One of the stories in The Coldest December is “Bluebirds and Daisies” by Bronwyn Piper. Bluebirds was the nickname given to the nurses of the time.
More than 2,800 nurses served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC), as fully-enlisted officers in the specially-created all female rank of Nursing Sister, with relative rank and equal pay to men – the first women among the Allied forces to do so. Nicknamed “bluebirds” because of their blue uniforms and white veils, Canada’s nursing sisters saved lives by caring for wounded and sick soldiers as well as convalescents, prisoners of war, and even civilians on occasion.
The main character, Lorena Brody, in “Bluebirds and Daisies” was training to be a nursing sister when the Halifax Explosion happened. Here’s how the story starts.
Bluebirds and Daisies
Lorena Brody adjusted her white veil, then fastened the top button on her overcoat. The brisk breeze blowing off the water sneaked beneath her long coat and skirt and brought a chill to her core. It brushed against her cheeks and cooled them in spite of her earlier thoughts of the handsome sailor who had caused them to warm. The crossing from Dartmouth to Halifax was almost completed, and soon she’d be in a warm building, listening to lectures on how to attend the sick and injured and then putting those lessons into practice in the afternoon as she worked alongside an experienced nurse.
After almost ten months of nursing instruction, she was unsure if this was the profession she desired to dedicate her life to. She cared about people, but the deeply personal care she was expected to deliver stirred unpleasant feelings in her stomach and at times produced uncomfortable dreams. The ghastliest nightmare invaded her sleep last night when she had imaged she entered a ward and found a body covered with a white sheet. She had instinctively lifted the sheet and stiffened. Lying on the cold, dirt-covered table was her older brother, Wallis, still in uniform. He looked as though he had been snatched from the battlefield and placed there, wounds still gaping and dripping with blood.
She had screamed and jumped from her bed, waking her roommate at the boarding house. Ruby’s attempts to calm her failed, and Lorena wept uncontrollably on her shoulder. Hours afterwards, with Ruby resettled and snoring, she had lain awake until dawn staring at the flickering shadows on the ceiling cast from a tree outside her window against the moonlight.
The Halifax II slowed its speed in anticipation of a full stop at the boarding platform, jarring Lorena from her thoughts. The steam from its tall stack shot black smoke into the air, marring an otherwise perfect early morning sky. The snickering of horses, creaking of carts and chattering of passengers fell to the background as the city neared and the sounds of workmen with large equipment grew louder. The passengers grew restless, anticipating their arrival, and moved towards the exits.
Lorena held back, scanning the dock for familiar faces amongst the workmen, sailors and soldiers. There were many and they moved quickly, their minds on work. She felt the gentle thump of the ferry touching the dock, and her search became frantic. Where was he? Perhaps he had the day off, was on an errand or had already passed and was on his way to his ship. She was certain the ferry was on time, and he seldom left the dock without saying good morning.
She caught site of a sailor watching her from the shore and recognised him. It was Harry, a stoker on Musquash, the RCN minesweeping trawler at the dry dock wharf. He was the shipmate to the man she searched for. Harry watched her with a smile. Lorena hoped her Andrew was nearby and searched to the left and right of Harry. Her heart leapt when she spotted the blond-haired sailor in his blue uniform trimmed with white. His back was to her, and he was talking to two other men, his hands moving in large motions as he spoke. Her breath caught in her throat, and she pressed her fingers against the window. He had waited for her.
The squeaking of gates opening to let passengers and carts disembark reminded her she was in Halifax and needed to follow the crowd. Still, she waited, hoping Andrew would turn and see her. He touched Harry’s shoulder and spoke to him, and Harry pointed at the ferry. Andrew turned, searched the windows of the ferry, then found her. He smiled and waved. Her body warmed and her smile broadened. She returned the wave, then sprang into action.
Both eBook and paperback editions of The Coldest December are on sale until the end of the year.
Pick up a copy today at the following online outlets.
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To learn more about this book, including the authors who contributed, visit The Coldest December’s page at Quarter Castle Publishing.