Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

North Dakota Nurses Over There: 1917–1919
Reviewed by James Patton

North Dakota Nurses Over There: 1917–1919

by Grace E.F. Holmes, MD
American Legion Auxiliary, Department of North Dakota, 2017

Sabra Hardy, Died in Service
In 1934 the past presidents of the American Legion Auxiliary in North Dakota voted to undertake a project that was truly one for the ages. They asked their county units to ascertain the identities of all the women from the state who served their country during the First World War and to collect statements of service from each. In some cases they received lengthy and engaging accounts, with quotes taken from personal diaries (most of which are probably now lost). In some instances the response was short; the entire overseas service might be covered in a couple of sentences. Many of the responses were written by third parties, usually family members but sometimes fellow nurses. In a prescient move, at the conclusion of the project all of the responses were saved in the state archives at Bismarck.

In all, there were 271 respondents, of which 225 had served as nurses. The average age of these was 29, and 24 percent were foreign-born. The average term of service for the Army nurses was about a year. Five nurses died while in service, all from disease, three of them in France.

Nora Anderson Died in Service
Dr. Holmes selected material from 129 of the nurse respondents for inclusion in North Dakota Nurses Over There. Sixty-two of these nurses went overseas,  48 percent of the sample. Most of them served in the U.S. Army, a few in the Navy, but there were also some who served with the Red Cross. Several nurses were seconded to British hospitals and others served with North Dakota's Base Hospital No. 60, organized by Dr. Eric Quain, a surgeon at Evangelical Hospital in Bismarck, which was a remarkable accomplishment for a community of only 6,000 persons.

There are accounts of hard work and devotion to duty, of suffering, shortages, overcrowding, wading through mud, night bombing raids, never-ending streams of patients, bad wounds, and surprising recoveries.

There were life-changing experiences. They met colleagues and patients from many nations that they would never visit. They described their efforts to raise morale, fondly remembering holiday celebrations, and the deaths of the hopeless cases.

There were the long days and longer nights of the influenza pandemic, when so many were needed for duty at home, where they served at military hospitals in at least 14 states, and some were seconded to civilian hospitals as well. Several recounted their own battle with the disease, in some cases lingering for months due to complications.

North Dakota Nurses Over There: 1917–1919 can be purchased in either printed
or electronic format from the American Legion Auxiliary,
Department of North Dakota at their website:

There are stories of selflessness and great human drama, including nurses who went on to serve with the Red Cross in the Polish-Bolshevik War and the Greco-Turkish War.

There are stories of great adventures. Many described their ocean crossings in detail. These small-town women were dazzled by New York, London, and Paris. After the Armistice, many visited the old trench lines, and there is an engrossing account of nurses being trapped by German barbed wire.

There are stories of loss and consolation, including lengthy accounts of the deaths of Sabra R. Hardy (1891–1918) of Base Hospital No. 54, from Mercer County and Nora E. Anderson (1881–1919) of Base Hospital No. 68, from Grand Forks (photos above). Remember that the war had ended the last great Romantic Age, an era when people were religious, nostalgic, and melodramatic. Notwithstanding, even to a modern reader these accounts are poignant.

The book is well edited, topically organized, and an easy read, although sometimes repetitive. I finished it in two afternoons. Dr. Holmes has given us a remarkable glimpse at the service of these strong and dedicated women, all of them volunteers, and a good source of facts, firsthand accounts and insights, looking back from a 15-year perspective.

North Dakota Nurses Over There: 1917–1919 can be purchased in either printed or electronic format from the American Legion Auxiliary, Department of North Dakota at their website:

James Patton

1 comment:

  1. Excellent story of North Dakota Nurses in WW I and the challenges they faced with battle casualties and the flu pandemic.

    It tells a story of military nurses that often is not told in our mainstream WW I narratives, especially related to The Battle with Disease and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 that killed almost as many troops (52,000) than combat (53,000) during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in the Fall of 2018 (58,000 Americans died of disease of all sorts) in The Great War.

    In writing an article on U.S. WW I chaplains for a publication later this year, I came across a great story about a Army Chaplain and Army nurse from neighboring MN on the WW I Centennial Commission website in a series of articles on WW I nurses and their sacrifice and service (see: ).

    If you scroll down to the end of the site, you will come upon an article written by Missy Hermes, Education Coordinator, Ottertail County (MN) Historical Society, entitled "ANC & NNC Veterans of WW I." It is the story of Nora Emelia Anderson, ANC who died of spinal meningitis in January 1919 right after the war while working at AEF Base Hospital 68 in France.

    Right below this story is a news article in the Lutheran Church Herald entitled "Christmas in France-1918" by U.S. Army Chaplain Gustav Sterns, of the 127th Infantry of the 32nd Division (the Red Arrow Division of the Wis NG), who ministered to her as she was dying over the course of two weeks.

    This is the poignant story of the ministry of an Army Chaplain, Gustav Sterns, 127th Infantry, 32nd Infantry Division (Wis National Guard) endorsed by the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America and bilingual in both German and Norwegian, who served in an 4 million man Army filled with close to one million immigrants or first generation children of immigrants who spoke 46 languages.

    The story recounts Chaplain Sterns pastoral care ministry to Nora Anderson, ANC, a Norwegian-American nurse, during her last days until her death... and his subsequent officiating at her military funeral in France. Chaplain Sterns graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, while Nora Anderson, ANC, graduated from Concordia College in Moorehead, MN (near Fargo, ND).

    Nora Emelie Anderson of St. Hilaire, MN, Army Nurse Corps, died on January 16, 1919 where she worked at the AEF Base Hospital 68 at Mars-sur-Allier, France. The American Battle monuments Commission (ABMC) website reports Nora Anderson is buried at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, France

    U.S. Army AEF Base Hospital 68 lost 9 ARC Certified Army Nurse Corps nurses and one ARC dietitian: 8 nurses to the flu pandemic in WW I and one ANC nurse to spinal meningitis. This hospital is an example of the sacrifice that ARC nurses in the Army and Navy made, caring for 1.2 million troops stricken with the flu, which killed over 52,000 WW I veterans of the 58,000 to die of disease (22,000 with the AEF and 30,000 on bases in the US.).

    The American Red Cross reports 296 ARC certified nurses (including ANC & NNC nurses and ARC nurses) gave their lives in WW I, most of them in fighting the influenza pandemic with our troops in Europe and at stateside bases and in civilian communities on the U.S. home front.