Somewhere in France

Somewhere in France

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Fatal Flight

The life of a military nurse during the First World War was a mix of excitement, exhaustion, horror, hope and despair. The sights and sounds of wounded men were often overpowering, and it is no surprise that the women often longed for and enjoyed brief breaks when they explored local villages and historic sites, bicycled through the countryside, visited the leave clubs in Paris, or went for picnics with friends and colleagues. It was rare, however, for a nurse to lose her life when enjoying one of these much-needed breaks. Yet such was the case for Canadian Nursing Sister Marion Overend.

Born sometime around 1895, Overend and her sister May were natives of Peterborough, Ontario. They studied nursing at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York in 1913. In 1917, they joined the American Red Cross and travelled to France. According to her friends, "Miss Overend was a bright and lovable young woman," who had a real sense of adventure. According to researcher Tighe McManus, by 1918 she was serving at the American Army 3rd Base Hospital which was located in an old monastery near the village of Montpon-Menesterol in the Dordogne region.

On June 1, 1918, Overend decided to do something that many of her colleagues would have envied. She got the chance to go up in an aeroplane piloted by an unnamed Captain. Flying was considered a daring, exciting activity during the First World War--and a dangerous one. Many pilots were killed simply because of accidents or poorly constructed machines. Unfortunately, Marion Overend would become one of the few (if not the only)nurse to lose her life in this way. The Orillia Packet of August 1, 1918 describes what happened next. "Something went wrong with the machine while they were in the air, and it crashed. Miss Overend was killed instantly, and the Captain was very seriously injured." Overend was given a military funeral, which was attended by nearly the whole staff of the American base hospital. Marion is buried at: Plot A Row 6 Grave 14 of the St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France.

Overend was one of the countless Canadian nurses who served with the medical corps' of other nations, such as Britain and France. Recently, I came across a list of nurses who died in the AEF during the war. It was in the American "Red Cross Bulletin" of January 6, 1919. Two of those listed were Canadian, including Marion Overend and Constance Caplan of Toronto. There may well be others--Canadians who lived in the United States during their studies or for other periods in their lives were often perceived to be Americans. If you know of other Canadian nurses who died while serving in other medical corps, please let me know and I will be glad to share their story here. Thanks today to
Tighe McManus and Annette Fulford for first telling me about Marion.

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