Sister Soldiers of the Great War
312 pages, 6 x 9
31 photos, 2 maps, 6 tables
Release Date:15 May 2016
Release Date:15 May 2016
Release Date:22 Jul 2016

Sister Soldiers of the Great War

The Nurses of the Canadian Army Medical Corps

UBC Press

“I am on night duty ... on what is supposed to be the ‘hopeless ward’ so you can imagine, or try to, just what I am doing. I know you cannot really have the faintest idea ...”

In Sister Soldiers of the Great War, award-winning author Cynthia Toman recovers the long-lost history of Canada’s first women soldiers – nursing sisters who enlisted as officers with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

These experienced nurses were motivated by patriotism, a sense of adventure, and personal and professional goals. They left their communities, families, and jobs to enlist in the Canadian Army, where they received relative rank and equal pay to men. Their official mandate was to salvage as many sick and wounded men as possible for return to the front lines. Nothing prepared them for poor living conditions, the scale of casualties, or the type of wounds they encountered, but their letters and diaries reveal that they were determined to soldier on under all circumstances while still “living as well as possible.”

The first book to look at the collective and individual experiences of Canada’s nursing sisters, Sister Soldiers of the Great War reveals how these resilient women negotiated their role as sisters and soldiers in a man’s world.

Enlivened by the nurses’ own writings, Sister Soldiers of the Great War will appeal to anyone interested in Canadian history, women’s history, military history, or nursing and medical history.

... Toman’s engaging reassessment of the supposed truths about the Canadian Army Medical Corps Nursing Sisters makes Sister Soldiers of the Great War one of the finest works on the history of Great War nursing to date. Eliza Richardson, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canadian Military History
Toman returns the Canadian Army Medical Corps nursing sisters to their rightful place at the heart of Canada’s First World War military medical system … Drawing heavily on newly available diaries, memoirs, and letters, as well as a demographic analysis of the personnel records of every single nursing sister, the book is an invaluable addition to the histories of Canadian women, medicine and nursing, and the First World War. It will be the authoritative work on its subject for years to come. Sarah Glassford, BC Studies
The result of Toman’s painstaking pursuit of sources is a rich and compelling narrative that both inspires and repulses. Toman does not attempt to conceal the horrors of war abounding in makeshift medical wards. Nor should she … Through Sister Soldiers, Toman makes a significant contribution by correcting the relative obscurity of the Canadian Army Medical Corps nursing sisters with both rigor and sensitivity. Sonya Grypma, Trinity Western University, Pacific Historical Review
Of this cadre of women most – but not all, for some were killed in action – returned from war. Some became our leaders in nursing, hospital management, and social services. Some left nursing and became our grandmothers or great grandmothers. We are in their debt, for their work and for their legacy. In their articulation of war, framed by diligent writers and researchers like Toman and Andrea McKenzie [author of War-Torn Exchanges, UBC Press 2016] we discover anew, from Canadian nursing sisters in the First World War, just what war is. From such articulation, we have much to learn. Margaret Horsfield, The Ormsby Review
The story of Canada’s First World War military nurses has never before been told, and Toman tells it with sensitivity and a deep knowledge of both the world of nursing and the history of the war. Jane Errington, author of Wives and Mothers, School Mistresses and Scullery Maids: Working Women in Upper Canada, 1790-1840
We have been waiting one hundred years for this book. It has been well worth the wait. Susan Mann, OC, author of Margaret Macdonald: Imperial Daughter
Sister Soldiers is a moving narrative of the gritty, grueling, sometimes inspiring, and often devastating realities that war entailed for Canada’s military nurses. Kathryn McPherson, author of Bedside Matters: The Transformation of Canadian Nursing, 1900-1990
During her tenure at the University of Ottawa, Cynthia Toman taught in the School of Nursing with a cross-appointment to the Department of History, where she served as director of the Nursing History Research Unit. Her awards include the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), the Governor General’s Gold Medal (2003), the American Association for the History of Nursing’s prestigious Teresa E. Christy Distinguished Writing Award (2004), and the Canadian Historical Association’s Hilda B. Neatby Award (2008). She is the author of An Officer and a Lady: Canadian Military Nursing and the Second World War and co-editor (with Jayne Elliot and Meryn Stuart) of Place and Practice in Canadian Nursing History.


1 The Great Machine of Healing

2 The Cast of Characters

3 Soldiering On under All Conditions

4 Soldiering On with Medical and Surgical Work

5 Social Sisters: “Living as Well as Possible”

6 Contemplating the Costs of War



Notes; Bibliography; Index

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