Posted tagged ‘Rochester Medical Museum & Archives’

Mary Agnes McKenzie, Lost on the Llandovery Castle

July 6, 2012

She steamed toward England, the red crosses on her sides and above her bridge illuminating the murky waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  The Canadian Hospital Ship, Llandovery Castle, carried 258 passengers, many of whom were members of the Canadian Medical Corps, including fourteen Canadian Nursing Sisters.  The history of Canada’s Nursing Sisters began as early as 1885, when they were deployed, along with other medical personnel, to offer aid during the Saskatchewan Rebellion.  According to Veterans Affairs Canada, “The first nurses to serve in war were women who belonged to religious orders – hence, the designation of ‘Nursing Sister’ and the traditional white veil.”  Over 3,100 Canadian nurses served during World War I, and forty six died in service.

Llandovery Castle

Near the end of the Great War, on June 27, 1918, the Llandovery Castle was torpedoed without warning by a German U-86 submarine.  The hospital ship sank within ten minutes, though not before several lifeboats were launched.  The U-boat then proceeded to surface beside the lifeboats, dashing to and fro amongst the survivors before pulling away, only to shell the lifeboats.  Just twenty four survivors in one lifeboat survived.  After the war, the Captain and two lieutenants of the U-boat were brought up on charges.  Unfortunately, the Captain had disappeared and was never brought to trial.  The lieutenants were found guilty of war crimes, but escaped from custody before they could serve their time.

Mary Agnes McKenzie, courtesy Rochester Medical Museum & Archives

All fourteen Canadian Nursing Sisters aboard the Llandovery Castle lost their lives that night.  Among them was Mary Agnes McKenzie, a 1903 graduate of the Rochester City Hospital Training School for Nurses.  Mary was born in Toronto, Ontario, April 28, 1880 (1877, according to RCH records) to Thomas and Mary McKenzie.  After attending public school and the Collegiate Institute, Mary entered the three-year course at the RCH Training School on May 22, 1900.  Her school records show that Mary excelled when put in charge of the surgical pavilion, she worked with unquestioned diligence and was graced with better than average perception.  Although Mary obeyed “the letter of the law”, her lack of neatness was called into question.  Another note in the record states that she stood just 5′ 2″ tall, and was a “pretty blond – jolly – expresses herself well.”  Mary Agnes McKenzie graduated from the RCH Training School on May 23, 1903.  She was one of just ten graduates that year.

After Mary’s graduation from RCH, she practiced as a nurse in Toronto before entering the Military Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  When war broke out, she enlisted for overseas service, working at both Ontario Hospital in Orpington, England, and the War Hospital in Kent.  Ultimately, she was transferred to duty on the Llandovery Castle, which was commissioned a wartime hospital ship in 1916 to transport wounded Canadian soldiers from Europe to Nova Scotia.

Soon after the Llandovery Castle was torpedoed, the June-July 1918 issue of The Hospital Review expressed concern for Mary’s safety, as “no cable of her having been rescued has been received, her relatives have given up all hope, and now believe her to be a victim of this latest exhibition of Hun deviltry.”  On March 29, 1920, a brass tablet was unveiled, adhered to the wall of the Parliament Building in Toronto, Ontario.  Inscribed upon it were the names of the nurses of the Ontario Hospital who lost their lives during the Great War.  When the Halifax Memorial was erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1967, it commemorated the 3,000 service members who lost their lives between 1914-1945.  Mary Agnes McKenzie’s name is immortalized on both monuments.

The photo of Mary in her uniform from the RCH files shows a vibrant and confident young woman ready to face life’s challenges.  How sad that a life of service in the medical field was cut short so soon.  A final entry was made in the RCH Training School record of Mary Agnes McKenzie:  “1918 – Lost on hospital ship Llandovery Castle torpedoed on trip between England and Canada.”

Notes from the author:  I first became aware of Mary Agnes McKenzie when I came across her photo in “To Serve the Community:  A Celebration of Rochester General Hospital 1847-1997”, a wonderful book by Teresa K. Lehr and Philip G. Maples.  Mary’s photo called to me, and I felt a need to learn more about her.  This article was originally published in the Rochester Medical Museum & Archive’s newsletter, the “Baker-Cederberg Notebook”, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring-Summer 2011.

To learn more about the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives, please visit their website, http://www.rochestergeneral.org/rochester-general-hospital/about-us/rochester-medical-museum-and-archives/.

Looking Back While Facing Forward

January 1, 2011

The end of the year brings reflection as we put to rest one year while looking ahead to a new beginning.  I’ll always remember 2010 as an incredible year for my Civil War soldiers project, as well as for the start of some new research projects. 

Martha Jewett & Evan Marshall visit Mary Jewett Telford's grave

In January, I met a descendant of one of my Civil War veterans.  Martha Jewett is the second great-grandniece of Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.  Martha and her husband, Evan Marshall, drove to Fairport to attend my Illuminated History presentation for the Perinton Historical Society.  After Martha and Evan returned home, we spent a frantic two weeks emailing and calling each other in order to meet the deadline for Mary Jewett Telford’s nomination to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  We will soon hear whether we were successful in our endeavor.

With February came a slight shift in my research, as I began to study the World War I soldiers of Pittsford.  February was also memorable as it was the first time I have formally interviewed a research subject.  Bill Cooper, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, was my assignment.  Bill is a member of American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899.  The stories he shared about his military experience and life with his wife, Margaret, were 

Bill Cooper, World War II vet

 inspiring.  I also had the opportunity to meet with Philip G. Maples for the first time.  Phil is the Director Emeritus of the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives.  Since then, I have volunteered research time to the RMMA, as well as spent time with Phil, who is himself a Civil War researcher and enthusiast.  I proudly headed to school in February to hear my daughter make her first presentation by portraying Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.

March rang in another opportunity to interview a Battle of the Bulge veteran.  This time it was Ed Kinnen, also a   member of Rayson-Miller.  Ed and his wife, Ellen, graciously invited me into their home so I could talk with Ed about his World War II service.  We share a common love of genealogy, and I was happy to hear them speak of their children and grandchildren and the importance of sharing the family history with them. 

Lynda Skaddan & Jane Andersen, Telford descendants

The next few months went by in a blur as I once again collaborated with Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson for our annual Pittsford Cemetery tour in May.  Theo X. Rojo, who researches the men of the 13th NY Infantry and the 22nd NY Cavalry, contacted me in May and we have spent much time emailing back and forth regarding those units and others.  June was the pinnacle of excitement.  I gave a tour at Greenvale Cemetery for the Perinton Historical Society members.  I was so pleased to meet Cheri Branca, one of my online friends and fellow Find A Grave contributor, who attended the Greenvale tour with her husband, Matt.  Jane Andersen and Lynda Skaddan, descendants of Robert Telford, made a special trip to Fairport with Lynda’s husband Ray so I could meet them at Mary Jewett Telford’s grave to discuss her life.  Mary was wed to Robert’s younger brother, Jacob Telford.  In June, I also had the opportunity to meet Norman and John Henry Miller, who are the nephews of Henry L. Miller.  Henry was killed at Belleau Wood during World War I.  Norm and John are not only veterans themselves, but they come from a long line of men who served their country, beginning with their great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Henry L. Mueller.

Throughout the rest of 2010, I gave a presentation for the American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899 and discussed the 

John and Norm Miller at the grave of their uncle, Henry L. Miller

early history of the post and its members.  Audrey Johnson and I hosted another tour of the Pioneer Burying Ground in October, and I started a Facebook page for Illuminated History.  However, I think the biggest thrill has been meeting the veterans’ descendants and other researchers, both in person, by phone and online.  I spoke by phone with John R. Bacon, grandson of WWI & WWII Lieutenant Colonel Howard Bacon and great-grandson of Civil War vet John Buckley Bacon, after emailing back and forth for several years.  I spoke with veteran David Retchless about his military service, as well as those of his brother, father and uncle.  Tyler Emery, the current owner of the Retchless military memorabilia, and I have corresponded via email and he has graciously shared photos of the contents of the trunk he owns.  At the Pioneer Burying Ground tour, I met Gail and Marilyn, the daughters of World War I vet Raymond L. Hulbert.  I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Lloyd F. Allen’s daughters, Betty Anne and Katie, as well as his granddaughter, Elizabeth.  Dr. Allen, like his friend and neighbor Howard Bacon, had also served in both World Wars.

2010 was an extraordinary year.  Thank you for your interest in my project, and your appreciation for these veterans.  With your support, Illuminated History will continue to shine the light on these heroes for many years to come.

In the Works

June 23, 2010

E.J. Tyler Post 288 banner, Pittsford, New York

Now that my Pittsford and Greenvale Cemetery tours are over, I’m working on some exciting projects for the summer and fall. 

First is the booklet I’m writing about the charter members of American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899.  The Post was organized in 1920, taking over where G.A.R. – E. J. Tyler Post 288 left off.  One of the charter members, Howard R. Bacon, was a son of Civil War soldier John Buckley Bacon.  The booklet will also commemorate the two men after whom the Post was named – Homer Rayson and Henry L. Miller.  In conjunction with the booklet is my October 30th presentation for the Rayson-Miller Post, which is open to the public.

In October, I will once again pair with Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson to give a tour of Pioneer Burying Ground.  Despite the inevitable rain, discussing the pioneers of the town is always interesting.  Soldiers of nearly every conflict from the Revolutionary War through World War II are interred at the Pioneer Burying Ground.

Also in the works is a research project for the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives.  I am in the process of culling the Rochester City Directories and census records in order to produce a comprehensive list of nurses in the Rochester, New York area from the Civil War through World War II.  Using newspaper reports and genealogical sources, an article I’m writing will feature the love story between a Civil War doctor and a nurse.  A second article is about a Rochester nurse who was accused of insanity…all because she chose to give away her personal belongings to friends instead of the family members she despised.

There are plans for the continued illumination of Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.  She was an amazing woman with an incredible story to tell. 

It  looks as if it will be a busy summer.  Just the way I like it!


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