The war presented the most difficult working conditions that the nursing sisters ever had to faced compared to their experiences working in Canada. The nursing techniques were the same, and despite the challenges of providing nursing care in the theatre of war, the Canadian nursing sisters possessed an exemplary reputation for providing great compassion and care.
On a daily basis, nursing sisters treated patients with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza and dysentery. They disinfected and dressed wounds; dispensed medicine and provided food to the soldiers. Nursing sisters sat with the soldiers and provided comfort to the wounded and the dying – sometimes writing letters home to the families on behalf of the soldiers.
The day-to-day duties involved in managing a ward were also the responsibility of the nursing sister. These duties included ordering and packing supplies, ensuring all ward equipment and supplies were clean and sanitized, writing Doctor’s orders, supervising the loading and unloading of patients from the ambulance trains and arranging for patient transfers to other locations. Nursing sisters were also responsible for management of all drugs and preparing bodies for the mortuary.
In addition to treating and providing care to the wounded and sick, nursing sisters in many stationary and general hospitals were responsible for administrative functions and record-keeping. This included documenting the care soldier’s received, and maintaining diet, ration and clothing lists. The responsibility for establishing new hospital units, including preparing beds to receive patients and stocking/preparing supplies also fell on the shoulders of the nursing sisters.
Ultimately, the threat of attacks and bombings, heavy workloads, lack of hygiene, medical supplies and reinforcements, took its toll on many nursing sisters. Many suffered emotionally from witnessing the horrors of war and the emotional strain, coupled with the workload itself, resulted in exhaustion and often nurses contracted illnesses such as pneumonia or influenza.
During the 1918 influenza epidemic, there was a shortage in nursing staff because so many nursing sisters were sent to hospital with influenza. As a result, between March and May 1918 no leave was granted of any kind.
Ellanore Parker (Class of 1910), was stationed at No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital near Dieppe. She treated soldiers who were exposed to mustard gas at Vimy and Somme and she was also exposed to the gas. She suffered with lung problems for the rest of her life. Ellanore Parker was one of many nursing sisters that returned home with health problems.
Fifty-three nursing sisters lost their lives while on active duty – including four graduates from Winnipeg General Hospital School of Nursing.