KATHERINE DEWAR: A harrowing adventure for a P.E.I. nursing sister

Nursing Sister Catherine Creswell on-board hospital ship when it was torpedoed

Published on March 18, 2017

Nursing Sister Catherine Creswell departs for Overseas.


CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Last month you read about the hair-raising experience of Nursing Sister Winifred Schurman, whose Hospital Ship Essesquibo, was fired on by a German submarine.

Nursing Sister Catherine Creswell of North St. Eleanors had a submarine story that trumped Schurman’s.

On June 11 1917, Creswell was sailing on the troop ship Ausonia and was almost to England as a reinforcement nurse for the Battle of Passchendaele. All on-board knew that the ship had entered the danger zone off the coast of southern Ireland where German submarines lay in wait for British ships.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the German U-boat SMS U-55, under the command of Wilhelm Werner, put a torpedo into the stern of the Ausonia.

Creswell’s captain called to abandon ship. Creswell even took her turn at rowing the lifeboat as they drifted about in the Irish Sea. Within hours they were rescued by a British destroyer.

This is Catherine Creswell's house in North St. Eleanors.

She needed all her strength that she had gained from her days of working on her father’s farm to clamber up the scramble nets (which looked like a giant fish net) thrown over the side of the destroyer.

The rescue would have been a spectacle, indeed. Dressed in her long blue uniform, wearing a life jacket, her greatcoat and laced-up boots, Creswell managed to put one foot over the other through the netting until she reached the deck of the destroyer. Cold, weary and hungry, but uninjured she was transported to Queenstown, Ireland. The Irish people were kind to the survivors, and within a few days Nursing Sister Creswell and her nurse-mates were on their way to England but, for the most part, without their belongings.

This is the German submarine which Torpedoed Catherine Creswell's ship, Ausonia.

The Ausonia did not sink and was towed into port at Queensland where it underwent repairs. A year later, it was sunk by a German submarine.

Creswell went on to have a challenging wartime career in France. She served in a hospital that was bombed and where nurses were killed and she also served in a casualty clearing station near the front. For her exemplary service, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross Second class.

This article, which has been provided by Katherine Dewar of Charlottetown, runs in The Guardian on one Saturday each month. Dewar’s book, “Those Splendid Girls: The Heroic Service of Prince Edward Island Nurses in the Great War”, was recently published by Island Studies Press. Check out thosesplendidgirls.ca or email dewar.katherine3@gmail.com.