No.58 (Scottish) General Hospital arrived in France in the early summer of 1917. It was set up on open land on the outskirts of St. Omer and its early days seemed to be beset by difficulties. Due to a great shortage of hospital beds in France it was pushed into accepting patients before it had either adequate staff or facilities, but within a few weeks it was operating at near full capacity and by August things seemed to be going smoothly.
However, from the first days of September the town of St. Omer became the target for night-time aerial bombing by German planes, and No.58 General Hospital was busy taking in and caring for both military and French civilian casualties, many of whom died. As the situation became worse, arrangements were made for caves in the nearby public gardens to be taken over as air-raid shelters for staff of the hospital and also for any patients able to make their own way there on foot. At the same time, specially reinforced huts were erected where essential nursing staff could sleep safely. On the night of the 30th September, 1917, the worst fears became reality when the hospital received direct hits from German bombs. The account in the unit war diary (TNA WO95/4088) gives the details:
1 October 1917
During a hostile air-raid on the night of 30/9/17-1/10/17 three bombs were dropped in the Camp at 10.40 p.m., (two on marquees for patients and one in the Nurses' Compound). Of the two bombs which dropped on the marquees one struck a marquee which was, fortunately, unoccupied. The other struck a Marquee occupied by patients and two nurses, who were on duty. The bomb which fell in the Nurses' Compound struck a Bell Tent, which was unoccupied as the two Nurses who sleep in the Tent were on Night Duty. The casualties which have resulted are:-
Nurses, killed three, wounded three (one dangerous).
Other ranks, killed 16, wounded 60.
Total killed 19, wounded 63.
Of the other ranks wounded 14 were transferred to other hospitals and one of these has since died. There has been much damage to canvas and equipment. 54 marquees (Hospital, large) have been damaged, more or less. Two have been absolutely demolished while the damage to the others varies from almost complete destruction to mere riddling. 21 Bell tents have been damaged, one was completely destroyed by a bomb and 20 have been riddled. Many pieces of iron pierced the new corrugated iron sleeping hut for Sisters. One piece pierced iron and three pieces of asbestos boarding. Numerous panes of glass have been broken in the permanent buildings. One of the Ablution Houses has been damaged.
SURGEON GENERAL MACPHERSON, the A.D.M.S., and the MATRON-IN-CHIEF called today and it was arranged for the transfer of all lying cases to other hospitals so that at night the walking cases left in hospital might go to the Cave in the Public Gardens and sleep there. It was also arranged that all the nurses should sleep in other hospitals. In the evening patients and Unit moved to the Cave in the Public Garden and only Police and a few orderlies were left in the Camp. The three wounded nurses were transferred today to No.10 Stationary Hospital.
2 October 1917
The three nurses (Sister Climie, Nurse Thomson and Nurse Coles) and the 16 other ranks killed by hostile aircraft on the night of 30/9/17 and 1/10/17 were buried at 4 p.m. today in the Souvenir Cemetery, Longuenesse. Sister Milne who was dangerously injured in the same air-raid died last night in No.10 Stationary Hospital. Two other ranks who were wounded have died today so that the statistics as a result of the raid are to date:
Dead: Nurses 4, Other Ranks, 18.
Wounded: Nurses 2, Other ranks, 58
Total: Dead 22, Wounded 60.
The nursing staff who died as a result of that raid were all either members of, or attached to, the Territorial Force Nursing Service:
Staff Nurse Agnes CLIMIE
Staff Nurse Mabel MILNE
VAD Daisy COLES
VAD Elizabeth THOMSON
and the two wounded nurses:
Staff Nurse Christina. A. DAVIDSON
Staff Nurse Florence McKELLAR