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My latest painting is the second to be inspired by the archival record of another Edmonton woman’s experience of the First World War. 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of that tragic war, which has compelled me to research some of those stories. I was looking through Madeleine Jaffray’s scrapbook at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, and her story touched me.

I titled the painting “Bluebird”, the nickname for the Nursing Sisters in the war who wore blue uniforms and white veils.

Bluebird by Marlena Wyman. Oil stick, graphite and image transfer on Mylar and birch panel, 2018.  16”x 20” diptych

Madeleine Frances Jaffray was born in 1889. She served as a lieutenant and nursing sister in the Canadian Army during the First World War. Madeleine was one of 10 nurses sent overseas in 1915 by the Canadian National Nursing Association in answer to an appeal made by the French Flag Nursing Corps.

Madeleine Jaffray [1917] Provincial Archives of Alberta A14050. Photographer: Milne Studios, Toronto

Face Patients, Gironde, France [1917], (Madeleine Jaffray marked with X). Madeleine Morrison fonds, Provincial Archives of Alberta PR1986.54.0012.35

On June 5, 1917 Madeleine was wounded in a bombing while stationed at a hospital at Adinkerke, Belgium. The injury resulted in the amputation of her left foot, making her Canada’s only female war amputee. In recognition of her service and injury, Madeleine was presented with the Croix de Guerre, the first Canadian woman to receive this honour.

My evacuation day, Adinkerke, Belgium, 1917. Madeleine Morrison fonds, Provincial Archives of Alberta PR1986.54.12

More than 2,800 nurses served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps as fully enlisted officers in the specially created all female rank of Nursing Sister, with relative rank and equal pay to men – the first women among the Allied forces to do so. There was a strong push back from British officials who initially refused to award Canadian nurses any honors because they were women.

The nurses often worked close to the front, and as patients arrived they were among the first to meet and tend to wounded soldiers. Of the 2,845 Canadian nursing sisters who served in the First World War, 53 died. A memorial to the war’s nursing sisters was erected in Ottawa in 1926, in the Hall of Honour of Canada’s Parliament building.

Detail of Bluebird by Marlena Wyman. Oil stick, graphite and image transfer on Mylar and birch panel, 2018

...at one o’clock last night the hospital was bombarded by German aviators and she was wounded in the foot by a piece of schrapnel [sic] from one of the bombs which fell quite near her. It is a bad wound…

Excerpt from letter to Madeleine Jaffray’s mother from Nursing Director Madame Border-Turner, June 6, 1917. Madeleine Morrison fonds, Provincial Archives of Alberta PR1986.54.9

In 1927, Madeleine married Byron Morrison, a watchmaker in Edmonton, Alberta. Among her other post-war activities, she worked for the Victorian Order of Nurses and was involved with the War Amputees of Canada and the Overseas Nurses Association.

Madeleine died July 23, 1972 and is buried in the Edmonton Municipal Cemetery. More photos from Madeleine’s album at the Provincial Archives of Alberta can be viewed along with other images from their Alberta and the Great War Flickr album.

Posted by Marlena Wyman

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