Canadian Army Nursing Service
When Samantha Lonsdale volunteeered, at the beginning of WW1, as a nursing sister she was joining a relatively young and untried service.
Established in 1906, the Canadian Army Nursing Service was a medical unit of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC).
The Canadian Army Nursing Service was unique since Canada was the first country to appoint nursing sisters to the following relative military ranks:
- Matron-in-Chief, relative rank of Major.
- Matron, relative rank of Captain.
- Nurse, relative rank of Lieutenant.
They had the same pay, privileges, and responsibilities as the men with similar ranks.
The first matron of the new nursing service was Miss Georgina Pope. A Prince Edward Island native she had served during the Boer War as the commander of the Canadian Army Nursing Service.
In 1914, Miss Margaret Macdonald was appointed as the Matron-in-Chief for the nursing service overseas. She would lead the nursing service in Europe for the duration of WW1. A Nova Scotia native she had served under Matron Pope during the Boer War.
When WW1 began there were 5 nursing sisters in the permanent militia and 50 nurses in the non-permanent militia. By the end of the war, Matron Macdonald would be overseeing a force of nearly 2,000 nurses on active duty.
The Canadian Army Nursing Service was administered by the Director of Medical Services (DMS) with executive control vested in the Matron-in-Chief.
The Matron-in-Chief was responsible for the following:
- appointments and promotions,
- transfers and posting,
- pay and allowances,
- confidential reports,
- honours and awards, and
- discipline and records.
Matrons and nursing sisters were to be regarded as having authority in military hospitals, next after the officers of the CAMC, in regard to medical matters and care of the sick and wounded.
They were at all times to be obeyed and to receive the respect due to their positions.
Officer rank, pay and allowances
When a nursing sister first joined the service they were given the relative rank of Lieutenant.
They had the following pay and allowances:
|Position||Relative Rank||Pay||Field Allowance|
|Matrons and Acting Matrons||Captain||$3.00||$0.75|
|Field Allowance was increased to $1.00 for all ranks on Sept 12, 1918.|
The nursing sisters were given first-class travel warrants and were allowed 16 shillings per day (approximately $0.40) travelling expenses.
Quarters and ration allowances
In England, nurses that were not provide with quarters and rations were allowed an allowance of $2.00 per day.
If provided with quarters, but not rations, they were allowed $1.00 per day for food.
The nurses were granted $150.00 clothing allowance to buy uniforms when they joined the service.
In September of 1918 an additional $100 was granted to all who had completed 2 years service from the date of last payment of the allowance. This was to be paid every two years.
Officers were granted the extra allowance for every year’s service.
Loss of kit allowance.
The nursing sisters were compensated for the value of lost kit, in accordance with the authorized list of kit to be carried while on service.
Full Dress Uniform
- Navy blue cloth, scarlet collar and cuffs, with white piping.
- CAMC buttons and belt clasp.
- Two stars on each shoulder.
- Shoes and Stockings Black.
The full dress uniform was not be worn while actually engaged in ward duties; otherwise it was interchangeable with working dress.
- Permissible at all times, summer and winter.
- Linen, mid-blue, washable.
- Buttons: Gilt CAMC.
- Rank Badges: Two stars.
- Belt: Tan coloured leather with CAMC clasp.
- Collars: Eton. Cuffs: Bishop pattern.
- Aprons: White.
- Caps: Muslin (one yard square).
- Shoes or Boots and Stockings: Tan coloured.
- Great Coat: Navy blue cloth.
- Raincoat waterproof: Navy blue.
- Cape: Navy blue cloth, lined with crimson.
- Hats, winter wear: Navy blue felt with CAMC badge.
- Hat, summer wear: Panama, Navy band with CAMC badge.
- Helmets may be worn when serving in hot climates.
Honours and Awards
The following table displays the total number of decorations awarded to the nursing sisters of the CAMC in WW1.
|Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)||1|
|Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)||1|
|Royal Red Cross, 1st Class||64|
|Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class||253|
|Bar to the Royal Red Cross||4|
|Royal Victoria Medal, 4th Class||1|
|Mention in Despatches||169|
|Names brought to the notice of the Secretary of State||76|
|Medaille d’Honneur “en Argent”||2|
|Medaille des Epidemies “en Vermeil”||3|
|Medaille des Epidemies “en Argent”||43|
|Medaille des Epidemies “en Bronze”||1|
|Medaille de la Reine Elizabeth||3|
The following table displays the nursing sisters on strength for each year of the war:
|Date||Number of Nursing Sisters|
|August 10, 1915||535|
|June 1, 1916||915|
|June 1, 1917||1,486|
|June 1, 1918||1,829|
|November 3, 1918||1,886|
By the end of the war the nursing service had the following authorized number of personnel:
|Rank||Number of Nursing Sisters|
|A 10% reserve was provided for reinforcements to hospital units and to replace casualties.|
|Total, including reserves||2,233|
For Hospitals in the Field
The nursing staff allocations was:
|Matron||Acting Matron||Nursing Sisters|
For Hospitals in Great Britain
|Matron||Assistant Matron||Nursing Sisters|
For every increase of 100 beds 4 additional nurses were allocated.
When the number of beds were above 1,500 an assistant matron was assigned to the matron-in-chief.
They were staffed one nursing sister for every 10 beds. A matron was assigned to hospitals with 300 or more beds. An assistant matron was assigned when the hospital beds capacity reached 1,500.
One nurse was assigned for every 50 beds. A matron was assigned to hospitals with 300 or more beds. An assistant matron was assigned when the hospital beds capacity reached 1,500.
Nurses sisters were assigned based on the war establishment.
Nursing sisters were detailed to invalids returning to Canada according to the class and number of patients embarked on board ship.
Sources and further reading
Mann, Susan. Margaret Macdonald: imperial daughter, McGill-Queen University Press, 2005.
Toman, Cynthia. Sister Soldiers of the Great War: The Nurses of the Canadian Army Medical Corps, UBC Press, 2016.