WWI Canadian nurses honored on Greek island of Lemnos

These days, it’s easy to forget the role that the northeastern Aegean island of Lemnos played in the First World War. However, with the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign coming up on April 25, that looks set to change.

Despite the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign, which was launched from the island port of Mudros, Lemnos remained the allied base for the blockade of the Dardanelles during the war, and it was on the Agamemnon, anchored in Mudros, that an armistice was signed between the allied forces and the Ottoman Empire in 1918, marking the end of Turkish participation in World War I.

The personal stories of the individuals who played small but significant roles in the war have also largely been forgotten in the mists of time. However, Friday, a ceremony will be held at the Portianos Military Cemetery to unveil a monument to two Canadian nurses who died and were buried on the island in 1915, which will hopefully serve as a reminder of the millions who left their homes and families to serve the greater good, in many cases never to return.

The story of Matron Jessie B. Jaggard and Nursing Sister Mary Frances Elizabeth Munro is especially touching as they were the only two who died among dozens of nurses from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain who worked at the hospitals set up by Canada and the other allied forces to help the wounded soldiers of the Gallipoli campaign, their numbers surpassing all predictions.

“Canada salutes the selfless dedication and sacrifice of Canadian nursing sisters Matron Jessie B. Jaggard and Mary Frances Elizabeth Munro, who are buried on Lemnos. We also salute the contribution of nursing sisters from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom as the world marks the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign,” said Robert Peck, Canada’s ambassador to Greece.

The memorial initiative, led by the Canadian Embassy in Athens, was made possible with funding provided by the government of Canada and the dedicated support of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), with the assistance of Jim Claven, historian and secretary of the Melbourne-based Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee.

The memorial is made of Nabresina limestone quarried in Trieste, Italy, and carved by CWGC stonemasons at their facility adjacent to ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey.

A total of 70 Canadian nurses were dispatched to Lemnos in 1915 and they worked at two Canadian hospitals in Mudros, where hundreds of victims of the battle are buried Friday. The two Canadian hospitals had a total of 1,220 beds and the staff there worked under extremely adverse conditions. Sanitation was poor, food was insufficient, water was scarce and they were dusty and fly-ridden. Jaggard and Munro, who died of dysentery, were both victims of these conditions.

Ontario-born Munro was the first to succumb to the illness on September 7 at the age of 49. Jaggard, born in Nova Scotia, died a few days later, aged 44. A year later, British activist, memoirist and nurse Vera Brittain paid homage to their memory in the poem “The Sisters Buried at Lemnos.”

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