By (author): Vern Thiessen

Introduction by: Cynthia Toman

Étaples, France, 1918. Nurses Christy, Maggie, and Bab have crossed oceans to care for wounded Canadian soldiers in the Great War. Despite the terrible injuries they must deal with, they manage to stay hopeful as the dangers of the front draw closer to their hospital.

As each woman becomes accustomed to her duties and patients, they reveal more personal details to one another and through letters to loved ones. Maggie misses her close friend she lived with back home and worries for their future together. Christy writes to her soldier husband, but she knows there’s a difference between the life she should lead with him and the one she wants. Bab longs for what she can’t have: her beloved grandpa, a married soldier, a child. Through it all, the three women find friendship, independence, power, and influence in a place where men, once again, are trying to destroy the world.


Vern Thiessen

Vern Thiessen is one of Canada’s most produced playwrights. His work has been seen across Canada, the United States, and Europe. Vern is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award for Outstanding New Play, the City of Edmonton Arts Achievement Award, and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Vern received his BA from the University of Winnipeg and an M.F.A. from the University of Alberta. He currently lives in Edmonton, where he is the artistic director of Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre.


Cynthia Toman

Dr. Cynthia Toman, historian and retired professor from the University of Ottawa, taught in the School of Nursing with cross appointment to the Department of History. She was associate director and then director of the endowed Associated Medical Services Nursing History Research Unit. Her research focuses on the history of nursing and, specifically, the history of Canadian military nursing. Her major books, published by UBC Press, include Sister Soldiers of the Great War: The Nurses of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (2016) and An Officer and a Lady: Canadian Military Nursing and the Second World War (2007). Awards include the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Governor General’s Gold Medal, the American Association for the History of Nursing’s Teresa E. Christy Distinguished Writing Award, and the Canadian Historical Association’s Hilda B. Neatby Prize. Toman was a guest curator for the 2005 “History of Canadian Nursing Exhibit” at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Museum of History) and consultant to Historica Canada for a “Historical Minute” on First World War Canadian Nursing Sisters.


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Excerpts & Samples ×

CHRISTY Dear Jack.

BAB Dear Granpa.

MAGGIE Dear Annie.

If only you were here with me, feeling the salty spray of the English channel on our cheeks.

It’s a long way from Wolseley Avenue in Winnipeg to the Strait of Dover, I’m tellin’ ya. And I’ve done my share of roamin, as you know. Five years old if a day, and we move across the world to Manitoba. And I thought Scotland was cold!

I’m thinking of the time, on a break at Nursing school, staring down at the Assiniboine, its slow shallow waters as tedious as the city itself, and you sayin:

BAB “Margaret Lowe, would you like to go on an adventure?”

MAGGIE And that Sunday, our one day off, you pack us lunch and we head to the CPR Station. We clamber onto the train, jammed with people: carpenters and lawyers; beautiful young ladies and old women; laughing children and barking dogs…and seventy minutes north, there we are.

Winnipeg Beach. Another world. Soft white sand and a burning hot sun. Warm summer water, and a gentle cool breeze. We wade in, our bloomers up to our necks.

There we are. Floating. Healed for a moment from our …restlessness.

We take the evening train back, my sun soaked head asleep on your shoulder. An’ back home, a letter waitin’ for me. Special delivery.

CHRISTY “Nurse Margaret Lowe. You shall report for overseas duty immediately.”

MAGGIE The War calls.

BAB (correcting) “Duty calls…”

MAGGIE You take me to the train station again.

CHRISTY “Good Luck, Maggie. Write to me?”

MAGGIE And then it’s across the country to Halifax and across the pond to England. And now, here I am, Dover behind me and Calais on the horizon.

Och, Annie. Just when one world was opening up, I’m called to another. I’ll write you everyday.


BAB Dearest Granpa. You’d love this. On a transport, chopping across the grey waves of the Atlantic, another world on the horizon. The things you’d teach me! Like when I was a kid:

Showing me to how to dig deep for red rock crabs and purple sea stars. Teaching me to swim to the wooden buoys and back. Schooling me to catch fish straight from the ocean and fry them up right there on the beach. Training me to sail your sloop around the cove. And as we tack our way into the wind, leaving the safe shore behind, you tell me tales of the sea.

(exciting) How the Salish could tame these treacherous waters in their red cedar canoes. How the reefs of Juan de Fuca became the graves of sailors on the Tonquin, the Melfort, the Valencia. How, at night, when the lighthouse at Trials Island sweeps past the dark waters, you can still see the ghosts of men waving for help.

Teaching me to fear the water, but love it too.

MAGGIE “The sea will keep your secrets, Bab. Speak to it, and it will always set you right.”

BAB Three years ago, they find your sloop, abandoned, on Thetis Island. And no sign of you. What happened to you, Granpa? A secret only the sea knows.

MAGGIE People die, Bab. But stories never drown.

BAB Nursing school in Victoria. Graduate with honours. There I am, in cap and gown, standing on MacAuley Point in Esquimalt. Staring out at the Olympian Range in the distance, and only a great invisible border between. What now? And I hear you say:

CHRISTY “The sea doesn’t care about borders, Bab. That’s an idea created by men. Go around the cove, Bab. There’s always something new to discover.”

BAB Now here I am. On my way to France watching all those waves smiling back at me, I’m going to be like you Granpa. I’m going to discover things past the cove. I’m going collect stories. And tell them to my grandchildren.


CHRISTY Dearest Jack. It’s only been a few days since we saw each other, but it feels like…

She vomits over the side of an imaginary ship.

It has only just occurred to me this is my first time on a ship. I’ve never crossed Lake Erie, let alone the Atlantic. Nineteen nurses on board and I the only one who gets sii—

She retches.

When I think of rough water, it’s near Elora Gorge, up the Grand River. Mother’d never allow us on that white water:

MAGGIE “Stay away from there. Too rough and dangerous for a girl.”

CHRISTY Would have been nice practice, mother.

She calms.

The only thing calms my topsy-turvy stomach is you, Jack.

We’ve known each other a long time, you pulling my ponytail in grade school. Me kicking your shins then wiping away your tears. Us kissing for the first time at sixteen. After high school, you working at the telephone factory in Brantford and me at nursing school.

MAGGIE “There’s a war, Christy! We can’t miss a war!”

CHRISTY We enlist the same day. And two days later, you kiss me farewell.

MAGGIE “It’ll be an adventure! I’ll be right behind you.”

CHRISTY Mother sees me off. Hands me a bible:

BAB “Keep God close, Christy, and you’ll always be safe.”

CHRISTY Train to Toronto, then to Halifax, then to London and now…

Christy is nauseous.

(calming herself) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

It passes.

Whatdya know, Jack? A good bible verse calms the stomach. This will be an adventure!

Reader Reviews



104 Pages
8.32in * 5.40in * .25in


October 11, 2022



Book Subjects:

DRAMA / Canadian



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