Love and War

 Emma Griffis

The nurse in the top photo is Emma Griffis.  She came to Calgary from Ontario as a young woman, and in 1910 graduated from the Calgary General Hospital School of Nursing.  She was obviously very competent, and when the new general hospital opened that same year, she was put in charge of the typhoid ward.

Harold McGill

The above photo is Harold Wigmore McGill.  He was a doctor who graduated in medicine from the University of Manitoba in 1905.  He settled in Calgary about 1910, and was the physician in charge of health on the Tsuu T’ina (formerly Sarcee) reserve just west of the city.  He enlisted with the 31st Battalion CEF during the First World War, and served in the 5th Canadian Field Ambulance Corps at the front line in France.

Harold and Emma had been acquaintances in Calgary.  On May 12th, 1915 Harold departed for the war.  On May 30th, Emma wrote him a friendly letter, and so began a most remarkable correspondence between the two. Harold’s descriptions of the horrors of war are very frank and in no way censored for her feminine eyes, perhaps because she too was in the medical profession, and he knew that descriptions of blood and death would not shock her. 

Harold McGill Letter

In early 1917 Emma decided to take a firsthand role in the overseas war effort, and she traveled to England to serve as a nurse at the Bramshott Military Hospital.  She and Harold continued their correspondence and occasionally met in person when Harold had a chance to return to England from the trenches.  They married in December 1917 during one of Harold’s all-too-short leaves.

Emma and Harold returned safely to Canada in 1919, bringing the 200 war letters home with their other possessions.  They had two daughters, Kathleen (Odell) and Doris (McNab), who treasured their parents’ war correspondence and who donated the letters to the Glenbow Archives between 1976 and 1979.

The "Dear Miss Griffis" blog was started in March 2006 as a unique way to share the stories in these letters.  Each week Glenbow will post a letter, beginning with the very first one written by Harold to Emma, dated June 16, 1915. Subscribe to the RSS and be engaged in a true story from the past.  I hope you enjoy our storytelling blog.