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War Years: 1914-1918
A World War I soldier is captured and preserved on film, thanks to Katharine McLennan and her much used camera. This picture, like many others in Katharine's collection, was considered shocking and even avant-garde given the time and circumstances during which it was taken.

The war first affected the McLennans when Hugh announced he was enlisting in the Canadian Field Artillery. Sadly, a year into the war, he died at the battle of Ypres on May 5, 1915. Hugh's death was a great blow to JS as, according to John S. Jr., Hugh was "the apple of his father's eye". Another McLennan, JS's brother Bartlett, would also lose his life in the war in 1918.

Home in Sydney, JS organized the Cape Breton Branch of the Canadian Patriotic Fund, which raised over $225,000 for the war effort. JS served as president until 1915 and remained a member of the national executive until the termination of the group in 1937.

JS became concerned with the lack of defensive works in Cape Breton to protect an area rich in coal and steel that were valued wartime resources. He argued that Cape Breton went virtually defenseless while Halifax was well guarded and patrolled. Soon the presidents of the coal and steel companies would join their voices with McLennan's, calling for better protection of the area.

JS met a vivacious and intelligent widow by the name of Grace Seely Henop in London at the outbreak of the war. Grace was the widow of Rob Tytus, a famous Egyptologist, and was the mother of two daughters. She was an accomplished linguist and writer with publications in many magazines and papers. Her opinions and her friends were considered somewhat eccentric. She had contacts all over the world and her associates included Alexander Kerensky, the Russian revolutionary, and others of equal renown. JS and Grace had a short courtship and were married in January of 1915. Their son, John Stewart Jr., was born in November of that year.

The addition of Grace to the family caused some strain. Katharine had been acting as the head of her father's household and now she had to step back from that role. John S. Jr. said that "natural jealousies" emerged within the family, but for the most part, Grace got along tolerably well with the rest. In Katharine's letters, she expresses affection for Grace and her daughters. However, the marriage would eventually become merely a sad footnote in JS's life. Relations between the two turned and with the exception of John S. Jr., the marriage could be said to have been a regrettable experience. It is undoubtedly true that Grace's lifestyle, her friends of international renown, and her liberal ideals did not easily mesh with JS's more resigned, traditional sense of dignified accomplishment and service to one's country. Though the two made a handsome pair, with JS being 6'3" in height and Grace 6', they could not happily live together. For the most part, JS resided at Petersfield or Ottawa and Grace at the Tytus mansion in Tyringham, Massachusetts. According to John Stewart Jr., his parents maintained separate homes from 1919 on and JS, as part of the separation agreement, was denied access to his son except for two afternoon visits a year. John S. Jr. believed the divorce proceedings were so protracted because Grace had little grounds for divorce and she was fighting for custody. Grace would finally "wear down" JS and a formal divorce was declared in 1927. Grace died in 1928 and this left John S. Jr. to begin a real relationship with his father. He would become a valued companion to JS until his father's death in 1939.

However, this unpleasantness was still in the future. Meanwhile, JS worked hard in the interest of his country. In 1915, he sought a permanent seat on London's High Commission. Prime Minister Borden personally named JS to the Military Hospitals and Convalescent Homes Commission. In 1916, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate. As a Senator, JS was not given to much debate, nor was he overly outspoken on issues. However, he was a diligent and active committee man who was valued for his judgment and measured thinking. In the Senate, JS concentrated on what would happen after the war, Canada's economic situation and the readmittance of veterans. He was also concerned with Canada's relationship with Great Britain. In 1918, JS was named a delegate to the Inter-Allied Conference for the Care of the Disabled.

Katharine also felt the call to do her part in the war effort. She wished to join other young women overseas, like Helen Kendall and her friend Edith Parkman, as a nurse or nurse's assistant in the military hospitals. JS would not hear of his youngest daughter, who had been sick as a child with diphtheria, sailing overseas to tend to sick and dying soldiers. Not only did JS fear for his daughter’s safety and health, but, like others of his generation, he still had not totally accepted the idea of female nurses tending to male patients. Frustrated by her father's obstinate refusal and tired of darning socks and making care packages at home for the soldiers, Katharine enlisted the help of her sisters to convince JS to let her go to France with the Red Cross Society, the "Secours aux Blesses Militaries." Katharine felt that JS was tying her down by not letting her go overseas. In a letter to one of her sisters she says: "What I contend is that at the price of some slight financial backing, I should be allowed to make my own mistakes, then I would have no one to reproach but myself, and I would lose this terrible prisoner-on-parole feeling."6

Obviously, Katharine was feeling smothered by JS and wished to be out on her own. Her nursing experience would definitely transform the shy, sheltered girl into a more confident and independent woman.7

JS finally gave in and Katharine headed overseas in the spring of 1916. Her first commission was in Hospital de l'Alliance in Yvetot from May 10 to December 28, 1916. This was followed by Hospital Auxiliaire No.109 in Pont-Audemer from January 18 to September 18, 1917.8  From there it was on to Vasseny at a hospital referred to only as HOE 18. She was there from October 13, 1917 to February 28, 1918.

Katharine took a break in the spring and early summer of 1918, but returned to France to Pontoise and the Hospital Militaire, Caserne de Cavaliere from July 16 to November 11, 1918. She also spent time in a German hospital in Langenschwalbach from January to May of 1919. For the most part, Katharine greatly enjoyed her stint as a nurse's assistant. Her friends, Edith Parkman and Helen Homans, were her constant companions at work and her sightseeing partners on breaks. Her letters home are filled with descriptions of her daily activities, amusing and touching stories of the wounded soldiers, and questions and comments about people back home.

She did miss her father and Petersfield, but also was glad to be actively involved in the war effort. The brutality and cruelty of the war was disturbing to her however, and this comes through in the sketches she made of the soldiers in the hospitals. Katharine did appreciate the orderliness and efficient organization of the hospitals, but as the war dragged on, her letters expressed a tiredness with the situation and more specifically, with the lack of trained nurses. Katharine never did like night duty, but this quiet time gave her a chance to write to her family. Her letters show that she was a woman full of curiosity and possessing unique tastes.

She mentions receiving gifts from the patients she befriended, such curious articles as helmets with bullet holes through them and a German gas mask. These articles and the soldiers that gave them to her held a fascination for Katharine. In her spare time, Katharine sketched the figures of these men. Her portraits are moving in their simplicity and honesty as she seems to suggest in them that there is nothing glorious or victorious about the wounds these men had suffered.

Katharine's sketch of a soldier suffering from gangrene at "HOE 18" in Vasseny in 1917. The nurse is slashing open the wounds to facilitate drainage.

The hospital wards did have their lighter moments. Katharine writes with a school girl's infatuation about some of the doctors there. One is described as being "an absolute peach," and she admires their ability to help the wounded men. She also describes a Christmas party held for the men and staff of the hospital which greatly raised their spirits.

Katharine and her friends often went exploring the countryside for a picnic, usually accompanied by some friendly soldiers. Katharine had become interested in photography and she kept beautiful scrapbooks of the pictures she took of her experiences in France. These albums and scrapbooks are now in the collection of the Cape Breton Regional Library and are wonderful for their historical interest and personal glimpses into Katharine's younger years.

Katharine returned home a wiser and more self-assured woman. This undoubtedly resulted in a healthier, less dependent relationship with her father. She would continue with her interest in Louisbourg and would come to have more of an active and public role when it came to the fortress site. Her father's book had been published in 1918, by MacMillan Publishing Company of London and the fortress and its fate began to be debated more openly in the historical community. But what was it that made people keenly interested in the old ruins and how did the eventual preservation and restoration of the site begin? The McLennans and their friends had a great deal to do with both issues and without their efforts, it is doubtful if we would today have a place called the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic site.

This profile shows Katharine McLennan in her nurse's attire. Nursing did more for Katharine than give her the satisfaction of helping others - it transformed her into a stronger, more independent woman.
While serving as a nurse in France during World War I, Katharine was often placed in very high-risk areas. It would not be unusual for her to be surrounded by buildings that were literally crumbling down, such as this one she photographed in Yvetot.
A once beautiful building which has been caught in war's destructive path, this is one of Katharine's pictures from Pontoise, France.

A nurse is shown tending to a wounded soldier during World War I.

This sketch entitled "Blesse de Face", was completed by Katharine in Vasseny at he "HOE 18" in November of 1917.

These sketches were completed by Katharine in 1916 at the "Hopital de l'Alliance" in Yvetot.

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