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REMEMBRANCE DAY: Most decorated nurse was from P.E.I.


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Bedeque native Beatrice MacDonald served as a nurse in the First World War. She is the most decorated WWI nurse out of any country.

First World War nurse Beatrice MacDonald lifted up the flap of her tent and saw explosions lighting up the sky.

It was July 17, 1917 and the third battle of Ypres was raging outside. The other nurses were sleeping, but MacDonald stayed awake to watch the action unfold.

She heard the whirring of planes overhead and she immediately reached for her steel helmet to put on her head.

Without warning their tent was shaken with the impact of the explosions and debris was strewn everywhere.

MacDonald reached up and touched her head. There was blood trickling down her cheeks.

She also noticed one other thing. She was blind in one eye.

Retired Charlottetown nursing instructor Katherine Dewar was flipping through MacDonald's journal when she came across this story.

Dewar was writing a book called Those Splendid Girls, profiling the lives of 115 Island nurses who served in the First World War.

This story has stood out to Dewar as a remarkable tale because MacDonald was the first injured American in the First World War.

Born in North Bedeque, MacDonald travelled to New York to do her medical training in the New York City Hospital where she became the surgical nurse and office manager for Dr. George Brewer.

When the Americans entered the war in 1915, MacDonald was sent to a British hospital France with the 1st Presbyterian unit out of New York City.

In July 1917, MacDonald was serving with on the front lines during the Battle of Ypres.

"She had never been so close to the battlefield before," said Dewar. "She was fascinated."

After she was wounded, she was moved to Paris where they tried to remove the shrapnel from her eye. They were unable to get it all out, so they removed her eye.

But MacDonald was determined to return to the battlefield, said Dewar. Six weeks later, she was back at work treating patients.

MacDonald was the most decorated First World War nurse from any country. She earned a distinguished service cross, distinguished service medal, a Purple Heart, military medal and an associate Royal Red Cross medal, and a croix de guerre.

Many nurses received military medals, but their nominations for more prestigious awards were rejected by the government, said Dewar.

"They did not get many high valour awards even though they were military officers. The inference was it would diminish the significance of the one the men were getting."

Dewar said she wrote the book because the stories of military nurses seldom get told.

"I'm a nurse and I hadn't even heard of them. So I decided I was going to write a book."

After three years of research, her book was recently published by Island Studies Press. 

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