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ARCHIVED - The Call to Duty
Canada’s Nursing Sisters

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Caregiving on the Front

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It is not surprising that the Department of Defence received so many applications from nurses wishing to join the CEF, in spite of the danger inherent in the war context. The reasons for wanting to enlist in the CANC were many and diverse. The job prospects for nurses were still quite dim and salaries were low, so the possibility of regular and higher pay and the advantageous conditions associated with military work made it attractive. The CEF also offered adventure, an exciting life, and new professional challenges. In addition, the economic and political context of the time lent itself to an emerging desire for a military career. Propaganda in favour of the war encouraged young women, like young men, to take part in the war effort. The idea of enlisting was imbued with romanticism, represented by the elegance of the uniform, it seems, and its draw as a symbol of courage and patriotism.

To mobilize rapidly the convoy of nurses required by the Department of Militia and Defence, the overly long selection process was considerably shortened. Top priority was given to reservist nurses who had already received the training dispensed in the military hospitals. The other nurses were chosen from among the hundreds of applications received. The young women were selected rapidly, all according to the same criteria: in good health, unmarried, with nursing training. However, the examination and six weeks of training were abandoned. Although morality was not one of the official selection criteria, a letter of recommendation from a religious leader was not without a certain influence in an application. Similarly, a young woman supported by a politician or wealthy person might see her application progress more quickly. No military experience was required, and military training was given quickly, as time permitted, often shipboard on the way to Europe. The first contingent, composed of 100 nurses, embarked for Great Britain in September 1914. A number of other convoys succeeded them in the following months.

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