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Argentinian Nurse Sister Iona Katherine Wishart: A Heroic Contribution to Canada’s Military and Allies During the First World War

Casualty Clearing Station. Some wounded Canadians present a nurse with a dog brought out of the trenches with them. October 1916 (Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-000931)

The Latin American community has long been an integral part of Canadian history, contributing to the nation’s values and ethics, particularly during times of conflict. Nurse Sister Iona Katherine Wishart exemplified the unwavering dedication, bravery, and sacrifice shared by Latin America and Canada. Volunteering with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) during the First World War, Sister Wishart’s remarkable contributions and those of her fellow nursing sisters played a pivotal role in caring for wounded soldiers. This article highlights their courage and sheds light on the significance of their service, emphasizing the strong bond between Latin America and Canada.

The First World War posed significant challenges to Canada, requiring the mobilization of healthcare personnel to support the troops. Nurse Sister Iona Katherine Wishart, born on 21 July, 1891, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, joined the Canadian Armed Forces voluntarily at Camp Hughes in Manitoba on 11 November, 1916. She served from 11 June, 1916, to 17 April, 1919, in England and France, where she faced great adversity.

Tragically, on 19 May, 1918, a German bombing raid claimed the lives of three Canadian nursing sisters at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital – Margaret Lowe, Katherine Maud Mary MacDonald, and Nursing Sister Gladys Maude Mary Wake. They were the first Canadian nurses killed in action during the war. Additionally, two other female victims of bombing raids, YMCA motor driver Betty (Bertha Gavin) Stevenson on 31 May and Nursing Sister Annie Watson Bain at the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital on 1 June, succumbed to the horrors of war.

During her service after the German bombing, Nurse Sister Iona Katherine Wishart experienced the profound psychological toll of war, being admitted to Northwood Hospital from 4 June to 4 July, 1918, with a diagnosis of Nervous Shock and Neurasthenia. Nervous Shock refers to the trauma-induced psychological distress resulting from exposure to traumatic events, while Neurasthenia is a term used to describe a condition of mental and physical exhaustion often caused by prolonged stress.

The Canadian nursing sisters, including Sister Iona Katherine Wishart, serving at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital played a vital role in providing care and support to wounded soldiers. Their tasks encompassed a range of responsibilities, from administering medical treatments and performing surgeries to providing emotional support and comfort to the patients under their care. Their commitment to duty, even in the face of great danger, was commendable and demonstrated their unwavering dedication to their profession and the well-being of the soldiers. The CAMC nursing service had specific requirements for women seeking appointments. They needed to be graduated from a recognized three-year nursing program, display high moral character and dignified deportment, maintain physical fitness, and be between 21 and 38 years old. Despite these criteria, there were instances where nursing sisters were accepted into the Corps without meeting all the standard requirements. Some of these women lacked professional nursing training, deviated from the specified age range, and were even married. In total, 2,845 Canadian nursing sisters served with the CAMC during the First World War. The majority were fully qualified.

Nurse Sister Iona Katherine Wishart’s selfless service represents the broader Latin American community’s commitment to upholding Canadian values and ethics. From the early years of Confederation, individuals from Latin American countries, including Argentina, actively participated in Canada’s military during times of conflict. Sister Wishart’s voluntary service in the Canadian Armed Forces serves as a testament to the enduring bond between Latin America and Canada.

Nurse Sister Iona Katherine Wishart’s extraordinary contributions as a member of the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War reflect the bravery and sacrifice of Latin American individuals who actively defended Canadian values throughout history. Alongside her fellow nursing sisters, Sister Wishart’s dedication to caring for wounded soldiers underscores the unbreakable bond between Latin America and Canada. Their service reminds us of the immeasurable impact that individuals from diverse backgrounds can have on shaping a nation’s history and upholding its values.

By Capt Rey Garcia-Salas

The Latin American Soldiers in Canada Committee’s mission is to publicize the names and stories of Canadian-Latinos who were part of the Canadian Armed Forces.