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‘A significant woman’: Katherine Dewar tells the story of Georgina Pope in new book

Katherine Dewar holds a copy of her new book, “Called to Serve: Georgina Pope – Canadian Military Nursing Heroine”, which will be launched in Charlottetown on May 24 and in Summerside on June 24. She is standing on the site of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, which was attended by Pope in the 1800s. That church was replaced by the present stone structure in 1896. Pope’s grandfather, Theophilus Desbrisay, was the first Anglican cleric on St. John’s Island.
Katherine Dewar holds a copy of her new book, “Called to Serve: Georgina Pope – Canadian Military Nursing Heroine”, which will be launched in Charlottetown on May 24 and in Summerside on June 24. She is standing on the site of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, which was attended by Pope in the 1800s. That church was replaced by the present stone structure in 1896. Pope’s grandfather, Theophilus Desbrisay, was the first Anglican cleric on St. John’s Island. - Sally Cole

Katherine Dewar knows historical subjects are all not the same.

Georgina Pope appears at the Canadian General Hospital, located on Lord and Lady Astor’s estate in Taplow, Buckinghamshire in 1917. The couple gave the land to build the hospital during the First World War.
Georgina Pope appears at the Canadian General Hospital, located on Lord and Lady Astor’s estate in Taplow, Buckinghamshire in 1917. The couple gave the land to build the hospital during the First World War.

When she was researching “Those Splendid Girls”, the story of nursing in the First World War, one of her 115 sources stood apart from all the others.

It was Georgina Pope, the daughter of William H. Pope, a prominent Father of Confederation.

“She had a much bigger story to tell,” says the Island author.

Born on P.E.I. in 1862, Pope left her privileged life on P.E.I. in 1885 to study nursing in New York City and would go on to have a distinguished and “ground-breaking” career, establishing innovative nursing techniques in American hospitals.

“She’s an amazing woman. She was a trailblazer when you think of women, nursing and the military,” says Dewar who quickly realized Pope’s story would require more research before a book could even be considered.

“I thought it should be done, but I didn’t think it would be me.”

In fact, Dewar didn’t give the book another thought until she received a call from the University of Toronto in 2015 asking her to write an article on Pope for the “Dictionary of Canadian Biography.”

At first, she resisted the idea. She had launched “Those Splendid Girls” a year before and was hoping for a break from writing.

“I said ‘no’. But, they insisted that I knew more about Pope than anyone in Canada.”

So, after six months of emails, Dewar finally agreed to write one.

“I was feeling guilty,” says Dewar, who soon started her research, connecting with Library and Archives Canada and Jane Dyment, who had assisted in her research for “Those Splendid Girls”.

Soon the exercise became an academic one.

“I had to have everything sourced to the enth degree. So, I did more research. And, when I finished, I realized that I had a big story that many people hadn’t heard before. So that’s how I got to the book,” says Dewar, the author of “Called to Serve: Georgina Pope – Canadian Military Nursing Heroine”, which will be launched at Beaconsfield Historic House on May 24 at 7 p.m.

The book describes how a young woman started and rose to the top echelons in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. It leads the reader from Pope's rather sheltered life in Victorian Prince Edward Island to the Boston States and onto the dangerous and primitive conditions she experienced as superintendent of nurses in two South African wars, to her work in the formation of the Canadian Army Nursing Corps and then to the battlefields of Europe doing the First World War.

Similarly, Dewar was led on a journey while researching the book.

Georgina Pope, centre, serves tea to nurses at her tent in Rondebosch, South Africa, during the Boer War. It’s one of the images in “Called to Serve: Georgina Pope – Canadian Military Nursing Heroine” by Katherine Dewar.
Georgina Pope, centre, serves tea to nurses at her tent in Rondebosch, South Africa, during the Boer War. It’s one of the images in “Called to Serve: Georgina Pope – Canadian Military Nursing Heroine” by Katherine Dewar.

Just by chance she became connected to Glenn Wright, a military archivist, who told her about some Pope files that hadn’t been catalogued.

About the same time, Wright told her about a box of First World War material that had also been found. Among them were Pope’s evaluation files from 1906-1914 when she was stationed in Halifax.

When they were finally released to her, Dewar was able to delve deeper into the history of the nurse who is part of the Valiants Memorial, a military monument in Ottawa.

“When I got those files, I totally rewrote one chapter. It was really exciting because finally I had information that had never been released to the public. So now people will have it in the new book.”

Twitter.com/SallyForth57

Celebrating Georgina Pope

  • A celebration of service, honouring the career of P.E.I.’s Georgina Pope, Canadian Military Nursing Heroine, will be held Thursday, May 17, 7 p.m., in the atrium of the Daniel J. MacDonald Building, 161 Grafton St., Charlottetown. A program of stories and music will be provided with the P.E.I. Regiment Band and the Canada Remembers Chorus. At the same time, the exhibit on Georgina Pope: “Inspired by Nightingale: Called by God” will be opened.
  • A launch for “Called to Serve: Georgina Pope – Canadian Military Nursing Heroine” by Katherine Dewar is May 24, 7 p.m., at Beaconsfield Historic House.
  • A second book launch will be held June 24, 2 p.m., at Eptek Centre in Summerside.

This illustration shows the various awards and medals that P.E.I.’s Georgina Pope received in her lifetime.
This illustration shows the various awards and medals that P.E.I.’s Georgina Pope received in her lifetime.

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