The Canadian “Army Nursing Sister’s” in the Second South Africana’ War, 1899-1902.

Canada’s contribution to the “Second South African War,” (know by many other names) is a forgotten footnote in Canadian Historical accounts, owing to the stigma surrounding the war. Their endeavours to persevere swept under the rug, as the lumps are hidden under a sofa in the lounge room, between the Senate and House of Commons in the Parliament Buildings. The Second Anglo Boer War 110th anniversary in commemoration of service and sacrifice was “skirted,” while big wigs at veteran’s affaires Canada stated “a somewhat sensitive war.” In the mergance of war, imagrents, Canadien aka French, and English were against this Imperial conflict, on the other side of the world. Sir Wilfrid Laurier dragged his heels, as Robert L. Borden Minister of Militia and Defence argued with other cabinet members, MPs, against setting a president of Imperial overseas service every time Britannia demanded. Owing to British pressure, Canada indebted to Briton, Imperial war mongering by profiteers, MPs with agendas, Yellow journalism played out in the press columns. This prompted, circa 7,000 individuals too enlist for military and civilian Imperial overseas service. They were misinformed on the veracity, without control over the aftermath that unfold post war, when Canada’s contribution was over, with all military contingents back home, and shouldn’t be held accountable.

Only 4% of Canadians, if, are aware of this country’s involvement in the South African War 1899-1902. When Canada’s press, social media got wind of the facts in 2012, they were mortified and stupefied; shocked into chagrin surrounding the circumstances Canada’s, “call to arms.” The Boer’ after packing up and leaving their lands, created a new state, once the “Outlanders,” (British) discovered they found large deposits of diamonds, gold, etc., infiltrated into their lands mining areas without consent of the Boer. Since this would be Briton’s second attempt in annexing Boer land, the new found riches was a motivating factor in the British declaring war. Boer’ provided the Outlanders an ultimatum with date in compliance, or they would declare war, date passed, simultaneously both declared war. Post war British concentration camps, systematically exterminated the Boer’, according too mainstream accounts; “at least 30,000 people, mostly children, died in these camps from sickness and hunger,” however the number is belived to be much higher, not counting those murdured in cold blood.

Boer War’s 110th anniversary plans skirted ‘sensitive’ details. English Canada and Quebec were deeply divided over the conflict.


Canadian Nursing Sister's First Contingent South African War. 1899.

The British, French armies, in attempts too enlarge their empires by waging war, colonised, and recruited women in a nonofficial capacity, their roll consisted of cooking, cleaning, mending, washing of uniforms, caring for the sick and wounded. In the Crimean War, the majority of historians overlooked, snubbed Mother Mary Seacole’s, contribution, favouring Nightingale’s account. While in Navy Bay, Panama, Seacole’s presence was requested in London, due to investments in goldmine companies, keeping her affaires in order sailed back to England. A small portion of Ph.Ds are presently acknowledging, praising her efforts, although many are still dragging their heels concerning, Mother Seacole’s gallant endeavours. Dismissed, and forgotten in historical accounts for 100 years, while some voiced, it was owing to the colour of her skin. Considering her experience in epidemic outbreaks, with “ample testimony,” however the only official cite, of her credentials in nursing, extends to a former medical officer from the West Granada Gold-Mining Company. Mary submited a nursing application with second contingent, rejected by the British Army, determined applied to the Crimean Fund; “a fund raised by public subscription to support the wounded in Crimea, for sponsorship to travel there, but she again met with refusal (Robinson p.90).” In two of Seacole’s accounts, it states; “she met Nightingale stationed at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, attempted to join Florence Nightingale’s nursing staff, regrettably Seacole’s offer was turned down.” According to Simkin and Seacole; “Mary at her own cost, traveled to Crimea establishing, the ‘British Hotel,’ a boarding house two miles from the frontlines, even treating the wounded and sick at the battlefront,” unlike Florence stationed much further away, staffed and supplied by the British. Thomas Day, an acutance of Mary, partnered with her in London, purchasing large amounts of previsions, boarding the Dutch, SS, screw-steamer, Hollander on January 27th, 1855. The hotel was mainly constructed by rummaging building materials and hiring labours, consisting of “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers,” opened in March 1855, the hotel was only completed in July. (Robinson, p. 11); “it included a building made of iron, containing a main room with counters and shelves and storage above, an attached kitchen, two wooden sleeping huts, outhouses, and an enclosed stable-yard. Organised as a business venture, Seacole sold anything, “from a needle to an anchor,” to officers and visitors (Seacole, Chap., VIII). Alexis Sayoer a French chef hired by the British army, in attempting to improve the diet of soldiers, meet Seacole, requested Soyer’s advice on how to manage her business, and was advised to concentrate on food and beverage service, and not to have beds for visitors because the few either slept on board ships in the harbour or in tents in the camp, (Alexis Soyer, p.233). William Howard Russell, Times correspondent wrote on Sept., 14th 1855, Mary was a “warm and successful physician, who doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded and has earned many a poor fellows blessing.” Lady Alicia Blackwood stated; Seacole “… personally spared no pains and no exertion to visit the field of woe, and minister with her own hands such things as could comfort or alleviate the suffering of those around her; freely giving to such as could not pay …”.

After the war Seacole returned to London, bankrupt, developed a friendship in Crimea with Count Gleichen, Queen Victoria’s nephew, supported fundraising, passed the hat on her behalf. She returned to Jamaica circa 1860, returning back to London in 1870, died from a stroke at Paddington, London on May 14, 1881. There’re numerous old school traditionalists, scholars, academics, with credentials in this day and age, critical, vigorously dismissing Seacole’s achievements, owing it threatens’ Florence Nightingale’s historical accounts, however are they right? The traditionalists, supporting their argument by pointing out, Marry Seacole had no academic credentials in nursing, or part of the British army, there’s no evidence Gazetted the Crimean war medal, while others state, awarded a Crimean medal. Considering, Mary applied twice, refused by British authorities, due to the colour of her skin, witchdoctor, using plant roots, herbs, “witch-hazel,” etc., remedies used too combat illnesses and skin wounds. In Seacole, Chap., VIII: Business cards were printed and sent ahead to announce her intention to open an establishment, to be called the “British Hotel,” near Balaclava, which would be “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers.” Partnerd with Thomas Day, as she had previously worked with him, running a boarding house at Panama in 1850. Both went to Crimea established the boarding hotel, while she nursed “British officers,” including the Queen’s nephew seeking her care, in gratitude the Count contributed during and after the war, praising her commitment to Briton.

Mary Seacole, by the compiled evidence, was simply a “British Shopkeeper,” war profiteer, selling her supplies, food, alcohol, and medical services, for monetary compensation! According too numerous historical accounts of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if she also ran a brothel, for British officers and visitors. Its clear there’s an agenda by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and their cronnies, for over a decade hyping up, embellishing Seacole’s persona, for what ever race mongering reason. The Old school steadfast, stiffed upper lipped traditionalist’s are correct, in reverberation, keeping up the pressure, discrediting Mary Secole’s supposed, self-proclaimed attributions. Scrutinising her accounts, presuming the Old Boy’s, dropped the ball, which is certainly not the case concerning their critical arguments. The facts still remain; losses in her gold mining investments, from previous experiences, foresaw an opportunity too recuperate the money, devised a scheme, knowing she would profit. As previously, Mary partnered with Tomas Day in a commerce venture, only aided those that could pay for her services, leaving those without the necessary means, to die. Offered meals and food catering services, selling whatever was possibly profitable to her purse, any comparison to Florence’s contribution in the Crimean war and the Canadian Army Nursing Sister’s in the South African War, achievements during their lives, I would bat an eyebrow in absurdity. S.V.P., I’m personally aware, of the importance and effectiveness of bush medicine, using plant, leaves, roots, etc.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale “Ladie with the lantern”

In the outbreak of the Crimean War on Oct., 1853, the UK, France, Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Crimean peninsula, vs the Russian Empire, fought in Turkey and the Black Sea. The over whelmed, unsanitary, poorly supplied, staffed, aide facilities; illnesses, cholera hastily spread, promoting hundreds of deaths. Others slowly perished in agony, while waiting or during transportation, only too endure the same faith, as hospitals were plagued by similar conditions, causing more deaths. Nightingale troubled by the critical press and a letter in the Times, on the deplorable conditions in the British barracks-hospital at Üsküdar, contacting the British secretary of war, offering her services. Other accounts state: “In Britain, a trenchant letter in the Times on 14 October triggered Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War, to approach Florence Nightingale to form a detachment of nurses to be sent to the hospital to save lives. Interviews were quickly held, suitable candidates selected, and Nightingale left for Turkey on 21 October.” The Minister accepted her application, appointed head nurse of all front operations and the responsibility of proving guidance to 38 nurses, under her authority. Florence Nightingale was known as “The Lady with the Lamp,” owing to her nightly rounds holding a lantern. Considered by mainstream historians, the roots of British army, and civilian modern nursing. She argued the old, one medical officer, per regiment or battalion, was an inadequate medical corps system, gathering British, Ministers, high military brass and public support, resulted in the development of the British army nursing corps, in 1855. Although an authorised branch of the British army, adopted army protocol, operational regulations, and uniforms, however in administration, were an independent unit. Nightingale surely cleared the landscape, as the main inspiration, however she’s not Canada’s pioneer, of the Canadian Army Nursing Service, or CAMC; that honour rightfully goes to, Georgina Fane Pope.

In the Dominion of Canada, prior and post war 1812, the status quo for over a 150 years, the medical service consisted of one or two medical surgeon officers, appointed too individual sedentary militia battalions or regiments. Canadian mainstream historians state; “the conception of the CAMC, extends to the North Western Rebellion in 1885, women were recruited without official recognition.” Since the nurses raised weren’t recognised or authorised, part of the army, or wore militia uniforms, therefore defiantly not the conception, unlike Florence Nightingale. On April 1885 the Minister of the Militia, appointed a surgeon, Lieut.-Col. Darby Bergin was authorised to create a Canadian medical service, supporting the needs of a large force, when a call to arms. Doctor Bergin quickly, organised a small medical H.Q. in Ottawa, “with a number of medical staff and two field hospitals, fully equipped with personal.” Bergin requested Kate Miller, head nurse at the Winnipeg General Hospital and mother Hannah Grier Coome, a founding member, of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, “to arrange for the care of the wounded in Saskatoon and Moose Jaw.”

Even with recorded accounts, praising the doctors, nursing services, and medical facilities, with recommendation of retention and expansion, from Lieut.-Col. Bergin, of the militia medical service post Second Boer War, steps weren’t taken until two years prior to 1900. In February 1898, the militia minister appointed a Director of Medical staff, creating the “Canadian Militia Army Medical Department on June 1899.” The existing old sedentary battalion, regimental surgeon-major, Medical Service was retained and a new organisation was authorised, designated the “Army Medical Staff Service.”

The AMSS was subdivided into the, “Militia Army Medical Staff” for officers and the Militia Army Staff Corps (other ranks); medical officers posted to the AMSS, “were granted combat rank.” The Second South African War, forced the high brass to authorise, the Militia Army Medical Nursing Service, consisting of four nurses attached to first contingent, 2 SS Batt., RCRI. As mentioned four nurses were authorised for first contingent, four more with second contingent and eight with third contingent; four of the eight nurses, served with first and second contingent, returning back to South Africa fourteen months later. I stand firm in my assessment the, “Army Nursing Sisters” were a professional military authorised unit, taking first hand accounts, on their endeavours to perceiver, they were, des “tours de force”!

“I would say that I ever deemed it a great privilege to aid in caring for the sick and wounded, and while the hardships necessarily endured in such a campaign have faded from my mind, I still often seem to hear the “Thank you, sister,” of the grateful soldier; while together with pleasant memories of large convoys of happy convalescents sent home comes the vision of the many sad graves left on the far-off veldt of South Africa. “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux peretual luceat eis.” (“Grant to them their eternal rest, O God, and in the light everlasting may they dwell.”) Georgina Pope.

“Army Nursing Sister” Lieut. Georgina Fane Pope, Head nurse, First Canadian Contingent during the Second South African War

“Army Nursing Sister” Lieut. Georgina Fane Pope, Head nurse, First Canadian Contingent, during the Second South African War.

I fined it quite troubling, owing Cecily Jane Georgina Fane Pope, is the footing that raised the foundation, on which rests the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps Nursing Services, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (DCB), only mentions her father and brother.

Once the dust settled on May 31st, 1902, ending July, Pope returned to Canada. In 1903, Georgina was the first Canadian, awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal, for her relentless dedication, and gallant service. In 1906 Pope was a member of the Canadian Army Medical Nursing Service, part of the “Permanent Army Medical Corps,” at Garrison Hospital in Halifax, for two years. In the history of the Canadian Army Medical Corps, Pope in 1908 was appointed as first Matron, responsible for the birth of army nursing programs, developed for the Canadian (PF) Medical Corps, and NPAM, producing hundreds of army nursing graduates, prompting the High Brass to authorise, that all qualified nurses are, hence forward, promoted with the rank of Lieutenant, in Canada’s army. Pope having issue with her kaki uniform, designed and introduced new blue nursing uniform, the nurses dubbed in the FWW as, “the Bluebirds.” In the First World War, Pope’s services were refused on several occasions; only in 1917 her application was final accepted, at the age of 55. In poor health, she sailed overseas, stationed near Ypres, unfortunately in June, manifested signs of battle fatigue, on August 15th, collapsed. Within two days sent to London Hospital, evaluated by the Medical Board, diagnosed with arteriosclerosis and neurasthenia, known as “shell shock,” taking her exceptional military service, the Board deemed Georgina, “temporary unfit for duty” and invalided back to Canada. Pope was reviewed by the Canadian Medical Board, declared permanently unfit for duty, and granted a war pension. On March, 1919, Pope with great regret retired as matron moving back home, living semi-invalidated. Georgina Fane Pope 76 years’ old, battling illnesses during her life, died at Charlottetown, P.E.I., on June 6th, 1938.

Shortly before her death, stated; “My hair is white, in fact I am long since a ‘back number.’ But the sight of soldiers or sailors marching, a bugle call, the sound of the drums or military band has power still to stir in me the old enthusiasm and once more I long to minister to such cheery patients as the soldiers and sailors of the King.”


Canadian “Army Nursing Sister’s”

1st. contingent; head nurse Georgina Fane Pope, Sarah Forbes, Minnie Affleck, Elizabeth Russell.

Sec. contingent; head nurse Deborah Hurcomb, Margaret Clotilde Macdonald, Marcella P. Richardson, Margaret L. Horne.

3rd contingent; head nurse Pope, Forbes, Hurcomb, Macdonald, with Florence Cameron, Eleanor Fortescue, Amy W. Scott, Margaret Smith.

“Angels or Sisters of Mercy”

Upon Britannia’s expectations of her Dominions, Canada’s government authorised the formation of the “Army Nursing Sisters,” accompanying first Canadian contingent, 2nd S.S. Battalion RCRI, on Oct. 30th, 1899 at Quebec City docks, boarding the S.S. Sardinian to Cape Town. First styled as, the “Militia Medical Service,” formed in June 1899 redesignated as a Corps, on July, 1904, part of the “Permanent Active Militia Medical Cops.” The Militia Medical Service was reorganised, within the Army Medical Department, instead of the Militia Army Medical Staff Service, was replaced by a Medical Staff and the Army Medical Corps, both under command of a Director General of Medical Service. The Medical Corps was divided, a small unit servicing the PF, styled as the “Permanent Active Militia Army Medical Corps,” the other was attached to the NPAM styled, Militia Army Medical Corps; both consisting of officers and other ranks, while the NPAM were allotted dental officers and nursing sisters. The Battalion and Regimental Medical Service, consisting of one or two surgeons, separate from the Army Medical Department. The Militia Medical Service was a distinctive branch; its members authorised combat rank, the title of surgeon-major, no longer applied. The Medical Staff as a separate unit was abolished in 1906, absorbed by both the Permanent Army Medical Corps (PF), and the Army Medical Corps (NPAM). In May 1st 1909 both units were redesignated, The Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC).

The MAMS, under development in 1899, authorised the “Militia Army Medical Nursing Service,” consisting of four nurses in contribution, to the Second Anglo-Boer War, organised as an integral part of the militia’s permanent force. In 1906 Macdonald and Pope were appointed as fulltime nurses in, the Canadian Permanent Force militia. In 1908 the Canadian Army Nursing Corps was authorised, allotted five Permanent Force (PF) and 57 nurses listed on reserve, in the outbreak of the FWW. In the Second Boer War, “Canadian nurses were granted the rank, pay, and allowance, of ‘Lieutenant,’ in the British Army.” Briton recruited Nursing Sister’s from her Dominions, colonies, as part of “Tommy Atkins” army, unlike the Constabulary; DHH, CWM, and others classifying, “the police force,” as a unit, authorised by the Canadian Government, part of the total military force, participating during the war, and thereafter. The Canadian War Museum, DND Heritage and History, scholars, academics failed to recognise the nursing sisters as a military unit, however incorporates all others, whether they were authorised army or civilian raised units. The British, Canadian, Australian ect., nursing sisters were a specific integral professional army unit, part of the British Army Medical Corps. Authorised by Britannia and elegantly styled as, “Daughters of the Queen,” saving countless of lives in outbreaks of epidemic, endangering their own health and lives, in the case of Pope due too decades of poor health and sickness lost the battle. Forbes returned to Halifax after her second tour ending July, suddenly dieing of pneumonia at Liverpool, d. unmarried on Dec. 1st 1902. Georgina Pope and Sarah Forbes were buried, with full military honours.

The Canadian Army Nursing Sisters, were selected from 190 applications, Georgina Fane Pope, was chosen as head nurse. Pope was born to a distinguished family, on New Years day in 1862, at Charlottetown, P.E.I., daughter of William Henry Pope, a Father of Confederation. Pope’s upbringing was privileged of a Victorian lady, instead of what was expected of Georgina, desiring a professional carrier and sacrifice in public service, too the needy and in despair. As a young girl realised her calling when she read, “Miss Florence Nightingales’s” noble work during the Crimean War; “I became filled with the desire to become an ‘army nursing sister’ and go to the front.” Years later attended a leading American school; “I entered the training-school for nurses attached to Bellevue Hospital, (The Mother of Nursing Schools in North America graduating in 1885), in New York. Fourteen years later -viz.: October, 1899- I received my appointment, with three other nurses, to go out with the Canadian Contingent then called to active service in South Frica-thus realizing my early aspirations.” Once graduated, Pope’s application was accepted, with a position at a privet hospital in Washington D.C., sometime later relocates to the cities, Columbia Hospital for Women, as a Superintendent of Nursing. Pope was asked to fund and create a nursing school, five years later the doors opened for enrolment, at this time her health deteriorated from long hours and strain, resigned and went back to New York, taking a year of post graduate work at Bellevue. Once completed offered a position in charge of the nursing staff at St. Johns Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y., after 15 years in America studying and working, the rumours of war, she returned to Canada in 1899. Sahara Forbes was named second head nurse, enrolling at Columbia Hospital at Washington, D.C. developing her medical skills with, Georgina Fane Pope. Montréals’ newly created Victorian Order of Nurses accepted Forbes application when she completed training, working there for one year. One can say, she must of made quite an impression while in Washington, Columbia Hospital offered her a position of head nurse, under Pope. Forbes returned to Canada in October 1899 employed as a privet nurse, when Forbes and Pope volunteered for service with First Contingent, with Minnie Affleck, from Charlottetown P.E.I., and Elizabeth Russell a graduate nurse, veteran of the Spanish American War, daughter of Dr. James Russell, Hamilton, Ontario. Like Pope and many other nursing sisters, single never married, at the age of 35, Russell enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, June 18, 1915 at Shorncliffe Camp, Kent, England. Note; Affleck, Minnie, Diary -Letter to her sister- from Pretoria, South Africa. July 17th, 1900. – In Macleod, Mrs. – For the flag or lays and incidents of the South African War. – Charlottetown, P.E.I.: Archibald Irwin, 1901. – P. 127-129. – Reproduced in microform format: CIHM microfiche series, no. 7

Ambulance train with nursing sister onboard, SAW.

Ambulance train with nursing sister onboard, SAW.

When the Second Boer War erupted, Canada knowing it would save lives, was in the processes of developing, the Canadian Army Medical Department, authorised in June 1899, the Canadian Army Nursing Service, created when the first contingent of sisters were sent to South Africa, however official authorised in 1901, using portions of Tommy’s Medical Corps doctrine: a production chain excluding nurses, in South African battlefront. The ambulance units divided as casualties depending on the severity of their wounds sent to a first-aide stations or field hospitals a respectable distance from the battlefield. Once the patients were stable for transportation in horse draw ambulance wagons, moved further back to a general or base hospital by ambulance train wagons, as the army advanced or retreated the chain moved forward or backwards. The main form of transportation in South Africa was the rail-lines, rivers, with few roads connecting cities and towns on the rough veldt, dirt roadways were mainly created constructed within cities and towns, by people, horse drawn wagons, in daily activities, creating “trails, paths and runs.”

According to the states quo historical accounts, first contingent arrived and disembarked in Cap Town, on Nov. 30th, 1899. Pope’s account, “we disembarked on December 1st,” with 3 doctors and four nursing sister’s, Pope was informed 2nd RCRI were immediately ordered up country, she reported to the head British officer in persuasion to allow, the nursing sister’s accompany Canadian troops to the front. Pope advised, “was impossible, as no nursing sisters could be accommodated in the field hospitals. So with very disconsolate feelings we saw our countrymen entrain without us, and came to realize at that early date what served us in good stead later viz.: that we too were soldiers, to do as we were told and go where we were sent.” Tommy Atkins’ Medical Corps doctrine on female nurses, made provisions for units in general and base hospital, no nurses were allowed near the front, for fear they be captured or shot by the enemy. Lieut. Pope and her nursing sisters later that date received orders for Wynberg in Cap Town, posted to No.1 General Hospital a large base facilities, with circa 1000 beds eight miles away. Pope accounts; “at No. 1 General, we nursed in huts, finding the work at times very heavy, oftentimes having our dinner between 9 and 10 P.m.” Their baptism under fire, one can say, owing it was their first experience with battle casualties; occurred when the Canadian nursing sisters arrived few days prior, “quickly dub by the press, Black Week.” A series of three rapid engagements by British forces advancing faster, as their supplies lagging behind, creating conditions for enteric epidemics, the nursing sisters’ expertise would be in dire need. For three weeks, casualties in large wagon convoys from the front rolled in to the hospital, doctors and nurses faced horrendous daily long hours.

Army nursing sister Pope, provides her account; “at Wynberg we found our services greatly needed, the wounded from Graspan and Belmont having recently been brought down in large numbers. A few days after our arrival a large convoy brought in the wounded from Magersfontein and Modder River, when all my empty beds were filled with men of the Highland Brigade, which suffered so severely in the engagements. The arrival of this convoy was a most pitiful sight, many of the men being stretcher cases, shot through thigh, foot or spine. What struck one most was the wonderful pluck of these poor fellows, who had jolted over the rough veldt in ambulances and then endured the long train journey, also the utter self righteousness of everyone else, surgeons, sisters, and orderlies, all of whom worked on regardless of time or hunger until everyone was as comfortable as they could be made. Tommy made the least of all his woes. A drink first, then after his wounds had been attended to, ‘a bit of tobacco’ for a smoke, and a piece of paper to “send a line so they won’t be scared at home,” were invariably the first requirements.”

Miss Minnie Affleck Nursing sister, First Canadian Contigent, South African War.1900.

Miss Minnie Affleck Nursing sister, First Canadian Contigent, South African War.1900.

On Christmas Day “Tommy Atkins,” ordered the Canadian and three British nurses transferred, to entrain and proceed 6 miles away to No.3 General Hospital at Rondebosch Cape Town, a facility with 600 beds, for other ranks. The sisters were stationed for six months in the enteric fever ward. The Sisters experienced adventures of camp life, chilling nights and hot midsummer sun, with powerful rain, wind, and sandstorms, pestered by snakes and scorpion. They “eagerly searched out the wearers of the Maple Leaf badge, and deemed it a great privilege to find them our own special patients.” According to Pope; “service there including medical and surgical cases of our own and the Portland hospital, we had but thirty deaths. But here at the base we always had good air, plenty of good water, with an abundance of fresh milk, eggs, and ice. The general hospital fare was excellent, and added to this we received daily quantities of fruit and dainties sent by the Red Cross Committee of the Colony, besides any medical comforts from England.”

The outcome of Black Week, forced Tommy to wait for reinforcements, strengthening British line, with troops, supplies, sent from Briton and her Dominions, taking more then two months. Ending February 1900, four more Canadian nursing sisters were despatched with second contingent, joined Pope at No. 3 Hospital at Rondebosch. The head nurse of the detachment was Deborah Hurcomb, the nurses were recruited on December, with the original 190 applicants, are as fallows.

Nursing Sister Marcella Percy Richardson; born in Woodstock, Ontario November 13th 1873, at the age of 41, in the FWW, she enlisted at Québec City, Sept. 25, 1914, served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, 1st Canadian General Hospital. Deborah Hurcomb of Montréal, Margaret L. Horne, a B.A. graduate from McGill University, achieved a nursing diploma, at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. Margaret Clotilde Macdonald was borne in Bailey’s Brook, Nova Scotia on February 26, 1879. Graduate from the N.Y. City Hospital Training School, during the Spanish-American war, she served on a hospital relief ship. At the age of 27 recruited for the South African war, with two tours of duty. In the FWW at the age of 35 enlisted at Québec City Sept 25, 1914 with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, 1st Canadian General.

In early May, No.3 General Hospital at Rodebosch was reorganised into two units. Lieut.-Col. A. Keogh, Woods Sec.-in-com., received command of nursing sisters, Russell and Affleck as half the medical staff, mobilised to Springfontien in the Orange Free State. In Sarah Forbes’ Biography; “in May 1900 the nursing staff of No.3 Hospital was divided and Forbes, Pope, and eight nursing sisters were sent to Kroonstadt, headquarters of Lord Roberts’s army, where for the next month Forbes assisted Pope in establishing a temporary hospital to care for some 230 sick and wounded, where they worked under great difficulties, often short of food, water, and medical supplies.

Major Margaret Clothilde MacDonald; born 1873 at Bailey Brook, Nova Scotia, enrolled and received a nursing diploma at the New York City Hospital, afterwards completed her post-graduate. She traveled to Panama, during the construction of the Panama Canal, for 18 months, contracting malaria, invalidated back to Canada. Enlisted in the Spanish-American War, she prevented the spread of yellow fever throughout the hospital wards. Her nursing application was accepted with 2nd & 3rd Canadian contingents, in the South African War. Margaret a member of Canadian Army Nursing Corps, nursing sister, was one of the original members, while replacing Pope, becoming second to serve as, Matron-in-Chief in 1914. “In August 1914, Margaret, was authorised to recruit 100 nurses, excepting applications from across Canada and the United States.” Macdonald and Pope were appointed as a fulltime nurses in the Canadian Permanent Force militia, in 1906. Margaret enlisted in the FWW, returning to Canada in the Fall of 1919 to help in the re-organisation of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. She retired in 1923 at the age of 51. Margaret Macdonal, awarded the Royal Red Cross and the Florence Nightingale Medal, at the age of 75 died in 1948.

Pope’s unit was ordered to Kroondstadtm, later on after traveling for two days they reached Springfontein, where Pope spent an hour with nursing sisters Russell, and Affleck attached to No. 10 General, stationed in two buildings “Grey College and Dames Institute,” where they were billeted; “the sisters who were cheerfully bearing great hardships, sister Affleck who was doing night duty telling roe that the cold at night was so intense that the medicine froze in the glasses as she carried them to the different patients.” Delayed for two days at Bloemfontein, as trains filled too capacity, they reached their destination “early in the morning of the Queens birthday.” on May 24th.

Miss Minnie Affleck, Nursing Sister, 1st Canadian Contingent, South African, 1899-1902 War. 1900

Miss Minnie Affleck, Nursing Sister, 1st Canadian Contingent, South African, 1899-1902 War. 1900


SESSIONAL PAPER No. 35a 1901, REPORT F. p163-164.

Deborah Hurcomb’s Account:
Ottawa, January 17, 1901.

Sir, In presenting this report, I might state that with the exception of a short time in Kimberley we were always attached to, and under the superintendence of the English army nursing sisters. We shared alike with them the work in the different hospitals and were thus relieved of any responsibility as to our movements. We were at all times treated with the greatest consideration and kindness by our English sisters, which helped to make our work more pleasant. We all came home feeling that the experience has been of great benefit to us, and will be of great value if our services in this line are ever required again. We assembled in Halifax on Jan. 20 1900, and went on board the transport “Laurentian,” nurses Hurcomb, Home, Macdonald and Richardson. We sailed from Halifax Jan. 21. Our quarters on board ship were most comfortable and, in fact, we were all satisfied with the treatment accorded us during the voyage. As there were no serious cases of illness, we were not called upon for duty, and after a pleasant and uneventful trip arrived in Cape Town, Saturday, Feb. 19, 1900. We reported at once to Col. Supple, P. M. O., of Woodstock, who gave us orders to proceed at once to No. 3 General Hospital, at Rondebosch. This was a base hospital, at which patients were continually arriving from the front to stay until convalescent, when they were either sent home to England or, if well enough, returned to duty. Our hours of duty while here averaged about 9 hours a day, and during the period of our stay there were from 15 to 20 other nursing sisters, including four who went out with the first contingent. On Friday, March 16, we received orders to proceed to Kimberley, and left that evening. We arrived at Kimberley on the evening of the 18th. We were met by Col. Ryerson, who had arranged for our stay at the Grand Hotel for a few days, after which our quarters consisted of a private house where we were made very comfortable. We were assigned for duty at the Masonic Temple, which building had been turned into a temporary hospital. It had accommodation for about 100 patients. I, as head nurse, was placed in charge, and the staff consisted of the three other Canadian sisters and several orderlies. The cases were mostly enteric fever and dysentery, the former of a most malignant type. The percentage of deaths was not above the average. We were very much indebted to Col. Ryerson and the Canadian Red Cross Society for the help which they gave in the way of supplies of every description, which helped us very materially in our work. We remained at this hospital in Kimberley for about a month. On April 20, we got orders to go to Bloemfontein. We left the following day and arrived there on the 23rd. While in Bloemfontein we were attached to No. 10 General Hospital, and while here encountered our hardest work in the country. The majority of the cases were enteric fever and dysentery, at one time there being between 4,000 and 5,000 cases in the town. At first, for a while, medical and food supplies were very short and this, coupled with the fact that the supply of good water was very limited, made the suffering greater. Many of the doctors and nurses contracted the disease, and two of our own nurses. Misses Richardson and home, were on the sick list about three weeks after our arrival there. Miss Richardson was off duty about two months, while Miss Home is still away on sick leave. We left Bloemfontein on July 18, for Pretoria, and arrived at our destination on July 20. We were immediately attached to the staff of the Irish Hospital, which had been established in the Palace of Justice. Here we met the four nurses who went out with the first contingent and whom we had last seen in Rondebosch. We were all on duty in the same hospital; our work here was not so heavy. This hospital was one equip and sent out by Lord Iveagh and was well supplied with food and other necessaries. There was an average of between 400 and 500 patients during the time we were there, a good many of our Canadian soldiers, and had some of both officers and men as patients. On Oct. 15, the staff of the Irish Hospital left for home. The hospital was then taken over by the military and we stayed here until Nov. 23, when we left for Cape Town, en route for home. Before leaving Pretoria we got leave of absence for a week. During this time we visited Ladysmith, Colenso, Durban and other points of interest. The journey from Pretoria to Cape Town was made in 5 days. On arrival we were quartered at Wynberg, awaiting embarkation. We sailed from Cape Town on the “Roslin Gasiley” Dec. 13. On account of sickness on board, the nurses were called upon for duty, but as there were seven of us on board our work was comparatively light. I regret to say, however, that two of the cases terminated fatally. We arrived in Halifax Jan. 8, and from thence proceeded to our respective homes.

I have the honour to be, sir, Your obedient servant, D. HURCOMB, Head Nurse 2nd Canadian Contingent Col. J. L. H. Neilson, G.G.H.S., Director General Medical Service, Ottawa, Canada.

Deborah Jane Hurcomb: B, 20 Apr 1867, Montreal, Quebec, Canada D: 28 Feb 1907, at Buffalo, Erie, New York, United States, 40 years old. Head nurse of Second Canadian Contingent in her khaki uniform. 1900.

Deborah Jane Hurcomb: B, 20 Apr 1867, Montreal, Quebec, Canada D: 28 Feb 1907, at Buffalo, Erie, New York, United States, 40 years old. Head nurse of Second Canadian Contingent in her khaki uniform. 1900.


In Georgina’s account; “were the first sisters to reach Kroondstadt, O. R. C., stopping en route at Springfontein and Bloemfontein. At the latter place enteric fever and dysentery were raging, the hospitals, of which were three general and many smaller ones, being all crowded, No. 9 having, we were told, eighteen hundred patients. All persons and supplies were being taxed to the utmost. In Kroondstadt we had our hardest taste of active service. Lord Roberts and Lord Methuen’s forces had just passed through, leaving sick and wounded in large numbers. Owing to the congested stat of the lines of communications, our hospital equipment was delayed a few days in reaching Kroonstadt. The Dutch church, hotels, Staat Huis, etc., were quickly converted into hospitals, where we made the patients as comfortable as possible. Fresh Milk was very hard to get, an officers servant having been shot dead by the Boers in his effort to get some at a farm near by, but of condensed milk, beef-tins, champagne, and jelly we had plenty. Here under canvas in June, like our Sisters at Springfontein, we suffered acutely from cold, each morning the hoar frost being thick both inside and out, of our single bell tents. We were very short of water and lived on rations which an orderly cooked for us on a fire on the veldt, dinner being a very uncertain feast on a rainy day.”

Ending June, the amount of patients dwindled, may recovered, while others died, the nurses were ordered to rejoin Roberts’s army in Pretoria; attached to the Palace of Justice Hospital, which included the Irish Hospital, where they nursed under second in command, Dr. George Stoker. Two, or a week and a half later, they’re joined by three nurses of second contingent, where they remained, until November, when they received orders being transferred to Wynberg; the fourth Sister, Margaret Horne, invalidated to Canada.

Upon completion of one year’s contract, the Canadian Army Nursing Sisters, were ordered back to Wynberg. “Col. Gubbins, P.M.O., of Pretoria, gave us 10 days leave of absence, which we spent in visiting Natal, stopping at Ladysmith, Spion Kop, Colenzo, Chievley, Pietermaritzburg and Durban, but being unfortunately delayed in reaching Pretoria by the line having been cut, we arrived back there too late to join the Royal Canadians, with whom we were to have returned home via England.” The nursing sisters were forced to stay a month in which and embark with second contingent, “on December 13, we embarked on board the ‘Roslin Castle’ with the Second Contingent, which had orders to sail direct to Halifax.” “On the afternoon of January 8, we sighted the coast of Chibucto, and later in the evening, with feelings of great happiness, found ourselves back in the much loved land of ‘Our Lady of the Snows.’ I cannot close this report without saying that it has been to me and my sisters a great privilege to serve the Empire in assisting in caring for the sick and wounded in far away South Africa, and if we have lessened their sufferings as we endeavoured to do, we are amply repaid for the hardships which are necessarily encountered in such a campaign.”

I have the honour to be, sir, your obedient servant, GEORGINA FANE POPE, Supt. 1st Contingent of Canadian Nursing Sisters to South Africa, Colonel J. L. H. Neilson, G.G.H S., Director General Medical Services, Ottawa, Canada.

On October 1901, during the visit by Duke of Cornwall to Halifax, Pope and Forbes were awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal.

Canada’s 3rd Contingent, in the South African War:

Briton requested more troops from her Dominions, as casualties were mounting, prompting Canada to authorise the formation of a third contingent, consisting of the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, six-squadron’s of 901 all ranks; the 10th Field Hospital with 62 officers and men, with eight Canadian Army Medical Corps, Nursing Service, sisters; four having previously served with the earlier contingents. The 2 Regt. CMR and 10 Field Hospital sailed from Canada on January 28th, 1902, to Cape Town, without the nurses, as the ship was too its full capacity. The Canadian Nursing Service, army nursing sisters were as fallows; Pope as head nurse, Forbes, Hurcomb, Macdonald with previous service in South Africa. With Margaret Smith, Eleanor Fortescue, Any W. Scott, Florance Cameron, sailed an alternate rout via London, boarded the S.S. Corinthian at Halifax, departed on the same date as third contingent, arriving in England on February 5th. On the 15th they boarded the RMS Saxon, arriving at Cape Town on March 2nd, staying several days at Wynberg hospital. The sisters, members of the Canadian Medical Corps, presumed they’d be attached to the Canadian 10th Field Hospital, stationed at Newcastle. Although disappointed when the nursing sisters were advised, they wouldn’t be joining 10 Field Hospital, ordered, and dispatched to No.19 Stationary Hospital, a 600 bed facility on the Platberg, 6,000 feet above sea-level. They boarded the hospital ship Orcana, transported them to Duram, with a two day stopover, entrained for Harrissmith. Over 300 were suffering from enteric fever, the nursing sisters, contracted the illnesses, while some recovered, sister Hurcomd plagued by her early bouts, contracted a severe case of enteric, invalided to Canada. At that same time, Florance Cameron, suffered from “a severe attack of jaundice,” evacuated to the Sick Sisters’ Home in Johannesburg. On June 25th, the nursing sisters were ordered to Durban, embarking the Winifredian with the men of 2 CMR, arriving in late July at Halifax.


2-3 EDWARD VI 1., A. 1903, SESSIONAL PAPER No. 35a, p65-66.


To Colonel J. L. II. J Veilson, Director General Medical Services, From Nursing Sister
Georgina Pope.

Ottawa, 3rd November, 1902.

Sir,—As senior of the eight nursing sisters sent to South Africa with the 3rd Contingent,
I have the honour to present the following report :—

Embarking on board the Corinthian at Halifax on the January 27, 1902, and sailing early in the morning of the 28th, we reached Liverpool on the evening of February 5, where we stopped over night, proceeding to London next morning. Immediately upon arrival in London I reported at the War Office and received orders that we should await the sailing of the R.M.S. Saxon for Cape Town in ten days. This was a most convenient delay as several of the sisters had come without completing their uniforms, and a week in London was much enjoyed by us al’. On the 15th day of February we sailed from Southampton and reached the Cape after a very fine trip of seventeen days. Here we received orders to disembark and proceed to No. 1 general hospital, Wynberg, there to await the sailing of the hospital ship Orcatia for Durban, whence we were to entrain for Harrismith, Orange River Colony. At Wynberg we met with a warm welcome from Superintendent Sister Garrioch, with whom Sister Forbes and I had been stationed two months during our previous service in South Africa.

Two days later, viz., the 4th of March, we sailed for Durban. We had an unusually fine trip up the coast and after two days in that charming town left by hospital train for Harrismith, stopping over night at Ladysmith and reaching our destination on the 14th of March. At Cape Town we heard rumours of our beautifully equipped and much admired Canadian field hospital being made stationary at Harrismith, and that we should likely be attached to it. Consequently we were disappointed to find from the Principal Medical Officer at Durban that this was not the case—our field hospital being at Newcastle and our orders being for 19 Stationary hospital, Harrismith. Here we were very kindly received by Superintendent Sister Chad wick, whom I had the pleasure of meeting before when she was in charge of the Princess of Wales’ hospital ship. She made us very welcome, and as the service had been rendered very heavy by a recent ‘ drive ‘ coming in bringing many sick, we found ourselves useful at once.

Harrismith is a very pretty little town lying between the beautiful blue Drakensberg hills and a fine kopje called the Platberg, under whose shadow our camp was pitched.

There were about 600 patients in hospital, more than half of whom were in well built huts and the remainder under canvas. About a third of the cases were suffering from enteric fever ; but, with few exceptions, very mild cases compared with the dreadful epidemic of two years before—while the supply of fresh milk and eggs even at 6s. a dozen was ample. The air was very fine and bracing—being 6,000 feet above sea level—the nights were beginning to be quite cold, as it was autumn, but it was warm and oftentimes too hot during the day. We had some severe rains, lasting some times four or five days, and frequent and terrible were the well known sand storms of South Africa. In May, during which month I was on night duty, it became intensely cold at night, and almost every morning the ground and surrounding hills were white with hoar frost. Early in May Sister Hurcomb became ill and at the end of the month was invalided home. Sister Cameron was also taken ill, having had a chill while on night duty, which was followed by a severe attack of jaundice. During her convalescence she was sent to the Sick Sisters’ Home at Johannesburg, where she was most kindly treated by Dr. and Mrs. Rogers, Dr. Rogers being the physician in charge. This reduced our staff to six sisters. Soon after the glorious news of peace, our hospital became reduced to half the number of beds and the service was very light. We received our orders for home on the June 23 and left for Durban on the 25th, to sail with our troops from that port.

Upon arrival in Durban we heard the sad news of His Majesty’s illness and found the pretty town which was en fete for the coronation suddenly cast into gloom and the public meeting in the park for addresses of joy turned into one of intercessory prayer. In the afternoon we embarked on board the ss. Winijredian and were joined by Colonel Evans and his troops next day.

After a pleasant voyage of twenty-four days we arrived at Halifax on July 22, where we separated for our several homes. In conclusion I should like to speak of the kindness shown us while at Hairismith by General Brook and his staff, by Colonel May, principal medical officer, and by Capt. Charles Armstrong, of Montreal, who was stationed there in charge of a branch line which was being laid between Harrismith and Bethlehem, and who looked after our comfort and pleasure in every possible way.

I have the honour to be, sir,
Your most obedient servant,

GEORGINA POPE, Senior Sister.

Georgena Pope, head nurse 1st 3rd SAW Contingent and FWW CDN Army Nurse.

Georgena Pope, head nurse 1st 3rd SAW Contingent and FWW CDN Army Nurse.

Margaret Heggie Smith, South African War and FWW nurse.

Margaret Heggie Smith, South African War and FWW nurse.

Matron Margaret Heggie Smith; born May 24th, 1872 in Ottawa, Ontario, daughter of William Heggie Smith of Ottawa. Enrolled, studied nursing at the Blockley Hospital in Philadelphia, enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, with service in South Africa with third contingent, returned to Canada in late July 1902. Margaret Smith enlisted in the outbreak of the FWW, on September 25th, 1914 serving two years in France. Enlisting a second time, now as Matron, on July 6th, 1917 in Orpington, Kent, England, with the Ontario Military Hospital, now the No. 16 Canadian Field Hospital, serving four years. On July 31st, 1919: In recognition she was Gazzeted by, King George V., awarded a bar to her, “Royal Red Cross.” She died aged 47 on May 12th, 1920 in Atlantic City. Obituary from The Canadian nurse and hospital review: “But years of steady and strenuous duty had its undermining effect, and it was in somewhat impaired health that Matron Smith returned to Canada. After some months’ treatment, she had seemingly recovered her health: and it was whilst in the enjoyment of a well-merited holiday, with friends, at Atlantic City, that, without warning, she was elected to join those “Whom God has called to His mysterious rest.”

Nursing Sister Amy Winifred Scott; Born in London, England, on May 29th 1866, immigrated to Canada, after the war continued her service with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, trained nurses until enlisting in the FWW, at Québec City Sept. 28th, 1914 , age of 48. Appears on Oct. 20th 1914 list, page 325, of the British journal of nursing; serving with the Nursing Sisters, at No. 1 General Hospital for the duration of the war.(never married)

“The following contingent of nurses have arrived in England from Canada by H.M.T. Franconia for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and are at present the guests of St. Thomas’ Hospital.”

LAC Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 8711-40

SVP, still under construction, and has been for 2 1/2 decades, accounts are scarce, their valiant sacrifice should not be a forgotten footnote in Canadian historical accounts.

© Spañard



5 thoughts on “The Canadian “Army Nursing Sister’s” in the Second South Africana’ War, 1899-1902.

  1. Mary Ellen ‘Minnie’ Affleck (1874-1956) one of the nurses who went with the 1st Contingent (RCR) to the Boer war was not from PEI. She was born at Middleville (Lanark County) Ontario, trained at Kingston General Hospital and was working at Ottawa Children’s Hospital when she volunteered for war duty.


  2. Pingback: The Britannia Children’s Convalescent Home | Britannia: A History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s