Laura Gamble was born in Wakefield, Quebec on September 4, 1887 and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1910.
In Toronto, Laura enlisted on May 4, 1915 with the No. 4 Canadian General Hospital, organized by the University of Toronto.
She would also work with the No. 5 Canadian General Hospital.
During the war, Laura served most of her time in the Mediterranean, aboard a medical ship, and in Malta and Salonica, Greece. She was awarded the Victory Medal in 1920 for her distinguished service during the war.
Included in the Laura Gamble fonds held by Library and Archives Canada is a diary, kept by Laura during her career as a nursing sister, in which she describes mostly the social side of life, such as tours in the countryside, parties, etc.
There are some descriptions of the hospitals where she worked, although it is not the focus of her writing.
The following text uses excerpts from Laura's diary, giving insight into her experience during the war through her own writings.
“No. 5 had the reputation of being one of the happiest hospitals in Rouen, and I think it deserved the reputation.”
On May 15, 1915, Laura was sent to England and then to France, where she served with the No. 5 Canadian General Hospital for a period of time. Laura explains that her hospital is surrounded by many other hospitals, both
"General and stationary, many Base Depots, a cavalry remount Depot, a Veterinary Depot and an Indian Hospital. Rouen being a large base of supplies on account of it being so easily accessible — the boats coming up the river from the English Channel"
Laura likes the hospital and writes,
"On Sunday afternoons the sisters could always ask their friends to tea and the M.O.s [medical officers] had a stationary invitation to come"
“At 11 am we received word to proceed to London at 8 pm.”
Laura describes arriving in London and looking overhead to see a zeppelin over the city.
"It was not a very pleasant feeling to have — to know it was hostile craft dropping bombs indiscriminately over the city."
Laura describes London as a
"dreary place at night. The police were very strict about keeping the streets dark — every one had to be most particular about keeping the blinds down"
“…on the morning of the 18th we left Fenchurch Station for Tilbury Docks where we went on board the R.M.S. Kildonan Castle en route for the island of Lemnos.”
On October 28, 1915, the ship docked in Lemnos. Laura writes,
"We came to the harbor at Lemnos in sight of Mudros. In the harbor were a good many war vessels. In fact the harbor there is used mostly for the English fleet in this part of the world"
That evening, Laura writes that they received orders to head immediately to the Gallipoli peninsula to get a number of sick wounded:
The next morning we arrived early — right in the midst of things. We got a splendid view of "Chocolate Hill" and of the trenches, dug-outs, [?], and large guns. They were firing too from the sea, and we saw the huge shells exploding, shrapnel, air-craft and the booming of the big guns kept us all somewhat nervous. At night the search lights kept playing all about…. we took on about 600 pts [patients].
Laura later writes that they had several deaths on board while in the harbor at Lemnos.
On November 17, 1915 Laura received word they were to continue on to Salonica and join the No. 4 Canadian General.
“We surely saw active service at its worst.”
Canada did not send military troops to the Mediterranean, but did provide five medical units that served under harsh, challenging conditions. Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson describes the hardships faced by the Canadian medical units:
It was characteristic of the element of unpreparedness associated with so much of the Gallipoli campaign that no sanitary provisions had been made for the Canadian units before they arrived. Each hospital depended for its water on a single cart, which daily brought in from a considerable distance a very limited supply. For the first two months on the island, until engineers sank wells locally, the meagre ration of water for washing was one quart a day…. Food was scarce, and of poor quality, often impossible for sick patients to eat.
(Nicholson 1977, p. 92)
Along with these hardships, Laura's writing mentions the air raids and bombings:
"We had another air raid. This time the bombs were dropping all about us. Everyone was more or less terrified and indeed one can not soon forget the horrible whizzing noise of those bombs…. After this raid fatigue parties were sent to dig dug-outs for the sisters which were to be bomb proof"
“His wife has written me several times and sent a floral decoration for his grave.”
Laura talks about her patients with respect and sympathy, although only a few of them are mentioned in her diary.
"Have been very busy in hospital, 1300 pts [patients]. Enteritis, dysentery, malaria. We had one death in officers ward from dysentery"
Laura dedicates the last pages of her diary mostly to descriptions of her social activities and to descriptions of trips she enjoyed. Copies of her obituaries, letters of condolences and articles in which she appeared were added to her diary posthumously.
Nicholson, G.W.L. Seventy Years of Service: A History of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1977.