Henry Norman Bethune

Henry Norman Bethune

Henry Norman Bethune (1890–1939) was born in Gravenhurst, Ontario. He is known internationally as a physician who served on the front lines. When still a medical student, Bethune enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps with the No. 2 Field Ambulance on September 25, 1914, and embarked with his unit on October 4, 1914 aboard the SS Cassandra. On April 29, 1915, while serving as a stretcher bearer, he was injured by shrapnel to his left leg during the fighting around Ypres, Belgium. After spending three months recuperating in an English hospital, he was declared unfit for service. He returned to Canada where he was discharged in November 1915 and resumed his medical studies. Having received his medical degree in 1916, Bethune re-enlisted with the Royal Navy as Surgeon Lieutenant at the Chatham Hospital in England.

In 1936, Bethune travelled to Spain where he offered his services to the Loyalist Government forces during the Spanish Civil War. He is credited for creating the Canadian Blood Transfusion Unit, a mobile service to bring donated blood from civilians for transfusion to wounded soldiers on the front lines. In 1938, Bethune arrived in Shanxi province in China where he joined the Chinese Communists led by Mao Zedong. During his time there, he organized medical services for the front lines and in the rural villages of the region, as well as performed emergency surgeries on the battlefield. After cutting his finger during an operation and having no access to surgical gloves, Bethune continued to work tirelessly, performing multiple surgeries. In a subsequent operation he became infected and died of septicemia on November 12, 1939. Henry Norman Bethune was honoured by Mao Zedong in an essay entitled “In Memory of Norman Bethune,” which is still read by elementary schoolchildren in China today.

Service Record Details

Attestation Paper 1

Date of Birth: March 4, 1890 (Gravenhurst, Ontario)

Date of Attestation: September 25, 1914 (Valcartier, Quebec)

Age at Enlistment: 24 years, 8 months old

Prior Military Service: 31st Regiment (actively engaged in the Militia at the time of Attestation)

Height: 5 feet, 10½ inches

Weight: Not indicated

Description: Medium complexion, blue eyes, brown hair. Vaccination marks on left arm, scar on inner side of left thigh.

Home Address: The Elms, Stratford, Ontario and 344 Shaw Street, Toronto, Ontario

Trade: Medical Student

Married: No

Next of Kin: Father, the Reverend M.N. Bethune, living at 19 Harboard Street, Toronto, Ontario

Theatre of War: France

Casualties/Medical History

Attestation Paper 2
  • April 29, 1915 – Near Ypres, Bethune receives a gunshot wound to his left leg. “Shrapnel bullet right through…Received anti-tetantic serum soon after the wound.”

Interesting Details from the Service Record

  • November 3, 1915 – Bethune is declared medically unfit for duty. Having served 1 year and 26 days, he returns to Canada where he is discharged and resumes his medical studies.

The London Gazette

No mentions found.

Military Medals, Honours and Awards (1812–1969)

No mentions found.

Census Records

  • 1891 Census
    At age one, Henry N. Bethune and his family have just arrived from England, where he was born. His father, Malcolm (34), is Scottish, born in Ontario, and a Presbyterian minister. His mother, Elizabeth (36), is from England. He is living with his parents and his older sister, Jeanette (3), in Gravenhurst, Ontario.

  • 1901 Census
    At age 11, Henry N. Bethune is living in Aylmer, Ontario. His father Malcolm (43), is a clergyman, of Scottish descent, and born in Ontario. His mother, Elizabeth (47), is English born, having arrived in Canada in 1887. Their religion is Presbyterian. They have three children, Jeanette (12), Henry (11), and Malcolm (9).

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