DCs in the First World War

Sisters who served in the Loyola Unit. Standing, left to right: Sisters Valeria Dorn, Agatha Muldoon, DeSales Loftus, Mary David Ingram, Angela Drendel, Lucia Dolan, Florence Means. Seated, left to right: Sisters Catherine Coleman, Chrysostum Moynahan, Marianna Flynn (used with permission of Daughters of Charity Archives)

Sisters who served in the Loyola Unit. Standing, left to right: Sisters Valeria Dorn, Agatha Muldoon, DeSales Loftus, Mary David Ingram, Angela Drendel, Lucia Dolan, Florence Means. Seated, left to right: Sisters Catherine Coleman, Chrysostum Moynahan, Marianna Flynn (used with permission of Daughters of Charity Archives)

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. During the closing months of the War in 1918, a group of ten Daughters of Charity, along with doctors and lay nurses from Daughter of Charity hospitals around the country, went to Vicenza, Italy where they served in Base Hospital 102, also known as the “Loyola Unit.”

Three of the Sisters – Sisters Angela Drendel, Catherine Coleman, and Florence Means – wrote diaries of their wartime experience which are now preserved in the Provincial Archives. The diaries cover late 1918 and through May 1919 when the Loyola Unit returned to the U.S. Selected quotations from the Sisters’ diaries follow. (Text used with permission of the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

[August 5, 1918] Monday morning we arose at 5:30, had Mass at 6 a.m. in the Music Room, used piano for an Altar. The Music Room is now called the Chapel. Had breakfast at 7:30. About ten a.m. we noticed two airplanes soaring around near our boat. Shortly after, we noticed a life boat struggling in the water, trying to get near our Steamer. Our Captain called to them and asked who they were. They answered that they had been submarined and wanted us to take them on board our boat. The wireless got busy and secured permission from Washington to take them on board. Our Steamer was anchored until the life boat reached us, and the men were taken on board, fifteen in all. Dry clothes and breakfast was then served them, and they did justice to it … After the men had rested, our Steamer turned back until land could be seen, then the men were given provisions and lowered down to their life boat again. They left us cheering and waving their hats, thanking all on board for having saved their lives. Knowing from this incident that we were in a Submarine Zone, our route was changed, going in an entirely different course than the one first contemplated. Every precaution has been taken, such as having the ship in total darkness at night, and daily drills to be prepared in case of an emergency which we trust we will never have to experience.
–Sr. Catherine Coleman

The life boat proved to contain fifteen rescued members of the S.S. Jennings, an oil tanker that had been submarined the morning of Aug. 4. They were lost without a compass and when pulled on board were surprised to know they were only twenty four hours from land. Some were wounded, and after having been dressed and fed were taken by Capt. Meyers who heard their stories. They were kept on board all night, our boat changing its course and returning within sight of land again.
–Sr. Florence Means

Sept. 4 [1918]– We attend our first military funeral. An American boy dies of meningitis and is buried on the hill near Genoa. Officers object to nurses crying as it has a depressing effect on the boys.
–Sr. Florence Means

Sept. 17 [1918] – No shooting has been heard for several days. Some one said that there would be no more fighting as the Italians and Austrians were very friendly, that at the front they were hanging their clothes on the same line. At 10 p.m. when the greater number of us were in bed and some of us sound asleep, the lights went out and on three times, then remained out. Everything in total darkness and a very mournful long whistle was heard. Almost in an instant some of the Officers and Enlisted men were over here with their flashlights and called “Everybody out”. We managed to get our shoes, skirt and cornette on, and an apron or something over our shoulders. We were ordered over to the hospital. To the Refugees places until the Air Raid was over. The areoplanes were driven back before they reached the city. At 10:45 the whistle again blew for about 5 minutes. Major Danna came and announced the danger was over.
–Sister Angela Drendel

Oct. 1 [1918] – On duty at seven thirty p.m. New wards opened to admit thirty gas cases. They had worn their masks but the order to remove them came before it was raised in the trenches. So it was an unfortunate accident and some are very badly burned. First whole day spent on duty.
–Sr. Florence Means

October 28 – 29 [1918]. The rush still continues. Sixty new cases in the night. Sgt. Johnson of New Orleans dies of influenza. The roar of cannons and continuous shouting of machine guns was deafening all night. One morning when we were all glad it was four A.M. Everything is crowded. A great difficulty in moving between cots to do the dressing of the wounded. First case of trench feet. Two first toes on both feet gone other two black and swollen. Scotch Highland Laddies entertain in the Y[MCA,] continuous firing at the front. Awakened by the firing of cannons at 3:30. Couldn’t distinguish a single shot it was a continuous roar. We hear better news from the front, possibility of the Austrians retreating.
–Sr. Florence Means

On Oct. 30th [1918] we received thirty Italian patients, some with pneumonia, Malaria and Influenza. Monday evening thirty-four gassed Italian patients came in from the front. Wednesday twenty-two more medical cases. Also two trained Scotch Nurses came in with Pneumonia. They are Sisters, one is critically ill. They caught cold on the train coming from Genoa to Vicenza to take charge of a Y.M.C.A. Canteen. We also have four American Officers here from the caps as patients. We have one hundred and thirty-four patients in the hospital today. One of the Scotch Nurses died this afternoon. It is very sad to see the two Sisters, side by side and one passing away. The other poor Sister is heart-broken. The nearest relatives they have are an aunt and uncle with whom they made their home. They live in Genoa and they are on the way here to take charge of the body.

An American boy from New York by the name of Holden died of Pneumonia. He leaves his parents and a brother and sister in New York. He was baptized before his death. When asked what message he would like to have sent to his people, he said that is a hard thing to have to talk about, and asked Sister what she would say. The subject was dropped for the present, and as he grew weaker, he was asked the second time and he said: Tell my people I have fought hard against death, but it must be. Tell them I am glad to die for my country. He was a lovely boy, just 21 yrs. Old. While in New York he posed for the Arrow collar for three years. Many remembered having seen his picture in the papers wearing the Arrow Collar. His Regiment took charge of the body. He was taken from the hospital to the cemetery. Six of the Sisters and a number of Nurses attended his funeral. His body lies at the foot of the Alps on a little mound, a very beautiful spot. He was buried with Military Honors. One of his comrades read the burial services at the grave. Sister Chrysostom wrote his mother a gave her an account of his death, also pressed one of the flowers from his grave and sent it in the letter.
–Sr. Catherine Coleman

Tonight, Nov. 2nd, [1918] it is reported that the Austrians have surrendered and are willing to comply with President Wilson’s orders. The City of Vicenza was all lighted–up the first in four years. The whole city is celebrating and rejoicing at the good news. They were parading the streets carrying the Allie’s [sic] flags with our own “Old Glory” in the centre. They stopped in front of the Hospital and shouted to the top of their voices, “Viva Americana”. It would do your heart good to see the happiness pictured on those poor Italian people’s faces. A Requiem (Solemn) Mass is to be celebrated for the repose of the souls that had fallen during the battle on Mount Grappa. Solemn High Mass with special prayers were to be celebrated on Mount Berrico in thanksgiving for the protection of our Blessed Mother on the people of Vicenza and Solemn Benediction in the evening. The Italian people are showing their spirit of Faith since peace has been declared. We are told that at every Mass, special prayers are said for the American people.
–Sr. Catherine Coleman

Nov. 4. [1918] Went in a large truck to Monto Morrosco, the Hill on this side of Monta Grappa where the hardest fighting was done on this Front. We were heartily cheered by the French and Italian Soldiers also by the civilians as we passed by. Saw many rear trenches and look-outs, two of the look-outs were up in a high tree. On our way back we passed several thousand Austrian prisoners. They looked as though they were hardly able to walk. I gave them all the medals I had with me. One poor man pulled his insignia off his cap and gave it to me. They looked so hungry, sick, and tired. Three little Italian boys ran to a cornfield and brought them a few ears of dry corn, for which they were most grateful
–Sr. Angela Drendel

Sunday, Nov. 10th [1918], Col. Hume left for Rome to find out what the Government intends doing with our Unit. It is reported that the Germans have signed the Armistice. Several of our Officers and Enlisted men area out on the front still caring for the wounded. They have temporary buildings fixed up for the care of the sick. The Sisters and Nurses were advised not to go to the front as it was not a fit place for women.
–Sr. Catherine Coleman

1 Comment

Filed under World War 1

One response to “DCs in the First World War

  1. Mary Therese Franzak

    Thanks so for sharing. What wonderful things accomplished by the D.C.s!


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