Adeline Bowland's Service Medals (Left to Right): War Medal (1939-45); 1939-45 Star; Defence Medal; Italy Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal.Adeline J. Bowland
"Well, it was really wonderful because it was an esprit des corps. It was just tremendous, you know. And that is what you missed when you left the service."
My name is, as you called it, but nobody calls me “Adeline”. It was my French-Canadian grandmother who was named Adeline (laughs). I don’t ever correct anybody, but I just think it’s rather interesting. .There’s quite a difference between Adeline and Adeline. And I like Adeline, it seems rather more appropriate and more modern, I guess.
But anyway, well, my birth date was 1915, which makes me blush because that really dates me, on February 8th. And I was born in Kamloops, British Columbia at the Royal Inland Hospital, which is quite a flourishing hospital today but was only a very small one then. Then I went into nursing, went to Montreal to the Royal Victoria Hospital to take up nursing when I was 20. And then the war broke out and I went overseas when I was 26, I guess.
I worked in the hospital and moved from one hospital to another because, we weren’t really established when our unit went over, we didn’t have a hospital per se, until we went to Horley, which is near Maidenhead.
Well, I found that nursing is pretty much the same no matter whether it’s peace or war. You have a lot of broken bones. And that is mostly what I had, orthopedic work. Things were not very exciting. It was a very normal life. But all of a sudden it changed because , at 6:00 on the Mediterranean on November the 6th, we were torpedoed. (laughs) So that was a bit of excitement. And we of course, we were in the convoy and you go very slowly. So for days, we had been practicing this very incident. And so we knew where our stations were and very quietly got into lifeboats and took to the ocean. (laughs)
Well, it was only a few minutes before, because I remember my reaction, we sat there on a vast mass of water and it was 6:00 in the evening and it was a lovely sort of cloudy evening with a full moon. It was very romantic and very beautiful if you could enjoy it, you know. And I thought, now, what are we going to do here? (laughs) And all of a sudden, another boat came steaming in, it was the Americans, and they had a destroyer. And so we hopped onto their destroyer and stayed there overnight, until we went to North Africa, where we had a hospital and we stopped off at the hospital there for a while. And then we were picked up by a French ship and taken to our destination in Italy finally, in Naples. (laughs)
Well, it was really wonderful because it was an esprit des corps. It was just tremendous, you know. And that is what you missed when you left the service. It was a great, wonderful feeling with the patients, the men. They were so aware of military discipline, that they were never a problem. Nothing but serious work, you know, it was all work. And of course, you went out to the pubs in the evening for some beer and that was all, that was all there was to it. Although I think there were romances that took place between patients and nurses, you can’t stop that. (laughs) No matter what rank you are. And so it was just, well, we were all doing the same thing and it was war.
As soon as the war broke out in Canada, made itself part of the system, I enlisted right away. And it wasn’t two or three weeks before I was called up. And so we then had to have uniforms made and we were hustled onto the boat right away. And you know, it was only a matter of weeks before we left Canada and went to England. It was really exciting.
And when we went to England, we had to be spaced out into different hospitals because we didn’t have our own hospital for a while. And so we were just eased into what was war and it wasn’t difficult and I never even questioned not to. I was delighted to be able to use my nursing. I never thought for one moment when I became a nurse that I would have this opportunity. And I mean, what better opportunity can you have than to serve in a war?
You live each day as it comes. And I never moralized about life, I just accepted whatever happened. And then you forget about it. (laughs) You make the best of it and you enjoy it as much as you can.
The first thing we had to do in England was to learn to ride a bicycle. They issued them to us, because that’s how we traveled, you know. There just weren’t any cars and that sort of thing. And so we had our bicycles and the first thing we did in the evenings was bicycle down to the pub. (laughs) Which was delightful because that’s where everybody met. And you never drank, you didn’t go to the pub to drink but to mingle with all the people. Because we were right next door to the RAF airforce. And so we had all these guys. (laughs) And well then we had to, at 10:00, the pub closed. “Time, gentlemen,” he’d say. And so you jumped on your bicycle and you cycled back to the hospital a couple of kilometres and went to bed. And then got up the next day and sort of went through the whole routine again. And so the pub was a great centre, the social centre. So that sounds like a pretty nice life, doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound like war, does it?
(laughs) Well, we had patients that were shot up and so that was war. But there, nursing is the same at any time and place.