From public school teacher to decorated World War I nurse

In 1907, Marion Henderson was teaching at Fenelon Falls Public School. Seven years later, she boarded a ship with hundreds of other young men and women to serve overseas in the First World War.

When Marion Henderson began teaching in the early part of the 20th century at Fenelon Falls Public School, she had no way of knowing that her life would change significantly.

Teaching was a good job, and at the village school she would be lucky enough to teach a class where her students were of the same age.

But society still expected most young teachers to marry, settle down and start a family.

While Marion’s sister Lila married Fenelon Falls pharmacist Alvin Gould and raised a family, Marion would live a much more adventurous life.

In 1914, as the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne in Sarajevo sparked a series of escalations that plunged the world into war, calls were made across the British Empire for young men to serve overseas. Soon, nurses were urgently needed to care for all the wounded soldiers.

Marion was one of many young women who pledged to do their part to help the war effort.

For young men and women, leaving for service overseas would be the adventure of a lifetime – and no one quite knew what they would experience.

Many young men and women joined Marion as she boarded a ship to cross the Atlantic. As they navigated the U-Boat infested waters, virtually everyone on board made many new friends.

When Marion arrived in Britain, she was taken to Cliveden, a beautiful home on a 375-acre estate near Taplow, Buckinghamshire. Residence of the Astor family, descendants of the famous American financier, it had been transformed into the Red Cross hospital of the Duchess of Connaught to treat Canadian soldiers until September 15, 1919, almost a year after the armistice.

Many nurses and soldiers took advantage of their active service to visit the British countryside, attend social events and, in Marion’s case, spend quiet time at the estate.

But more often than not, they were part of one of the most defining human tragedies in history.

When soldiers arrived at Cliveden, many were lucky to be alive but now face missing arms or legs, barely able to breathe after a gas attack or wondering if they could a dawn again.

Marion and the other nurses did their best to help the soldiers recover physically and emotionally, listening to phonographs, organizing Christmas celebrations and even a visit from the royal family in 1917.

Not surprisingly, recovering soldiers often developed close friendships with the nurses. Marion had a sketchbook, where her patients would demonstrate remarkable artistic abilities. Some wrote verses to share with their nurse.

When peace returned in 1919 and the hospital closed, Marion returned to Canada and continued to help veterans recover from their injuries before pursuing a rewarding nursing career.

Marion received several medals for her distinguished service abroad.

In 1936, she was invited to return to Europe as part of the Canadian Legion pilgrimage to witness the unveiling of the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge by King Edward VIII on July 26.

Glenn Walker is a local historian and member of the Maryboro Lodge Museum, a community cultural center located on Cameron Lake in Fenelon Falls. Check for more unique, entertaining and often unknown historical facets of the Kawarthas.

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