In 1995, a woman donated a Queen Alexandra Nursing Sister’s uniform, medical equipment, medals, badges, autograph book, photographs, and a 1930s era obstetrical nursing book. The donor didn’t have much information, explaining that they were given to her family when she was a child, by a woman guest in their Black Creek home. the uniform and artifact had been used by the family’s children as costumes. The donations are now incorporated into our WWI Nursing Sister display.
One of our former volunteers, Corrine, explains the process of updating the display and the discoveries made during that time ~
“The process of updating the display with a new state of the art “personnequin” with realistic features and posable hands, tweaked our curiosity about the items used to dress our nurse. With the help of Allison Hetman, Mel Birnie, Brian O’Cain, and Robert Lesage, we did some detective work and came up with some basic facts that raise yet more questions.
Informally known as Nurse Violet, the original owner of the uniform and artifact was a woman named Jean McPherson, born in Orangeville, Ontario on July 5th, 1886. Jean’s records contained no information on her parents, so it proved difficult to find any relatives. Military documents indicated that she had her medical for the Canadian Medical Service on September 8th, 1916, and her unit at that time was listed as the Queen Alexandra Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMS). She sailed from Montreal on the SS Scandinavian on October 12, 1916 but no destination was listed. Entries in her diary suggest that she was in France in 1916, possibly even at Somme, and also at Warncliffe Hosp ital, in Sheffield, England in 1917. A mystery arises from another record that shows her enlistment date for the Canadian Army Medical Corps as being in May of 1918, followed by a posting to Government of Canada Hospital in Orpington, Kent. Jean’s demobilization process began in May of 1919. The records show she disembarked in New York on September 4th of that year, and was in Canada by September 13th, when she was officially struck off strength. She intended to live with a married sister in Guelph, Ontario, but we lose sight of her in the public record until 1962, when a Jean (McPherson) Manhard appears on the Victoria, BC voters list. Jean McPherson Manhard died at the age of 86 on July 15, 1968.
We have many unanswered questions about Jean’s personal history and, although we use her former possessions to tell a story, we don’t tell her story. Our display represents the contributions of the many individuals whose history is lost to time. The display represents a point on the timeline, celebrates women’s contributions in wartime, and provides insight into how the Nursing Sisters’ service was the first hint of a coming shift in societal norms, a shift that changed the way women were perceived by the Canadian Forces and later by society as a whole. Because of the changes made to that display, we now want to know more about what happened to Jean in the field and in the hospitals where she was stationed. We want to know why she had a Seaforth Highlander’s cap badge and whey she had a France and Germany star, a medal only awarded for operational service in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,or Germany between June 6, 1944 and May 8, 1945.
Did Jean serve in WWII? Was the medal hers? If it was, it would have been awarded to her when she was around 58 or 59 years old and if it wasn’t hers, to whom did it belong? What happened to Jean between 1919 and 1962? We believe these are important questions because those who serve deserve to be honoured and remembered. These unanswered questions are riddles waiting to be solved, and so the detective work continues!”