Celebrating a Nursing Sister’s Service

By Lisa Nault, Army Public Affairs with files from Sean Whitcomb

Marjorie Whitcomb (née Horsnell) proudly displays her service medals. Photo taken July 2017 at her cottage on Lake George, New Brunswick. Photo provided by Sean Whitcomb.

Saint John, New Brunswick — International Women’s Day creates an opportunity to highlight the contributions of the many Canadian women who have served, like Marjorie Whitcomb (née Horsnell). Attracted by a sense of adventure, Marjorie joined the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps as a Nursing Sister in 1949 at the age of 23.

“When I got the call that I had been accepted I didn’t want to go to Toronto alone for training, so I told them I would only go if my friend Jan [Moore] could come, too,” she recalls. “I didn’t know you could ask that sort of thing in the military, but they took us both!”

Lt N/S M. Horsnell and patient (name unknown) in Japan c. 1952 (exact date unknown). Photo provided by Sean Whitcomb.

In 1951, she was deployed to Japan to work at the Commonwealth General Hospital in Kure where she treated survivors of nearby Hiroshima alongside her friend, Jan.

“We worked very hard and saw the damage that had been done by the atomic bomb. We met some of the survivors, some of them had been badly burned in the blast. I made a lot of friends, and some of us kept in touch after the war, but all the girls I knew well have passed away now.”

Group photo taken in Japan c. 1952 (exact date unknown). 7 nurses in centre row: Lt N/S J. Moore 2nd from left, Lt N/S M. Horsnell, 2nd from right. Photo provided by Sean Whitcomb.

During the Korean War, Marjorie spent 2 months working at a hospital in Seoul, Korea, treating wounded soldiers. She vividly remembers the appalling conditions in which Koreans displaced by the war lived and the daunting effort of trying to provide them with some form of medical care. Despite these dire realities, Marjorie and her fellow Nursing Sisters found levity where they could. 

“In Korea we didn’t have the best the facilities, so we’d have to go by jeep to other messes for showers. None of the roads were paved, and it was dusty, so by the time we got back to our own mess and the hospital we’d be dirty again. We met lots of people on our visits and the Americans were very kind to us. They had more luxuries than we did. I mentioned that to one of their officers, and the next day an orderly came to our hospital with a case of Coca-Cola. They landed a helicopter not far away and took us for rides, too. I had never been in a helicopter before!”

Lt N/S M. Horsnell on deployment in Japan c. 1952 (exact date unknown). Photo provided by Sean Whitcomb.

Upon her return to Canada, she was stationed at Camp Chilliwack in British Columbia. There she met Captain (later Major) G.M. Whitcomb whom she married in 1955. In 1960, they returned to their native New Brunswick where they raised 4 children. Marjorie, now 94, attends the annual Remembrance Day service in Saint John, but remains very humble about her war service.

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