More than a dishwasher: WWI Nursing Sister Lilly Garrard

Nursing Sister Lillian Annie Garrard of Tofino in Buxton England in 1918. (Front row second from right). Photo Credit: Canadian Hospital News, March 16 1918, Library and Archives Canada.

When Lilly Garrard was born, someone told her Dad, “it is a dish washer this time, you must do better next.” But Lilly did much more than wash dishes — she became a nursing school graduate who served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in the First World War.

Lilly Garrard was the daughter of Frank and Annie Garrard, close friends to my Grandpa Harold Monks in Tofino (they unoffically “adopted” him as a son in the 1920s). While reading Frank Garrard’s memoirs at the B.C. Archives, I discovered the story of his eldest daughter Lilly, who had become a nurse, and I wanted to find out more about her WWI nursing experiences. My explorations led me to a trip to Buxton, Derbyshire, the site of the Granville Canadian Special Hospital where Lilly had nursed Canadian soldiers.

Lillian Annie Garrard was born in Comox in September 1890, the eldest daughter of Francis Charles (“Frank”) and Annie Garrard, recently arrived from England. Over the next twenty years, Lilly would follow her adventurous family (four sisters and three brothers) to Nanaimo, Alberni, Nahmint River, Lennard Island lighthouse, Vargas Island and then to Tofino, where Frank Garrard became the telegraph operator and post master in 1910.

Lilly’s dad Frank Garrard, photo from Harold Monks’ album.

Once the Garrards had (finally) settled in Tofino, Lilly started helping Dr. Melbourne Raynor at the local Methodist Mission. Frank Garrard later wrote in his memoirs: “She was beginning to consider nursing as a career, which in the course of time we helped her commence…” In August 1911, Lilly entered the School of Nursing at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Victoria. She was financially assisted by her parents, Dr. Raynor, and Father Maurice of the Christie Industrial School. Frank Garrard recalled that “besides the initial expenses, we paid during the first year or so, about ten dollars a month, towards her expenses, pocket money etc.”

St. Joseph’s Hospital, Victoria. Lilly Garrard trained as a nurse here between 1911 – 1914. Image from Henderson’s Greater Victoria Directory

Lilly’s parents received an invitation to her May 4 1914 graduation ceremony but they were unable to attend. There was a far distance by the coastal steamship that ran every 10 days to Victoria, and it was often hard for Frank Garrard to get away from the telegraph and post office.

Lilly Garrard (3) graduation photo, St Joseph’s nursing school. Photo credit: Sisters of St Ann Archives.

Lilly Garrard was one of twenty-eight St. Joseph’s Hospital nursing school graduates who later served with the Canadian overseas forces. On May 5 1917 Lilly enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

Lillian Annie Garrard’s attestation for overseas service. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

She arrived in England on July 8 1917 and soon transferred to the Ontario Military Hospital in Orpington, Kent (Greater London). The Ontario Military Hospital was “one of the most advanced military hospitals in the world at that time and was paid for by the Province of Ontario at a cost of $2 million.” (Ontario Archives online exhibit about the Ontario Military Hospital) In September 1917, the Ontario Military Hospital was renamed the No. 16 Canadian General Hospital.

Lillian Annie Garrard’s service record. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

Lilly was taken on strength on July 23 1917. She would have immediately been busy. The War Diary for the No. 16 Canadian General Hospital shows that on July 27 1917 a convoy of 170 stretcher cases came from France. On July 29 1917 a convoy of 190 stretcher cases came from France. On July 31 1917, there was heavy rain. During the month of August, 1408 overseas cases (including 442 Canadians) and 64 local troops were admitted to the hospital. A band from the Reserve Battalion was attached to the hospital for one week. Band concerts were given every morning and afternoon to patients.

Letters to Frank Garrard give more details about Lilly’s nursing experiences. Lilly’s brother Noel wrote to his Dad and mentioned Lilly being stationed at the Ontario Military Hospital, Kent and rather hoping to change roommates as a particular friend of hers was there. Noel said “she will be lucky if she can, as they don’t seem to study one’s wishes, either in the Army or Navy.”

In August 1917, Lilly had a visit from her brother Noel and also a chance encounter with a patient — Murdo Macleod from Tofino! Murdo was having a “plastic operation” (nose reconstruction), a result of an injury in October 1916 at Courcelette. Murdo later wrote to Frank Garrard: “met two of your family namely Sister L Garrard and Noel, Noel was on leave and had called to see his sister, what a surprise I got when I met Lilly, didn’t know she was over on this side of the water, was awful glad to meet them…” Read more about Murdo Macleod’s WWI.

The War Diary for No. 16 Canadian General Hospital on November 7 1917 notes: “Struck off Strength….N/S L.A. Garrard…proceeded for duty at Granville Canadian Special Hospital, Buxton.” This hospital had recently moved to Buxton after it had been bombed in Ramsgate, Kent during German air raid on August 22 1917.

Lilly’s grandmother in Ealing was glad she had been moved away from Greater London. Frank Garrard later noted: “two letters from Mother on the 5th and 10th November 1917. She mentions having been in touch with Lillian who was then at Buxton Derbyshire and Mother thought she was safer there than at Orpington. She says ‘the air raids keep us on the alert, to us they are only an excitement but to London and its near suburbs a terrifying trial.’”

Buxton was a renowned spa town in the Peak District, known for its curative waters. Lilly wrote to her mother it was “like one big park like summer resort or rather health resort, they have the thermal baths and everything for a good easy time, with many hotels and hospitals.”

Buxton Derbyshire in the Peak District was a former spa town. Photo taken in March 2017.
Pre-war, visitors came to Buxton to take the waters for complaints like rheumatism. Photo taken in March 2017.

Lilly worked at the Granville Canadian Special Hospital from November 1917 to July 1919. This image below comes from the March 16 1918 Canadian Hospital News, a magazine of the Granville Canadian Special Hospital. Lilly can be seen sitting in the front row, second from the right.

Granville Canadian Special Hospital nurses, Buxton, Canadian Hospital News, March 16 1918, Library and Archives Canada.

The Granville Canadian Special Hospital was a primarily a rehabilitation hospital for amputation and shell shock cases. The hospital — 1600 beds —  had taken over local hotels vacated because of the war-time drop in tourism.

The Palace Hotel was taken over by the Granville Canadian Special Hospital. Photo taken in March 1917

By Mother’s Day 1918, Lilly wrote to her mother that her work was very heavy just then. Although she had not much sleep lately, “fresh air is the main thing, one can’t keep up without it, I found out now.” Lilly was going to move her bed right into the window. This comment about fresh air may have been in reference to her living quarters. Reports from the War Diary for the Granville Canadian Special Hospital show that nursing sisters complained about their accommodation in the Grosvenor Hotel, where it was cold and damp and there was “an unpleasant odour of escaping gas.”

The site of the Grosvenor nurses home (of the escaping gas!) Photo taken in March 1917
Another WWI nurses’ home in Buxton. Photo taken in March 1917

Lilly also noted that some of the other nurses were going in for golf, but it was “too much exercise for me for the feet.” However, Lilly was able to go horse riding. She told her mother that she was going for a ride that evening for fresh air, saying “it is a treat to be able to get the air and not have to walk, our feet get so tired at the end of the day so that it is not much pleasure walking.”

The nurses held dances but Lilly didn’t enjoy them. She felt that a dance Wednesday evening was enough and far too much. They were always short of girls, she did not know where all the officers came from. It was too crowded for pleasure, “I go and feel it is a duty.”

Yet, despite the complaints, Lilly must have been doing well. In November 1918, Lilly’s Uncle Will wrote to Frank Garrard, who reported: “Lilly was in charge of two wards containing 80 beds, so he says she had definitely demonstrated to the ‘Tyees’ that she is a good nurse.”

Potential patients of Nursing Sister L.A. Garrard’s at Granville Canadian Special Hospital in Buxton, December 1917. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

Nursing Sister Lillian Annie Garrard was demobilized in September 1919 and returned to British Columbia. Her homecoming was bittersweet. Just as she was going overseas, her brother “Burdie” was returning to Canada. He spent the next two years in Canadian hospitals dying of tuberculosis. Lilly arrived back in time to spend a few weeks with Burdie at Balfour Military Hospital before his death.

In the 1920s, Lilly nursed briefly in New York and then made a nursing career in Berkeley California mainly working with private patients. She returned to Vancouver Island for annual summer holidays and retired to Vancouver Island. Lillian Annie Garrard died in Victoria in 1986, aged 96.  

I visited Buxton in March 2017 to see places connected to Lilly Garrard and Canadian nurses and soldiers in WWI. Click here for my Flickr album of Buxton visit photos.

Details of Lilly’s war time experiences come from the digital records at the Library and Archives Canada: Canadian Expeditionary Force service files, Official War Diaries, Canadian Hospital News. Quotes from Frank Garrard and letters quoted come from Frank Garrard’s memories written in the early 1940s, copy in the British Columbia Archives. The photograph of Frank Garrard comes from my Grandpa Harold Monks Sr’s photo album. Harold was a close friend of the Garrard family in the 1920s-40s. Photographs of Buxton locations connected to WWI were taken on a visit to Buxton, Derbyshire in March 2017