The list of women from Huron County who served as nursing sisters in the First World War is now up to 50 names! This list includes women who served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC), American Army Medical Corps, Red Cross, and Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. As more records become available online, we are finding out more about what their lives were like before, during, and after the war.
It can be difficult to find out what happened to a nurse after the war ended for many different reasons. Many women married and changed their name, some moved across the country or the United States, and a lot of records still aren’t available due to privacy legislation. Due to limited resources, it can be very difficult track people down and verify their identity.
One such woman is Mary Agatha Bell, who was born, according to her Attestation Papers, on November 5, 1879 in St. Augustine but lived in Blyth, Ontario. Mary enlisted on April 3, 1917 in London, Ontario, left Canada on May 20, 1917, and arrived in England on May 30, 1917. While overseas, Mary mainly served with the 7th Canadian General Hospital in France. She also did temporary duties with the 6th and 8th Canadian General Hospitals. After the war ended, Mary sailed back to Canada in July 1919 on the S.S. Olympic.
It was difficult to track down what happened to Mary Agatha Bell after the war. On October 11, 1925, a birth registration* was issued to a Mary Bridget Bell born on November 5, 1874 in St. Augustine, Ontario. Records show that this Mary Bridget Bell moved to the state of New York on October 22, 1925. A border crossing document from August 1945 states that Mary’s address was 11 Hows Avenue, New Rochelle, New York, where she worked as a registered nurse. The document also states that she is missing the fourth toe on her left foot.
This last piece of information was critical in definitively proving that Mary Agatha Bell (born in 1879) is the same person as Mary Bridget Bell (born 1874). According to her service file, Mary starting experiencing problems with her left foot in France, 1918. Notes in her file refer to her problem as a “contracted toe”. The 4th toe on her left foot was eventually amputated when she returned to Toronto in 1919 at St. Andrews Hospital.
It appears that Mary lied about her birth year on her Attestation Paper. This was not uncommon among women enlisting as nursing sisters in WWI. Mary would have been a much more appealing candidate at age 38 than her real age of 43. Why she decided to change her middle name from Agatha to Bridget still remains a mystery…
*Birth registrations were often issued to adults who didn’t have birth certificates