Morning! I am so pleased to have found your blog. I am a Toronto artist working on a new series of drawings and paintings that depict people in the era just prior to, and during WW1. This work will be shown for the first time during the Riverdale Art Walk in Toronto, June 4 and 5, 2011. The title of this series is "Memory is My Muse". Please visit my blog at for my artists statement and some preliminary images. However, I too have been busy with family matters, and have not updated my blog for sometime. I am madly finishing several paintings for this weekend; "rabbit" portraits of Canadian women who served in the war, including Sister Margaret Lowe, Sister Edith Anderson (via US military), Dr. Irma Le Vasseur and Dr. Mary Lee Edward.
    Thanks for creating this blog - I plan on visiting often.

    Betsy Bell McKimm