Veteran Stories:
Hilda Irene Cann (née Blank)

Army

  • Identity Card of Second Lieutenant Hilda Cann of the United States Army Nurse Corps, issued March 1, 1944.

    Bill Cann
  • Certificate of Service issued to First Lieutenant Hilda Cann of the United States Army Nurse Corps on December 11, 1945.

    Bill Cann
  • Enlistment Certificate issued to Second Lieutenant Hilda Cann of the United States Army Nurse Corps, March 1, 1944.

    Bill Cann
  • First Lieutenant Hilda Cann sailed to New York City on the RMS Queen Mary on November 4, 1945, after serving 16 months as a surgical nurse with the United States Army's 155th General Hospital in Great Malvern, England.

    Bill Cann
  • After enlisting in the United States Army Nurse Corps in March 1944, Second Lieutenant Hilda Cann was posted to the 155th United States General Hospital in Great Malvern, England in July. After being separated from her husband, Captain Harry Alexander Cann of the Royal Canadian Engineers, by the war for almost five years, the couple was grateful for seven days' leave together: This portrait celebrates their brief reunion.

    Bill Cann
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"He was paralyzed from the neck down and he said to me one day, I want you to promise me something."

Transcript

I applied, through the American Red Cross, for military duty in the United States. I was accepted as second lieutenant and advised to report to Fort Benjamin Harrison, an army camp 40 miles from Indianapolis, Indiana. I asked the chief nurse if I could go overseas. She said, with your past experience in surgical nursing and four years at the Mayo Clinic, we need a surgical nurse to complete the personnel for the 155th General Hospital, which is slated for overseas in a few days.

We left for Boston after a twelve-hour leave in Boston there. We left on military buses for dockside where we boarded the luxury liner, [the USS] West Point, which was capable of carrying over 11,000 troops, all medical personnel: Doctors, nurses, Red Cross girls. We had to drill daily in our fatigues with packs on our backs and gas masks. We were instructed to wear our life belts at all times, even all night.

After several days at sea, we approached the British Isles. The engines on our boat were silenced at 1600 [pm]. We were about five miles out at sea. We were transferred in hundreds of lighters which took us to Greenock, Scotland. We were welcomed by a Scottish band, which led us to a railway station about six blocks away. The band played as we boarded the train. We travelled by train for several hours, taken by jeep to our temporary hospital, which was in a large skating rink in Colwyn Bay, Wales.

After several days there, we travelled by train for two days and two nights. We arrived in the valley of the Malvern Hills, southern England, to our new hospital area. I met my husband there; he was a captain with the Canadian Engineers. He had been serving in the Canadian Army overseas and at the present time, was in Ripon, northern England. That was July the 9th, 1944 when he called, where we celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary, sitting on a stone fence, as everywhere outside of two blocks was out of bounds for me.

[One patient] was a rear gunner in a [bomber] plane and the plane was partially damaged by bombs but the pilot was able to bring the plane to the British shore. And the patient was brought to our hospital with the other patients; the other soldiers, I should say. He was paralyzed from the neck down and he said to me one day, I want you to promise me something. And I said, well, I can’t promise you unless you tell me what you want: I might not be able to do it. He said, you can do it. I said, okay, I promise. He said, would you go and see my wife after I die because I know I’m only going to live a couple of days. And so I said, I promise.

So after a couple days, he died, but before he died, he was about six feet, he was a big man, and I had to, he had five bullet wounds in his chest and quite a few in the back. And when I put solution in these wounds, where he had infection, the solution came out at the back. And one day, I couldn’t turn him over and I asked two of the soldiers who were out on the ward, that were ready to be discharged, I said, would you come and help me turn my patient. And they said, we can’t stand the smell. I said, how would you like it if you were in his place and your buddies wouldn’t come and help you? So they both came in and helped me turn him and fix him up.

And after he died and the war was over, I got in at New York and my husband was there from Canada to meet me. I was in the U.S. Army and my husband said, I have to go right back to Canada. And I said, I can’t go with you right away, I promised a patient that I would go and see his wife out, out of Cincinnati. So he rented a car and we both drove to an area about maybe two or three miles out of Cincinnati, inquiring about this soldier’s family and his wife. And we finally found it. We drove up, I got out of the car, two officers in uniform, his wife wouldn’t come out; she had just got the word that her husband had passed away. So she wouldn’t come out. So the mother came out and I said to the mother, tell your daughter that she has to come out and talk to me, I promised her husband I would talk to her.

So she came out and by this time in tears, and I’ve got a few tears and my husband said to me, Hilda, you’re supposed to be brave. And I said, yes, but this is one time it’s difficult to be brave. Anyway, she came out and I said, your husband, all his belongings and everything I packed in a duffle bag and you’ll probably get it within a month, it might be two months, it’s wartime, there’s no priority. And she said, well, I gave him a watch before he went overseas that was twenty-five dollars and she said, I’d like to have that watch back. I said, I personally packed the watch and all of his belongings in a duffle bag and you’ll get them some time. But I said, if you don’t get them within a month, here’s my telephone number and my address up in Canada and write to me or phone me and I’ll put a tracer on for you.

Within about three weeks, I had a letter from her and she’d got the duffle bag and the watch and everything and she said she was so pleased that I’d talked to her and would I, and she sent a beautiful tablecloth. She couldn’t afford a Kleenex, a box of Kleenex; sent this beautiful tablecloth.

Interview date: 26 November 2010

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