Helen Lauder Fowlds (1889-1965) was a nursing sister who had graduated from Toronto’s Grace Hospital just before the start of the First World War. She enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in London, England, on February 24, 1915, at the age of 25, and was posted to a military hospital in France that March. In August, she was sent to work in a hospital in Greece. She was then sent to Egypt for a month and then back to Greece. By the summer of 1916, she was suffering from a chronic respiratory infection. In October of that year, after 18 months’ continuous service, she was granted five weeks’ convalescent leave due to a “debility” caused by the “strain of duties.” Following her leave, she returned to active duty and served at hospitals in England until the end of the war. While there, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class. Fowlds’ medical records indicate frequent bouts of influenza and bronchitis, and illustrate the physical and psychological hardships experienced by many nursing sisters during the war. She sailed home to Canada on the SS Megantic on May 23, 1919, and continued to serve in hospitals in Toronto until October 1920.
Fowlds’ brothers, Donald and Eric, also served in the war. In dozens of letters that she wrote to her mother in Canada between 1915 and 1919, Fowlds frequently included news of her brothers’ whereabouts in Europe and their wellbeing, based on postcards she had received from them. Then in a letter to her father dated October 24, 1918, she refers to the death of her younger brother, Don. She writes: “An officer who used to be with the Fort Garry [Don’s regiment] told me that they got into a perfect nest of machine guns and that the losses were very heavy.” Trent University has digitized Fowlds’ extensive correspondence along with three volumes of her diary and other artifacts. Together, they paint a vivid picture of her life as a wartime nurse.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: October 28, 1889
Date of Attestation: February 24, 1915
Age at Enlistment: 25 years, 4 months
Prior Military Service/Active Militia: Yes – one month with the Quebec Military Hospital
Height: 5 feet, 4 inches
Weight: 110 pounds
Description: Dark complexion, blue eyes, brown hair. Her physique is “slight.” Presbyterian.
Home Address: Hastings, Ontario
Next of Kin: Father, Frederick W. Fowlds, and mother, Elizabeth, living in Hastings, Ontario. Brothers Eric and Donald.
Theatre of War: England, France, Greece, Egypt
Casualties / Medical History
- July 26, 2016 – Fowlds is treated for “debility” (weakness or general ill-health) aboard the Hospital Ship Llandovery Castle. (Page 31)
- October 24, 1916 – A note states that “this Nursing Sister has been 5 months in France, 6 months at Lemnos, and 9 months at Salonika; she has had pyrosia [pyrosis, or heartburn] of unknown origin; and is debilitated due to the strain of her long service; admitted to Vincent Square on 20 October 1916. She requires rest.” She is granted five weeks’ leave to convalesce. (Page 13)
- March 1918 – She had been hospitalized for bronchitis, with a “spasmodic cough,” but now states that her cough has disappeared. There is a long list of places where she served between 1915 and 1916, including England, the Dardanelles, Egypt and Salonika. A note indicates that she received an “R.R.C.” decoration in October 1916. (Page 5)
- April 1, 1918 – She is again diagnosed with bronchitis and transferred to Middlesex, England to convalesce. Her symptoms are “Onset with heavy cold in the head and tightness in the chest. Slight temperature.” (Page 17)
- July 13, 1920 – A dental chart shows that she had at least 17 fillings and five missing teeth (all molars). (Page 11)
- May 1919 – On May 23, 1919, following the “cessation of hostilities,” she sails to Canada on the SS Megantic. (Page 37)
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- Her discharge certificate mentions that she was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class (LG No. 29959). (Page 19)
The London Gazette
The London Gazette, February 23, 1917—Supplement 29959, Page 1950
Military Medals, Honours and Awards
1911 Census of Canada
Fowlds is 22 years old and living in Hastings, Ontario, with her father Frederick
(54) and mother Elizabeth (50). Her father is listed as an insurance agent. Her brothers Donald (19) and Eric (17) also live at home. The family members are listed as Canadian with a Scottish background, and Presbyterian. Her father’s two sisters, Theresa Hogg (57) and Margaret Fowlds (45), also live in the home.