Alfreda Jean Attrill was born in Minden, Ontario on July 31, 1877 the daughter of Eli Potter and Mary Rebecca Pockett. She was christened Isabella Jane, however legally changed her given names to Alfreda Jenness Attrill – taking the surname of her stepfather (Alfred Attrill-Taylor), in 1904.
The family moved to Manitoba when Alfreda was an infant. In 1882 her mother left Eli Potter and moved with her children (including Alfreda and her two brothers) to Bismarck, North Dakota with Alfred Attrill-Taylor. Her mother eventually married Alfred Attrill-Taylor and they had three children together.
The family lived in North Dakota for several years, where Alfreda attended school. Alfred Attrill-Taylor died in 1890 leaving Alfreda’s mother a widow; the family returned to Manitoba in 1894 although Alfreda did return to North Dakota to finish high school and graduated in 1895. After graduation, Alfreda enrolled in Normal School in Winnipeg and acquired her teaching certificate in 1896. She taught in the Dauphin area at Gull Creek School; however she gave up teaching after two years. Her mother died in 1899, leaving Alfreda as the head of a family of five. Between 1898 and 1906 she was employed in a variety of occupations including: housekeeper, milliner, dressmaker and bookkeeper before deciding to enroll in the Winnipeg General Hospital School of Nursing in 1906.
She graduated in 1909 and remained employed at Winnipeg General Hospital and later was Staff Nurse in charge of the Isolation Hospital. She resigned in 1914 and accepted a position at the City Public Health Department where she was employed for a short time. Alfreda took the military nursing course in Kingston in 1912 and became a member of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) reserve nursing service upon completion of the course. She enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps on September 24, 1914 to serve overseas.
Alfreda served in France, Salonika (Macedonia) and England; she also served on H.M.H.S [Her Majesty’s Hospital Ship] Araguaya.
The Voyage to England
Alfreda left for England in September 1914 She kept a detailed photographic and written account of her war service and sent letters to the Nurses’ Alumnae Association recounting the voyage overseas and her time London, prior to be posted to No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital in France.
On Board the Cunard R.M.S. “Franconia”
Monday, October 12 
Bright, clear morning. Attended class in Morse Code in recreation room; also lecture by Lieut.-Col. Jones, of Ottawa, on “The Red Cross.”
After lunch, had money exchanged into English currency. Major Reid dressed in nurses’ uniform. Girls took snaps of him. He made great laughter. At 2:30, went to gymnasium. Had tea in lounge at 4 p.m. After dinner was vaccinated by Capt. Philips. Then went to lounge and danced until 10. The band was in attendance. Taught Miss Allen, in state room, the waltz step.
Tuesday, October 13 
Slept until called this a.m. in spite of the tramp, tramp, of the men drilling on the deck above. Attended lecture this a.m. by Capt. Burke on “Sanitation Camps of Fighting Forces.” Sea very rough all the day, sky dark and threatening, dark mist over the waters.
Attended splendid concert in Sergeant’s Mess in evening. Some of the singing and reciting was exceptionally good. The siren blew at dusk. A cruiser had crossed our bow and backed. No harm was done. The ship rolls more than usual.
Wednesday, October 14 
Heard the call this morning at 6 a.m., “Land in sight.” It seems it was the Bishop’s. At 8:30, “full steam ahead,” was the order. Sighted land at 9:30 a.m. Attended lecture on “Water and Water Supply to an Army,” given by Lieut.-Col. Nasmith, of Toronto, afterwards was given a lecture by Matron MacDonald, on “Nurses’ Duties,” etc. Not yet tired, went to lounge and heard Lieut.-Col. Jones give a lecture on field hospital to the officers. After luncheon, entered the harbor of Plymouth, a tug coming out to meet each transport. Slowly we moved up to anchor.
Crowds of inhabitants on shore and soldiers at the fortifications cheered the transports as each went by. Came to anchor about 3 p.m. The Ivernia being our companion about 6:30. The boats are anchored in twos. An invitation was sent to the officers to come on board for the dance after dinner, but they were not permitted to leave their ship. The lights of the harbor and ships make it seem like a fairyland.
Men from other ships have asked for Mary Gardner, Alma Vick, and Dr. Jamieson, of the W.G.H. [Winnipeg General Hospital]
St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, England
November 3, 1914.
Dear Miss Gray and Friends at the General. – How nice to receive Canadian mail. All have been so good to me when so far from home. We are still waiting. No orders as yet. We know not when, where or how we spend the future. The war is dreadful. Many of the terrible stores are, indeed, too true. I hope you have received the newspapers sent you. We went today to help sew at the Empire League. We hear the soldiers are requiring mitts very badly. The home-knitted socks are such a comfort.
The call comes for doctors, nurses, and anaesthetists, but being a part of the contingent the medical corps cannot go over the Channel until the whole goes.
We are visiting the London Hospitals each week. Guy’s comes tomorrow.
Thanking you all for you good wishes and prayers.
Love to all. Sincerely, Alfreda J. Attrill
The Crown Hotel, Southampton, Nov. 7, 1914
Dear Friends. – Am on my way to the front at last. Embark today. We are going up to the firing line at the dressing station and temporary hospital, the nearest any nurses have gone. We are the most fortunate. Others are going to France, but to civic hospitals. Love to all.
Have met the doctor who is in charge of our party. He is very nice indeed. Some of the nurses are remaining in two military hospitals in London; others are going to Salisbury, and more to a Canadian hospital established at Hamstead.
November 15, 1914
Dear Miss Gray and Friends at the General.—Just a note to tell you all are well and happy to be here. Trust you have received the Gazette sent you from London. Have been taken from the No. 1 General Hospital an assigned to a new establishment. We are delighted with the new arrangement.
Our commanding officer is so good to us, and we appreciate our good luck. He is a clever surgeon from Ottawa, knowing Dr. Blanchard and Dr. Chown well.
The weather is cold and rainy, miserable for stirring out of doors. We are not permitted to write very much—only personal matters. Heard from Miss Wilson yesterday, the letter being written on the 18th of last month. It is wonderful how soon letters can reach us. Mail is forwarded from the London address.
With love and all good wishes. Yours sincerely,. Alfreda J. Attrill,
No. 2 Stationary Hospital, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
[Letters from Alfreda Attrill, published in the Nurses’ Alumnae Journal January 1915]
France (1914 – 1916)
Alfreda’s first posting was at No. 2 Stationary Hospital in France, where she served from 1914 – 1916.
She wrote about her experiences working at the No. 2 Stationary Hospital, Le Touquet. Please the click on link below to view pages from her journal.
Salonika and Malta (1916 – 1917)
In 1916, she was transferred to the No. 5 Canadian General Hospital in Salonika (Macedonia) and also served at the No. 1 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Salonika.
She was granted a short leave in May 1916, and took the opportunity to visit Egypt with some fellow nursing sisters.
Alfreda was invalided to Malta in the Spring of 1917. While recuperating, she was able to see some of the country with her fellow nursing sisters.
From 1918 – 1919, Alfreda was posted in England to the Canadian Military Hospital, Basingstoke ( No. 4 Canadian General Hospital) and the No. 10 Granville Canadian Special Hospital, Buxton, England.
For her service, nursing sister Attrill was awarded the Royal Red Cross Second Class, 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.
When she returned to Canada in August 1919, she began her work with Winnipeg’s Department of Public Health as nurse advisor, a position she held until 1943. Alfreda was also heavily involved in the St. John Ambulance Association beginning in 1911. In 1924 she became the Superintendent of the Fort Garry Division and she was a Serving Sister of St. John from 1933 to 1936. In 1966, she was proclaimed a Dame of Grace of the St. John Ambulance Association. One year later, the Association named her a Dame of Justice.
Alfreda Attrill passed away in Winnipeg on October 14, 1970.