Rummaging through her late father's papers this spring, Agnes Comack, née Bardal, discovered a letter she'd written home during the Second World War. Her father was A.S. Bardal, founder of Bardal Funeral Home.
At the time, 1944, Agnes was a 23-year-old nurse stationed in a military hospital in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que. She was transferred a year later to Deer Lodge Hospital in Winnipeg where she met her future husband, Hugh, a patient returned from overseas. They were married 67 years before he died earlier this year. She continued nursing until 1960.
Her father died in 1951, making the discovery of the letter now all the more treasured in her eyes. Agnes, 92, sees the letter as a reminder to new generations what war is like. She continues to volunteer at Deer Lodge Hospital once a week.
Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que.
August 30, 1944
I received your letter today with the pictures and I'm sure glad to have them.
I'm gradually getting used to this place. There are so many French nurses, orderlies and patients, Thompson and I felt quite out of place for a while because when they get together they always talk French so you are automatically cut out of the conversation.
Ruth Thompson is the girl I came out here with. Luckily we are both working on the same ward. It's all TB but we decided as long as we keep fat and healthy we won't be in any danger of getting it.
It's surprising the number of young fellows we have here. Practically all of them are back from England. Most are in their early 20s and a few are just 19. I guess they got it in the dampness in England, having poor food and being tired all the time.
They are good kids though and we sure have to try to keep them cheerful. It doesn't take long for them to get fed up lying around here waiting for the day they get out. A few of them have been in as long as four years so it's not very easy for them to keep being happy about it all.
This week they are starting to operate on them, removing ribs. When they are finished, eighteen of them will have a permanently collapsed lung. Most of the cases are pulmonary TB but we have about six young French kids with TB spines. They have to stay flat on their backs in body casts for about a year or more. But they are about the nicest kids on the ward. They always manage to have their own good time. One has a violin and plays old-time music and French songs. He sure is good. Another has a ukulele so they do alright.
We have a couple of veterans who are dying and two young fellows who hemorrhage every so often. We also have a German prisoner of war and are getting another one tomorrow A.M. The one we have now is really a good fellow. He's about 48 so I don't think he's much of a Nazi or he wouldn't get along with us so well.
There are a lot of Germans in this hospital because of the Camp in Sherbrooke. Evidently, the younger fellows are the ones who are really nasty. They are the ones who have been born and brought up as Nazi but the older fellows are more broad minded, I think.
A good many of the patients here are mental cases. A lot from the last war are still trying to figure out who they are and where they came from. Evidently there are many more mental cases from this war than from the last one. I've seen a lot of boys from here and in Vancouver a bundle of nerves.
Some were off torpedoed ships and some from the battle areas. One, we just got from England in the last convoy who has TB, is all nerves. He's from the south part of England where the Robot (Buzz) bombs are. He just jumps around all day long and all night he has nightmares about his wife who he left over there. Evidently, we have no idea how bad those bombs are.
The boys from the battle areas are really a sorry sight. Some that just came back were shell shocked. One fellow was saying practically all of his outfit were shell shocked. They were under siege in Italy and the guns had been going for days so their brains had become accustomed to the noise but suddenly the guns all stopped at once and the sudden quiet was almost more than they could stand.
However, not all of them are like that. The majority are really quite cheerful. In one block they have all the convalescent patients. Most of them are amputation cases. Well, it almost brings a lump to your throat to see all these young kids coming over to the dining room on their crutches.
Yet, they're all so cheerful. They crack jokes and laugh about their stumps. One guy was telling me, coming back on the boat, they used to play games and stuff to keep them amused. One big event was a race -- the left-legged kids against the right-legged kids. Well, it's kind of nice to see how well they are able to take it.
Last Thursday, Ruth and I biked to Bildfell's in Lachine. It's about 15 miles away towards Montreal. There is a big RCAF station right there so the big planes in Ferry Command go right over their house.
We really haven't seen much of Montreal yet. Evidently it's not a very safe place for women to be wandering alone but when Alan Finnbogason and some of the kids get down here we'll be able to see more of it.
I'm on duty midnight to 8 a.m. and there are trains flying through here about every hour but the fellows sleep through it all. Well it's almost 4 a.m. so I guess I'd better get back to work. I think after six months here we'd better transfer back to Deer Lodge. I hope your finger will be better soon so you can drop me a line some time.