We Did Our Bit: WWI Exhibition Favourites Part 3 – Bessie Beyer’s Uniform

This is the third installment of the We Did Our Bit series. Click to read earlier posts in the series here

This post was contributed by Louise Steele, volunteer docent at the St. Catharines Museum.

Bessie Beyer’s Uniform

Louise stands with Bessie Beyer’s uniform in our WWI exhibit.

There are many stories and objects in the “Doing our Bit: WWI from St. Catharines to the Western Front” that are meaningful for me. What stands out in particular however, is the exhibit’d display of Bessie Beyer’s Canadian Army Medical Corps uniform. Bessie grew up in St. Catharines and enlisted as a nurse during the First World War. She served overseas with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service under the British Forces before transferring to the Canadian Army Medical Corps in the summer of 1918. The uniform on display would have been the uniform she wore during her service.

A close-up of the brass buttons on Bessie Beyer’s uniform. Imagine the work it would take to polish each of these!

When we think of those who served overseas, we often think of the men in combat roles. But what about what went on behind the scenes? Nursing was hard, tough work. Nurses assisted in surgeries, and cared for the wounds of the soldiers in their care, including changing dressings and bathing injured men.  At the end of each day, Bessie’s uniform was likely covered in blood and sweat and dirt, and it would have been expected that she ensure her uniform was fresh and clean for the next day.  I can imagine her polishing each of those brass buttons on her uniform

What does this uniform say about the women who wore it? Bessie was one of 2,504 Canadian nurses to serve overseas during the First World War. The position was well-respected; nurses were educated and the occupation provided opportunity to travel and meet all kinds of people. The work was strikingly different than the work other Canadian women were leading back on the Home Front. Though it was traditionally “women’s work”, nursing sent Bessie overseas, as close as possible to the War Front. The conditions she worked in would have been completely different than what she was used to. Not to mention now, she was completely in a man’s world. Did Bessie feel isolated or separated from the familiar circles she left at home?

When I think about Bessie Beyer and her role during the First World War, I think of her strength, courage, and bravery.  This uniform is a testament to her service to her country, and to the incredible dedication of female Canadian nurses during the First World War. 

Doing our Bit: WWI from St. Catharines to the Western Front officially closes on Friday, November 30. Please join us as we close out this exhibition with a 1918 Victory Party celebrating the end of the First World War. Enjoy live jazz music, swing dance lessons, food, and drink throughout the evening.

Friday, November 30, 8pm-midnight | $10 per person | Tickets online or by calling the Museum at 905-984-8880| Visit our website for more details | 

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