Monthly Archives: November 2017

A Newfoundland Nurse in World War One

Alice Fitzgerald (top rrow) on nursing duty in France

Alice Fitzgerald (top row) on nursing duty in France

An intriguing photo of a Newfoundland nurse who served in the First World War is tormenting me because I can’t seem to find any details of her story. What I do know is that she was my Aunt Alice, my mother’s oldest sister, but I only saw her once when I was seven years old. In the photo above, she is in the top row among soldiers resting within the ruins of a war damaged stone wall, apparently somwhere in France.

Alice M. Fitzgerald was born in St. John’s March 22, 1885, the oldest daughter of William B. and Katherine (Hagan) Fitzgerald. Thus she would have been between 29 and 33 years old during the First World War. All that I have been able to confirm about her World War 1 nursing career is that she is listed in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment as a nurse from St. John’s but with no further information recorded. According to a heritage Nfld. account of Newfoundland and Labrador’s WW1 service, there were about 175 women who served overseas as graduate nurses or with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) – a corps of semi-trained nurses. So she was most likely one of those graduate nurses.

Alice Fitzgerald (from family Portrait)

Alice Fitzgerald (from famiy porrtrait)

After the war, Alice Fitzgerald married another Newfoundlander, Norbert Burke Dec 18, 1918, at St. Joseph’s Church, presumably in St. John’s.

They settled in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, where Norbert worked with Nova Scotia Steel Company, and raised one daughter, Frances.

Norbert Burke’s family lived in St. Jacques, Fortune Bay, and he too served in the war overseas, one of four brothers who volunteered for active service.

One of them, Leonard, was seriously wounded in the Battle of Cambrai. His other brothers also survived the war – Dr. John Burke conducted a dentistry practice in St. John’s, while Dr. Vincent P. Burke, had a distinguished career in Newfoundand education, and as a member of the Canadian Senate.

Alice Fitzgerald Burke died in North Sydney March 21, 1947 at the age of 62. Her daughter Frances, who married Jerome Rabnett and lived in Belleville, Ont., passed away in 1998.

 

 

Newfoundland Stamps Lost and Found

I thought I had long ago lost all of my Newfoundland stamp collection when someone at home unwittingly threw them out while I was away at university. It was a big one – more than 5,000 stamps in all. That was a long time ago – about 1952, three years after Newfoundland became, controversially enough, a province of Canada.

St. John's harbour

St. John’s harbour

And that was why the monetary value of Newfoundland stamps had escalated because no more were ever to be produced.

Image then my surprise when a couple of hundred of them showed up again a few months ago – 65 years later! I discovered them while clearing out some old boxes containing long discarded memorabilia accumulated over the years and all but forgotten.

King George V

King George V

Easy to miss, because the stamps were wrapped in tiny bundles enclosed by golden hued sewing thread – a method of postage stamp husbandry that would justifiably horrify philately purists in any era. But they did keep them together and in reasonably good shape.

Pity it is that these remnants from the past include only some of the most common low-denomination stamps. Survivor sets consist of 118 grey 1-cent stamps depicting codfish dubbed “Newfoundland currency”, and 100 green 2-cent stamps depicting King George V, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth. Current values except for those in mint condition – which these are certainly not – appear to be minimal.

Codfish: Newoundland currency

Codfish:
Newfoundland currency

My stamp collecting methods were entirely simple and downright crude, soaking stamps from envelopes and bundling them in sets as needed and placing them in envelopes or even Eddy’s match boxes, and keeping them together in larger cardboard boxes which I stored on bedroom cupboard shelves. I recall one of my favourites, a Whitman’s Sampler chocolate box in a design still to be found on store shelves today. Others I liked to use were fancily packaged boxes for cigars my Dad used to smoke.

What I was careful about was in counting all my stamps and marking down the numbers and the places they came from. The listing shown below was hand written in pencil on a note pad sheet dated November 1943, supplied by a venerable St. John’s printer, Dicks and Company. I probably wrote the list in the late ’40s before going away to St. F.X. University in Nova Scotia. It spelled out my complete Newfoundland stamp holdings:

1,394 2-cents, 1,129 3-cents, 1,090 4-cents, 781 1-cent, 426 5-cents, 199 10-cents, 151 8-cents, 54 7-cents, 18 4-cents, 15 15-cents, nine 20-cents, nine 25-cents, two 24-cents, two 9-cents and one 28-cents, for a total of 5,280.

As recounted in my 2015 Gower Street memoir, I wrote about my stamp collecting hobby in The Sentinel, a 1944 grade eight newspaper. I don’t really recall how or why I got interested in stamps, but it probably grew from awareness that Newfoundland stamps were rather unique because we were a small country which produced quite a lot of attractive stamp designs.

Caribou Symbol of Newfoundland Regiment

Caribou
Symbol of Newfounland Regiment

As comprehensively detailed by Memorial University of Newfoundland professor, Dr. Thomas F. Nemec, some 300 different postage stamps were issued by the Newfoundland Post Office between January 1, 1857 and June 24, 1947. Interestingly enough, because they were not demonetized, Newfoundland stamps can still be used legally on mail posted in Canada.

Back to the BlogoSphere

Neglecting one’s blog may be an unforgiveable character fault, but let’s see if comeback efforts can merit yet another comeback. A virtual hiatus since last June came on, not because of illness or other drastic cause, but merely due to preoccupation with other interests.

First, there was an inordinate obsession with tracking down family origins in Ireland, prompted by discovery of digitized listings of birth records for parishes in the vicinity of my great-grandfather Nicholas Wadden’s home community near New Ross, Wexford County.

Birth of an Irish cousin 1845

Birth of an Irish cousin 1845

Eyes glazed from hours of scanning pages and pages of hand-written records, some of them fiendishly rendered in Latin, the time-consuming exercise produced some worthwhile results. But that’s a story for a later blog.

Sated with family history’s somewhat frustrating research, I had fun helping out with publicity for a quite successful photographers’ gathering held in June in Ottawa, organized by the RA Photo Club. The Canada Camera Conference 2017 was the third national conference which our club has organized since 1998, and all three were highly successful and profitable. Co-chair DAVE Haggarty, mastermind of each event, overcame special problems this time for want of major industry sponsors, victims of photography’s transformation to the digital age. “Canada Wild,” a hit audio-visual production staged in Algonquin College’s theatre by the Almonte team of photographer Bill Pratt and musician Ian Douglas, helped a lot in the revenue drive.

More recently, much time has been given to retrieving something else from the past – hundreds and hundreds of photo images originally taken as colour slides. Thanks to the virtues of a trusty scanner, decades-old photos of people, places, events and scenic wonders have been recaptured, edited, and preserved in special event or annual print albums.

from the archives

from the archives

A painstaking chore indeed, but it’s been rewarding to get the best out of images that graphically trace many of the high points of a family’s growth.

Today’s voluminous triggering of electronic images for every moment of the day brings many satisfactions but their very plenitude defies most people’s ability, or indeed willingness, to preserve them in printed form. Perhaps only those venturing into their golden years my feel a desire to bother with prints. Later generations may or may not care, but let us hope that enough people leave something behind to tell who and how they were in days of yore.

In seeking to revive the blogging habit, topics of interest range from the sublime – day dreaming of a world without Trump – to the ridiculous – back to the aforementioned subject. Yet there are plenty of potential items coming to mind, e.g. the mundane concerns of green binning,

compost essential

compost essential

bicycle behavior, the ongoing follies of our own politicians, or the joys rather than the frustrations of noteworthy international travels. And let’s add some tidbits on such offbeat pursuits as stamp collecting, book writing and photography,

Autumn in Ottawa

Autumn in Ottawa

along with a generous sprinkling of photo images to brighten up the mix. More to come soon!