Since 1885, Canada’s medical personnel have shown great dedication to their patients, even when serving in conditions of great hardship and difficulty. Many have been honoured for their courage under fire; however, those with medals and awards are just a handful of the most notable of heroes in a service that routinely calls for acts of courage and self-sacrifice. Members of the CFMS should recognize and take pride in the heritage passed to them from their comrades in history, as exemplified in the stories that follow.
On 29 January 1918, a funeral was held in the military cemetery at Wimereux in France. Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, Commander of the Canadian Corps, attended with a crowd of senior medical officers. Many of those who served at two Canadian field hospitals in France also turned out, along with 75 nursing sisters in caps or veils. As the gun carriage bearing the body of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae moved sombrely through the cemetery, his beloved horse Bonfire was led behind.
John McCrae was only one of the 60,661 Canadians who died overseas during the First World War - nearly 10 percent of all who served - but he was arguably the most famous casualty, noted not for acts of war or medical brilliance but for "In Flanders Fields", a scrap of verse he wrote in 1915, while treating casualties behind the lines at Ypres. Widely anthologized, taught to generations of schoolchildren, and now printed on the back of the ten-dollar bill, "In Flanders Fields" is one of Canada’s best-known and best-loved poems :
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, in 1872, the son of an Artillery officer, and he wrote and published his first poems while still a student of medicine at the University of Toronto. Having joined his father’s regiment at the age of 16, in 1900 he volunteered to go to South Africa, where he served with the left section of D Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery. On his return to Canada, McCrae embarked on a medical career in Montreal, where he lived peacefully for the next 14 years. He wrote widely on medical subjects during this period and became well known in his profession.
In 1914, war broke out in Europe, and once again McCrae joined up. In 1915, he was serving in the Ypres area as the surgeon attached to a brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery, helping out on the gun-line when necessary and occasionally performing burial services. He was there when the Germans launched a poison gas attack and, during the protracted battle that followed, he treated the wounded at an exposed medical station. He wrote later of those days: "
I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of those seventeen days. ... Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day, if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not be done."
On 3 May 1915, during that period in Hell, McCrae took a few minutes to rest after burying a friend, Alexis Helmer, in a cemetery that happened to be full of wild poppies. He scribbled down a few lines of poetry on a bit of paper, then flung it away and went back to work. A fellow soldier retrieved the poem and gave it to their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel E.W.B. Morrison (a newspaper editor in civil life), who sent it to the popular magazine Punch in London. And that is when John McCrae ceased to be just another soldier, another doctor, and walked into lasting fame.
"In Flanders Fields" made its first appearance in the 8 December 1915 issue of Punch, untitled and without attribution. It struck a chord, and soon the poem was being picked up and republished by newspapers and magazines everywhere in the English-speaking world. Suddenly everyone knew the name of John McCrae.
Meanwhile, McCrae continued to work. Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel just before the battle of Ypres, he was posted shortly afterwards as second-in-command of the 3rd Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne. In 1918, he was appointed Consulting Physician to the British Armies in France. It was a post that he never took up.
McCrae was a chronic asthmatic, and his lungs had been badly damaged by the chlorine gas at Ypres. On 25 January 1918, he fell ill with pneumonia, and in three days he was dead.
Although most of his career was spent outside the formal boundaries of military service, Norman Bethune’s name is forever synonymous with medical service on the battlefield. Born in Gravenhurst, Ontario, in 1890, Bethune studied to become a surgeon at the University of Toronto. He interrupted his studies in 1915 to enlist as a private and served as a stretcher-bearer through the First World War. After a brief stint in the Royal Navy and a period of post-graduate study in Britain, Bethune settled down to a career in Detroit, Michigan, where he made a name for himself as an inventor of surgical instruments.
It may have been a life-threatening crisis with tuberculosis in 1926 that changed the course of Bethune’s life and awakened his social conscience, for from then on he began increasingly to challenge the medical profession in Canada and the United States. After a visit to the Soviet Union in 1935, Bethune joined the Communist Party. The following year, he went to Spain, where a civil war was raging between nationalists and republicans. While there, he made medical history by organizing the world’s first battlefield blood transfusion service.
In 1938, Bethune turned his attention to China, where the Communists were fighting a bitter revolutionary war, and he went to volunteer his services. For a year, he worked tirelessly with the Eighth Route Army, and he died of septicaemia contracted by performing battlefield surgery without gloves. To this day, Norman Bethune is remembered as a hero in China and as a source of pride in Canada.
Frederick Banting (1891-1941) is best known as the co-discoverer of insulin. A lesser-known fact is that he began his career during the First World War as a medical officer in France. While overseas, he was wounded in action and awarded the Military Cross, a significant decoration for valour. The official citation read:
"Captain Frederick Grant Banting, 13 Fld. Amb., C.A.M.C., near Haynecourt on 28 September 1918, when the Medical Officer of the 46th Canadian Battalion was wounded, he (Banting) immediately proceeded forward through intense shell fire to reach the Battalion. Several of his men were wounded and he, neglecting his own safety, stopped to attend to them. While doing this, he was wounded himself. His energy and pluck were of a very high order."
Born in Alliston, Ontario, Banting was an indifferent student in his youth, actually failing in his first year at the University of Toronto. After transferring to medicine, however, he blossomed, graduating in 1916 with above-average marks. Almost immediately, he enrolled in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and went overseas with the 13th Field Ambulance. After the war, Banting trained as an orthopaedic surgeon and began to practise in London, Ontario. During the 1920s, he worked with a team that discovered insulin, which made it possible at last to treat the previously fatal disease of diabetes. In 1923, Banting and Doctor J.J.R. Macleod received the Nobel Prize for Medicine, which they immediately shared with the other members of their team, Professor C.H. Best and Doctor J.B. Collip. In 1934, Banting was knighted by King George V.
In 1939, Sir Frederick Banting - who had remained in the Non-Permanent Active Militia (the army reserve) during the inter-war period - was mobilized, at the age of 48, with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Appointed Director of Medical Research with the rank of Major, Banting headed a group of scientists doing pioneer work in aviation medicine at the University of Toronto. In 1941, he was on his way by air to London to demonstrate their first major achievement, the Franks Flying Suit, at the Air Ministry when his plane went down near Musgrave Harbour on the north coast of Newfoundland. He died in the crash, and was buried in Toronto with full military honours.
Toronto-born physiologist Wilbur Franks was a graduate of the University of Toronto Medical School and one of the experts recruited for the Department of Medical Research by Sir Frederick Banting, who had trained him as a cancer researcher before the war. As a medical officer with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Franks was directly responsible for the work that led to the development of the fluid-filled "anti-gravity flying suit" for pilots.
The purpose of the anti-gravity flying suit was to counter the blackout experienced by pilots in aircraft traveling at very high speeds and subjected to intense centrifugal pressure - called "G" (for gravitational) force. The idea came from cancer-related studies that Franks had carried out with mice, which caused him to wonder whether water could be used - in the form of a water-filled suit - to provide improved "G" protection. Franks invented the "human centrifuge" to test his idea, and it had to be powered by the same grid that supplied electricity to Toronto’s electric streetcars. Whenever Franks conducted a test, therefore, the streetcars on Eglinton Hill ground to a halt.
In 1940, a Spitfire fighter aircraft was brought to Canada to test the prototype of the Franks Flying Suit. Doctor Franks himself donned the gear, which was filled with water to the level of the heart. The trial was a success: with the plane achieving pressures of 6G, he remained fully conscious. In 1942, the Franks Flying Suit was first used in combat, and later became part of the standard gear of Allied pilots. The G-suits worn by pilots of high-performance aircraft, and the space suits worn by astronauts, are based on the principles first identified by Franks.
After the death of Sir Frederick Banting in 1941, Franks was promoted Wing Commander and took over the directorship of the Department of Medical Research. The part of the original research institution that specialized in aviation medicine was later re-organized as the Institute for Aviation Medicine, which became the Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in 1968 and, in 2002, Defence Research Development Canada Toronto.
Lester Bowles Pearson was born in 1897, the youngest son of a Methodist minister. When war broke out in 1914, Pearson was an 18-year-old student; both his elder brothers joined the Royal Canadian Artillery, so he enrolled as a private in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. In 1915, he was sent to Salonika in northern Greece to serve as an orderly in a Canadian field hospital supporting the 10th Division, which was fighting the Bulgarians. In 1916, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, and was training as a pilot at Hendon, England, when he was run over by a London bus in the blackout; as a result, he was invalided home to Canada. Pearson’s brief experience as a soldier left him with two important legacies: personal experience with the horrors of war, and his nickname, Mike, bestowed by an RFC squadron commander who thought the name Lester unsuitable for a pilot.
After the war, Pearson completed his education at the University of Toronto and, on receiving a Rhodes Scholarship, at Oxford. He then tried out the law and business as careers and even taught history for a while at the University of Toronto, but he found his true calling in 1928, when he was recruited for the Department of External Affairs (then being formed) and embarked on a diplomatic career. In 1945, he was a member of the Canadian delegation to the historic conference in San Francisco where the U.N. was created, and in 1948, he was present at the negotiations that led to the formation of NATO in 1949. In 1948, with a fine record of service behind him, he left the Civil Service and entered politics.
The high point of Pearson’s political career was his rise to the position of Prime Minister, which he held from 1963 to 1968. An even greater honour, however, was the Nobel Prize for Peace, which he received in 1957 for his role in urging the U.N. to establish a neutral peacekeeping armed force to help avert war during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Peace-support is now a important part of U.N. operations. Since 1948, Canada has participated in almost every U.N. peacekeeping mission, earning a proud reputation around the world.
John Barr belonged to the armed forces of Canada for nearly 70 years. He was a medical student in 1934 when he joined the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps and, in 1939, when the war broke out, he resumed his military training in breaks between spells of duty at the Ontario Hospital in Kingston.
In 1940, after graduating from Queen’s University, John Barr worked briefly at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, where he was run off his feet, the pay was bad, and the food was terrible. Looking for better conditions, he joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps as a lieutenant and was posted to the 23rd Field Ambulance.
In the summer of 1941, Captain Barr sailed for England where, after a number of assignments, he was deployed in 1943 to the Highland Light Infantry.
Having landed in Normandy on 11 June 1944, he was posted to 22 Field Ambulance as a company commander during the advance on Caen (France). Casualties were heavy. On one night, John Barr remembers, more than 160 patients moved through the station, which had only two medical officers to care for them. It was his job to stabilize patients so they could survive the two- to three-hour trip by ambulance to the nearest field hospital.
Many of the casualties that John Barr helped to save went to the hospital near Bruges. Early in 1945, John Barr himself was sent to that hospital for treatment. Major Barr remained with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps after the war, and in 1970, he attained the rank of Major-General and was appointed Surgeon General of the Canadian Forces. In 1973, he retired from the Regular component of the Canadian Forces to become Registrar of the Medical Council of Canada, where he remained until 1981. On 18 November 1976, Major-General (retired) Barr took up the honorary appointment of Colonel Commandant of the Medical Branch, a position he held until 1998.
During his appointment as the Colonel Commandant of the Medical Branch, Major-General (Retired) John Barr, a native of England, developed a real friendship with the Queen Mother, the Commander in Chief of the Canadian Forces Medical Service (CFMS) from 1977 until her death in 2002. The Queen Mother’s continued interest in and commitment to the CFMS, which Major-General Barr deeply appreciated, combined with various opportunities that arose to keep her informed of the Service’s activities and progress transformed a formal professional relationship into a lasting friendship that brought prestige and recognition to the Medical Branch.
Major-General (retired) John Barr, CMM, CD, QHP, former Surgeon General of the Canadian Forces and former Colonel Commandant of the Medical Branch, who devoted almost 70 years of his life to the health and well-being of Canadian military, was married to Marion Crawford, who was also involved in medical care for Canadian soldiers. Matron of the 12 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, during WWII, Marion Crawford met John Barr while they were both serving at the Ontario Hospital in Kingston.
Later, they met on different occasions while on service in Europe during the war. They married on 10 May 1945 in Bruges (Belgium) two days exactly after the victory in Europe. John Barr and Marion Crawford returned to Canada together in 1946. Marion Crawford Barr passed away in 1992, at the age of 85.
In 1940, Lieutenant Kathryn (Kay) Christie, a Toronto nurse with seven years’ experience, enrolled as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Late in 1941, she was sent to Hong Kong with the two Canadian infantry battalions (a deployment of 1,975 people) requested by the British to help bolster defences in the island colony. Lieutenant Christie was accompanied by another nurse, Lieutenant Ann May Waters of Winnipeg, whom she met on the train on their way to the ship that took them to Hong Kong. Also with the contingent were four medical officers (Major John Crawford, Captain S.M. Banfill, Captain J.A.G. Reid and Captain G.C. Gray), and two dental officers (Captain W.R. Cunningham and Captain J.C.M. Spence). On Christmas Day 1941, only weeks after their arrival, Hong Kong fell to the Japanese.
The British military hospital, where the two Canadian nurses worked, came under fierce shelling during the Japanese attack. On Christmas Day, when the British surrendered the colony, a period of horror began: 287 Canadians died during the fall of Hong Kong, and 266 more succumbed to hunger, disease and abuse during the next three and a half years, which the survivors of the invasion spent in brutal captivity. Four Canadians were executed for attempting to escape from Japanese prison camps.
Captain Banfill, who was serving with a Royal Army Medical Corps unit, had an especially terrible experience. He was captured early in the battle, and saw his RAMC orderlies killed before his eyes before he was taken to the Argyle Street Camp in Kowloon, where he was imprisoned with 900 Indian soldiers. Lieutenant Christie and Lieutenant Waters were incarcerated first at the Bowen Road Hospital, transformed into a prison by the addition of barbed wire, where they worked without proper food or supplies and in the face of spreading disease. After eight months at Bowen Road, they were shifted to the Stanley Civilian Internment Camp in the south-eastern sector of the island, where they remained for 13 months with 2,400 other men, women and children. At Stanley, they lived in rooms that measured nine by twelve feet and, in the beginning at least, were completely bare of furniture. "
Our constant but unwelcome companions were large flying cockroaches," Lieutenant Christie recalled, "
which sailed in through the windows, where there was very little glass; bedbugs that came out of the walls where the plaster had been damaged during the fighting; and large centipedes that seemed to fall from nowhere." The prisoners’ other companions were boredom and hunger.
On New Year’s Eve 1942, the prisoners decided to defy their captors. Ignoring the 10:30 p.m. curfew, they crept out of their rooms at midnight and assembled in the dark, all along the staircase. Linking arms along the railing from one floor to another, they sang a brave and tearful "Auld Land Syne."
In September 1943, Lieutenant Christie, Lieutenant Waters and the other Canadians at Stanley were repatriated through the efforts of the International Red Cross. They were taken by ship to the small Portuguese colony of Goa, where they were officially exchanged. Six weeks later, they were back at home.
Left behind in the prison camps of Hong Kong, the remaining Canadian military medical personnel continued to work heroically under the direction of Major John Crawford. When the bulk of the Canadians were assembled at North Point Camp, Major Crawford and the other three doctors found themselves responsible for the health of more than 1,200 Canadian prisoners.
Captain Reid was later transferred to Japan with the 500 Canadian prisoners who were shipped there to be used as forced labour. Thanks to this doctor’s success in wringing concessions from their captors and making the best possible use of limited medical resources, only 25 prisoners died during their captivity in Japan, many fewer than in other, similar, contingents of prisoners.
An historian later wrote that the skill and resourcefulness that the Canadian military doctors brought to the care of prisoners in such appalling conditions “must surely be without parallel in the story of the RCAMC in the Second World War.” Resourceful and dedicated though they were, they could not stem the rising tide of death over the 44 months of their captivity, and sometimes they came near to despair. Nevertheless, the fact that 1,400 Canadians ultimately returned home is largely due to the care they received from these military doctors.
Lieutenant Kay Christie’s war did not end with her return to Canada; she served at a military hospital in Toronto until October 1945. After the war, she worked as a medical secretary until her retirement in 1980. Lieutenant May Waters died on 18 December 1987, exactly 46 years to the day after the Japanese attack on Hong Kong.
For more than half a Century, Canadian troops have served with distinction around the world on dozens of peace-support missions. During these deployments, Canadian medical personnel have often been called on to help rescue civilians caught in the crossfire.
Canada has contributed troops to U.N., European Union and NATO peace-support operations in the Balkan region since 1992. In January 1995, fierce fighting between the Muslim, Serb and Croatian residents of Gorazde, a town in eastern Bosnia, put the community’s most vulnerable members at great risk. On 31 January 1995, medical personnel of the Canadian and Norwegian contingents of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) organized a convoy of 18 armoured ambulances to bring the sick, injured and frail elderly of Gorazde to safety.
The convoy formed up in Sarajevo and, between noon and midnight, made the 90-km journey to and from Gorazde by way of Pale and Rogatica, a route chosen to avoid contested areas. In Gorazde, where they arrived at last light, the ambulances collected 138 Muslim, Serb and Croat civilians representing the full spectrum of severe health problems from extreme old age and terminal cancer to recent gunshot wounds. The journey was painfully slow and very dangerous; a blinding snowstorm was blowing, the verges of the roads were sown with mines and screened to facilitate sniping, and the convoy was halted at least six times for "positive identification checks" at roadblocks manned by heavily armed soldiers hostile to at least some of the patients. At midnight, the convoy arrived safely at the Sarajevo hospital with all its patients in stable condition.
The Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, at the end of the Crimean War, at Queen Victoria’s personal initiative. She chose the design - a cross pattée with the Royal crest and a very simple inscription: "For Valour." She also decided that it should be awarded purely for gallantry, with neither rank nor length of service being considered. It has always been a most democratic decoration.
The cross is cast from bronze salvaged from a Russian field gun captured in the Crimea. Originally, the medal was presented with a dark red ribbon for Army recipients and a blue ribbon for Navy recipients but, since 1920, only one colour of ribbon has been used: crimson. Of the 94 Canadians who have earned the Victoria Cross, nine were medical personnel: six doctors, two stretcher-bearers and one medical orderly.
During the siege of Delhi, and on the 14 September 1857, while Surgeon Reade was attending to the wounded at the end of one of the streets of the city, a party of rebels advanced from the direction of the Bank, and, having established themselves in the houses of the street, commenced firing from the roofs. The wounded were thus in very great danger and would have fallen into the hands of the enemy, had not Surgeon Reade drawn his sword and, calling upon the few soldiers who were near to follow, succeeded, after a very heavy fire, in dislodging the rebels from the position.
For the very gallant and daring manner in which they risked their lives in manning a boat proceeding through a dangerous surf to the rescue of some of their comrades who formed part of an expedition which had been sent to the Island of Andaman. ... with a view to ascertaining the fate of the commander and seven of the crew of the ship Assam Valley, who had landed there, and were supposed to have been murdered by the natives. ... It is reported that seventeen officers and men were thus saved from what must have been a fearful risk if not certain death.
At Wakkerstroom on the evening of the 20th April 1900, during the advance of infantry to support the mounted troops, Lieut. Nickerson went in a most gallant manner, under heavy shell and rifle fire, to attend a wounded man, dressed his wounds, and remained with him until he had him conveyed to a place of safety.
On the afternoon of 25 April 1915 in the neighbourhood of YPRES, when in charge of an advanced dressing station in some farm buildings which were being heavily shelled by the enemy, he directed under heavy fire the removal of the wounded and he himself carried a severely wounded officer out of a stable in search of a place of greater safety.
For the most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the action at Sheikh Sa’ed on 21 January 1916. Although shot through both arms and through the side, he refused to go to hospital and remained as long as daylight lasted attending to his duties under very heavy fire. In three previous actions he had displayed the utmost bravery.
Seeing a comrade who had been blinded stumbling around ahead of our trench, in full view of the enemy who were sniping him, Pte. O’Rourke jumped out of the trench and brought the man back, being himself heavily sniped at while doing so. Again he went forward about 50 yards in front of our barrage under very heavy and accurate fire ... and brought in a comrade. On a subsequent occasion, when the line of advanced posts was retired ... he went forward under very heavy enemy fire of every description and brought back a wounded man who had been left behind. He showed throughout an absolutely disregard for his own safety, going wherever there were wounded to succour.
For the most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on 2 September 1918, when under the intense shell, machine-gun and rifle fire, he went through the Drocourt-Quéant Support Line with the battalion. Without hesitation and with utter disregard of personal safety he remained on the field until every wounded man had been attended to.
Acting as a stretcher-bearer attached to ’D’ Company of the 87th Bn., Quebec Regiment ... Pte. Young, in spite of the complete absence of cover, without the last hesitation went out, and in the open fire-swept ground dressed the wounded. Having exhausted his stock of dressings, on more than one occasion he returned, under intense fire, to his company headquarters for a further supply. This work he continued for over an hour, displaying throughout the most absolute fearlessness. ... Later, when the fire had somewhat slackened, he organised and led stretcher parties to bring in the wounded whom he had dressed.
Corporal Topham ... parachuted with his battalion on to a strongly defended area east of the Rhine. As he treated casualties after the drop, he heard a cry for help from a wounded man in the open. Two medical orderlies from a field ambulance went out to this man in succession but both were killed as they knelt beside the casualty. Without hesitation and on his own initiative, Cpl Topham then went forward through intense fire to replace the orderlies ... he was himself shot through the nose but never faltered in his task. Having completed first aid, he carried the wounded man steadily and slowly back through continuous fire to the shelter of the woods. For two hours, still refusing assistance for his own wound, he continued to perform his duties until all casualties were evacuated. Toward the end of the day, he rescued three men from a burning Bren-gun carrier at great risk of exploding ammunition.
Canadians have a tradition of internationalism in military medicine as in other fields. One of the outstanding proponents of this tradition is certainly John Alexander Sinton, who received the Victoria Cross in 1916 and went on to a career of high medical distinction in India.
Born in British Columbia in 1884, Sinton was educated at Queen’s University in Belfast and at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, entering the Indian Medical Service in 1911. With the outbreak of war in 1914, he was commissioned into an Indian cavalry regiment, thereafter serving on the northwest frontier of India and later in Mesopotamia, Afghanistan and Waziristan. Repeatedly mentioned in dispatches, he was awarded not only the Victoria Cross, but also the Russian Order of St. George, and he was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1921.
Retiring from the Army that same year, Brigadier Sinton entered the Medical Research Branch of the Indian Medical Service. Over the years, he became a world authority on malaria and the recipient of many honours. He also acted as adviser to the Malaria Commission of the League of Nations and to the Ministry of Health in London.
At the beginning of the Second World War, Sinton was re-commissioned and served as a consulting malariologist in Africa and the Middle East. Retiring in 1945 with the rank of Brigadier, he returned to Ireland where in the last years of his life he served as a Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant of Ireland and the High Sheriff of Tyrone. He died in 1956 at the age of 71.
The Queen’s Scarf is an honour peculiar to the South African War, and most intimately associated with Queen Victoria. With her own hands, she crocheted eight scarves to be awarded to private soldiers or NCOs; of the eight, four were presented to British soldiers, and one each to a South African, an Australian, a New Zealander and a Canadian. The Canadian recipient was Private Richard Rowland Thompson, who was nominated for the award by his commanding officer and may also have been elected by his fellow soldiers.
Private Thompson was born in Ireland and emigrated to Ottawa with his family as a young man. He travelled extensively during the 1890s and studied medicine briefly, but did not qualify. In October 1899, when the South African War broke out, he enrolled in the 43rd Ottawa and Carleton Rifles and volunteered for service in the Eastern Ontario company of the 2nd Battalion (Special Service Force), The Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry, which departed for South Africa on 30 October 1899.
Private Thompson distinguished himself repeatedly in combat. On 18 February 1900, during the first phase of the battle of Paardeberg, his company was pinned down by Boer marksmen for hours in open ground. Keenly aware that to move was to draw fire, Private Thompson ran across the beaten ground to help Private James Bradshaw of Picton, Ontario, whose jugular vein had been severed by a shot through the neck. For more than seven hours, Private Thompson lay in the open beside Private Bradshaw, compressing the jugular vein with his fingers. Though Private Thompson’s helmet was shot off his head, both men miraculously survived until stretcher-bearers could reach them about midnight.
Private Thompson continued to perform heroic acts, and was recommended twice for the Victoria Cross. In July 1900, he was selected as the Canadian recipient of a Queen’s Scarf, an honour quite separate from all other awards for gallantry and good conduct. Richard Rowland Thompson is buried in Old Chelsea, Quebec, in the Gatineau Hills north of Ottawa. His Queen’s Scarf is now on permanent display at the Canadian War Museum.
The history of the CFMS and the people who have served it is commemorated through the naming of buildings associated with the service. The sources of these names should be recognized and remembered.
Founded as Camp Borden in 1916, it was named for Sir Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia and Defence from 1896 to 1911, whose career began as a New Brunswick country doctor who served 28 years as a medical officer with a Militia regiment, never missing a summer training camp. The base’s original 60 square kilometres of sandy plain offered a prime venue for military training during both world wars. The construction of permanent facilities after the Second World War and the enlargement of the reserve to 80 square kilometres gradually transformed Borden into a modern military training centre. The name was changed to Canadian Forces Base Borden after the amalgamation of the Canadian Forces, and it is now the site of almost all the Canadian Forces’ technical schools, including the Canadian Forces Medical Service School.
This accommodation block for officers was named for Doctor (and Lieutenant-Colonel) Darby Bergin, Canada’s first Surgeon General, who served in that capacity from 1885 to 1896. Doctor Bergin began his military career in 1862 with the 1st Rifle Company in Cornwall, Ontario, and was in command of the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Battalion when he was appointed Surgeon General. As well as practising medicine and holding a Militia commission, Doctor Bergin was prominent in the ruling Conservative Party and represented his constituency in the House of Commons.
The CFMS non-commissioned officers’ mess hall, since demolished, was named for Major-General Sir Stephen Eugène Fiset, KCMG, DSO. A decorated veteran of the South African War, he served as Director General Medical Services from 1903 to 1906, and as Deputy Minister of Militia and Defence and Surgeon General from 1906 to 1924.
This accommodation block was originally built for nursing officers and is now used for senior officers. It is named in honour of Major Margaret C. MacDonald, RRC, who went out to South Africa with the Second Contingent (1900) and served as Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Nursing Service, Canadian Army Medical Corps from 1914 to 1917.
This office building originally functioned as quarters for CFMS non-commissioned members. It is named for Sir Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin and a pioneer in aviation medicine.
CFB Borden’s arena is named for Major C.A. Anderson, DSO, a long-serving medical officer in the RCAMC and a former Chief Instructor at the CFMS School.
The main building of the CFMS School is named for Private Richard Rowland Thompson, recipient of the Queen’s Scarf for heroic service during the South African War.
The CFMS School library is named for Major-General John Barr and his wife Captain Marion Crawford-Barr. Major-General Barr was Surgeon General from 1970 to 1973 and Colonel Commandant of the CFMS from 1976 to 1998. Captain Marion Barr served in England, France and Belgium during WW11.
This building commemorates Chief Warrant Officer H. Edward Cooper, MiD, CD, a long-serving member of the RCAMC and the CFMS, and a former CFMS School Chief Warrant Officer.
This building is named for Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Pillar, CD, a health care administrator with many years of service in the RCAMC and the CFMS, and a former Chief Instructor at the CFMS School.
The Petawawa garrison clinic is named in honour of the author of "In Flanders Fields".
The 1 Canadian Field Hospital building is named for Captain Marion Barr, Matron of 12 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.
The 2 Field Ambulance headquarters building is named for Warrant Officer Joseph Arsenault, CD, a physician assistant who was killed in 1989, while serving with the Canadian Airborne Regiment, in the crash of a CC-130 Hercules transport aircraft at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
The building that accommodates the Navy hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, formally known as Formation Health Services Unit (Atlantic), is named for Surgeon Commodore Archibald McCallum, OBE, VRD, CD, the Medical Director General of the Royal Canadian Navy from 1944 to 1952.
The building that accommodates the Navy hospital in Esquimalt, British Columbia, formally known as Formation Health Services Unit (Pacific), is named for Surgeon Rear-Admiral T. Blair McLean, CD, QHS, who held the appointment of Surgeon General from 1960 to 1964.
The Gagetown garrison clinic is named in honour of Corporal Frederick Topham, who earned the Victoria Cross for valour on 24 March 1945, during the crossing of the Rhine.