Étaples, a port town south of Boulogne, served as an Allied training base, supply depot, prisoner detention centre, and “Hospital City” during WW1. The next step for wounded soldiers who survived the casualty clearing stations and the stationary hospitals closer to the front could be one of the 16 hospitals or the convalescent depot at Étaples.
In the spring and summer of 1918, several German bombing raids on the Étaples area made their mark.
A bombing raid on May 19, 1918 killed three Canadian nursing sisters serving at No.1 Canadian General Hospital – Margaret Lowe, Katherine M MacDonald and Gladys MM Wake – the first Canadian nurses killed in action.
Two other female victims of bombing raids were YMCA motor driver Betty (Bertha Gavin) Stevenson on 31 May and Nursing Sister Annie Watson Bain at the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital on 1 June.
Étaples Military Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in France, with more than 10,000 burials from WW1. Twenty women are buried there, more than in any other CWGC cemetery on the Western Front. Matron Eveline Maud Dawson of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service was killed when HM Hospital Ship Salta hit a mine on 10 April 1917. Her body washed ashore several days later. The 14 other Étaples women died of illness – mostly pneumonia or influenza.
Photos of the graves of the six women killed in action are featured here. Watch for more about those who died of illness at a later date.
Front Lines – Nurses at the Front is a short NFB documentary about nurses and health workers in WW1.
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