Colonel Elisabeth Smellie (1884–1968)

Canadian Army Medical Corps nurses aboard the Lady Nelson hospital ship during the Second World War (January 1944) © Library and Archives Canada / Lieut. Frederick G. Whitcombe / Department of National Defence / PA‑163661

For the week of Monday March 18, 2019.

On March 22, 1884, Elizabeth Smellie was born in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Ontario. She went on to a distinguished nursing career, providing vital leadership in the fields of military and public health nursing.

In 1909, Elizabeth Smellie graduated from the Johns Hopkins Training School for Nurses. Soon after, she returned home to work as night supervisor at McKellar Hospital, where her father practiced medicine.

When the First World War began in 1914, Smellie enlisted as a Nursing Sister with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She sailed for England in 1915 with other Nursing Sisters. Her nursing duties included changing bandages, binding up wounds and caring for patients suffering from tuberculosis, mustard gas burns, gangrene or fever. She served in France and on a hospital ship that carried wounded soldiers to North America. She received the Royal Red Cross (First Class) from King George V in 1917 and was promoted to the rank of Assistant Matron in Chief, a position she held from 1918 until her voluntary demobilization in 1920.

After the leaving the armed forces, Smellie studied public health nursing at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts (1920–1921) and then taught at McGill University. She went on to serve as chief superintendent of the Victoria Order of Nurses from 1924 to 1947, which she helped expand across Canada.

Smellie rejoined the military, at the age of 56. She accepted an appointment as Matron in Chief of the Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1940, and became interim leader of the medical units of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1944, she became the first woman to reach the rank of colonel within any of the Allied forces.

Elizabeth Smellie is a designated national historic person and the Victorian Order of Nurses is a designated national historic event.

Find out more about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and the National Program of Historical Commemoration here.