These are the names of the 14 nurses who died on June 27, 1918 when their Canadian hospital ship ‘Llandovery Castle’ was torpedoed in the Atlantic.

Matron Margaret “Pearl” Fraser (New Glasgow NS)
Christina Campbell (Victoria BC)
Carola Josephine Douglas (Toronto ON)
Alexina Dussault (St-Hyacinthe QC)
Minnie Aenath Follette (Port Greville NS)
Margaret Jane Fortescue (York Factory Man)
Minnie Katherine Gallaher (Kingston ON)
Jessie Mabel McDiarmid (Ashton ON)
Mary Agnes “Nan” McKenzie (Toronto ON)
Rena Maude “Bird” McLean (Souris P.E.I.)
Mae Belle Sampson (Simcoe ON )
Gladys Irene Sare (Montreal QC)
Anna Irene Stamers (Saint John NB)
Jean Templeman (Ottawa ON)

Tomorrow (Nov 11, 2017) I’ll be remembering their names during that 2 minute pause at 11 am.

You can see that these young women represented a cross-section of the country, from almost every province in Canada. They were English and French, Roman Catholic and Protestant, all of them unmarried, with degrees in nursing, holding the rank of officer in the Canadian medical corps. It was in part due to the extraordinary service of nurses during the First World War that most women in Canada were granted the right to vote federally in May 1918.

We are hoping to bring this story to life by writing an opera that will commemorate the 100th anniversary of their death. We’re working hard to have it ready in summer 2018.

Nursing sister Mary Agnes McKenzie

Mary Agnes McKenzie

This all started because of a plaque in Calvin Presbyterian Church in Toronto. I worked at Calvin as organist for 11 years, but I had never noticed the plaque on the west wall – or had just never taken the time to read it. In 2015, while waiting for the orchestra to arrive for a rehearsal of Parry’s ‘Judith’ I took the time to look. That plaque to Mary Agnes MacKenzie started a two-year search for more information about the hospital ship and these nurses. Mary Agnes McKenzie attended Rose Avenue School in Toronto, and graduated in 1903 from Rochester City Hospital Training School in the USA. She signed up for duty in 1916.

In July this year, fate catapulted playwright Paul Ciufo onto the scene, and now, with Bicycle Opera Project we are creating a living memorial to ‘those splendid girls.’ *

If anyone reading this blog has a personal connection to these women or their families we’d love to hear from you.

* This is the title of a book by Katherine Dewar on WW1 nurses. Here’s a link to her work Those Splendid Girls

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2 Responses to Those splendid girls

  1. Rena Maude “Bird” McLean was my grandfather’s sister.
    I am very interested in your project and willing to help you with info,pictures ,stories .I have lots of newspaper clippings and have done a scrapbook on Rena.

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