September 25, 2017
Chronicle Journal (A2)
Thousands of men and women from Port Arthur, Fort William and the region served in the armed forces during the First World War. The poppy was adopted as a national symbol of remembrance in Port Arthur in 1921.This monthly column will share stories and photos about life here in Thunder Bay and overseas during World War One.
Readers of the Fort William Daily Times Journal and the Port Arthur News Chronicle were given detailed insight into the operations of Canadian medical staff overseas during World War One from Port Arthur resident Harold Woodside, whose letters were published in the local newspapers. In 1915, Harold Woodside joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps while studying medicine at Queen’s University and was soon traveling across the Atlantic to reach Egypt, where he would be stationed.
Arriving first in England, Pte Woodside followed the Dardanelles in Turkey and then reached his final location at Alexandria Harbour in Egypt. Pte. Woodside described the shocking difference in temperature from Northwestern Ontario as they “nearly suffocating from heat” (PANC Sept 13, 1915). Leaving Alexandria, he and others made their way to Cairo where “we were packed in like figs, but spent most of the time on the steps of the cars where we could see all”. Woodside, awed by culture shock described the people of Egypt, landmarks such as the Nile Delta, and agriculture seen along the way – “they grow rice, wheat, corn, vegetables, cotton, beans and a few lone palm trees” (PANC Sept 14, 1915). Upon reaching Cairo station Woodside went on to say that “we marched four miles in that heat to our new hospital….we looked like drowned rats from sweating” (PANC Sept 14, 1915). While they battled the elements to reach their destination, Pte. Woodside could only marvel at the barracks and hospital and state that “without a doubt this is the finest barracks in the world” (PANC Sept.14, 1915).
Harold Woodside’s next letters home described his hospital work: “we surely have some hospital. The wounded come thick and fast, all old country fellows…last Sunday there was a regular ambulance procession which kept us busy carrying loaded stretchers to the different wards, according to whether the patient required a physician’s or surgeon’s attention” (PANC Oct 7, 1915). Woodside and his colleagues also continued their studies into the evenings at the hospital base.
After thirteen months in Cairo, Woodside wrote to his parents stating that he and the other Queen’s College Medical Corps left Cairo, leaving for England. However, once in England, the corps were not allowed to leave the ship and they continued to France where they were transferred to a base hospital for duty.
With a warm welcome, Pte. Harold Woodside returned home after eleven months in France and nearly two years overseas. When asked what his future plans were, Woodside explained that he would spend time at home before leaving to finish his schooling. While at home in Port Arthur, Woodside was the guest of honour at a dinner given by the Board of Trade and the Y.M.C.A. At this dinner he spoke about the his time overseas in both Egypt and France.
After graduating University, Dr. Harold Woodside moved to Bateman, Saskatchewan and began practicing medicine. In 1939, after winning $50,000 in the Irish Sweepstakes steeplechase race, Dr. Woodside contributed financially to drought ridden Bateman and cancelled a large amount of debt owed by his patients. A decade later Dr. Woodside passed away in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and five days after, the funeral was held locally at Everest’s Chapel where he was laid to rest in the family plot at Riverside Cemetery.
This article runs on the fourth Monday of each month. Jesse Roberts is a member of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project committee. Please visit www.tbayworldwarone.com for more information about this project or to contribute personal stories and photos.