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Monday, April 20, 2015

Chief Nurse Grace Phelps Writes of Norene Royer's Death to Her Mother, Part II: "She Was Given All Military Honors"

The second part of Grace Phelps's letter to Agnes Sarah Royer, the mother of Base Hospital 46 nurse Norene Royer, detailed the funeral service and burial to give as much information as she could to the mother who was a world away from her daughter's burial service. She emphasized Royer's status as a military nurse and the rituals of the military honors paid her, reflecting a pride in this wartime service. Again, this portion of the letter tells us a great deal about Grace Phelps in addition to the funeral and burial. (Grace Phelps to Sarah Agnes Royer, September 18, 1918, Box 1, Folder 1, Grace Phelps Papers, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University).

Bazoilles Church, Otis Wight et al., On Active Service With Base Hospital 46 (Portland, OR: Arcady Press, 1920), 67.
The Royers were observant Catholics and Phelps wrote that the chaplain assigned to the hospital center, "Father Dinan, was perfectly splendid." He arranged for the service "which was held in the quaint and historical cathedral in the village near where we are stationed" (a church, not a cathedral, in Bazoilles, pictured above). "There was High Mass and the service was beautiful."

"Funeral of Miss Royer," Otis Wight et al., On Active Service With Base Hospital 46 (Portland, OR: Arcady Press, 1920), 9.
To prepare for the services "the Officers went to the nearest town and bought some beautiful flowers, but what they got were no more beautiful than the bo[u]quet of red, white, and blue flowers we gathered from the fields -- the red poppies, the blue corn flowers and the white asters." Norene Royers was buried at 9:30 in the morning on September 18, the day after her death. "I wish I could tell you how beautiful she looked in her Red Cross uniform, white -- white shoes, and her Red Cross cap with the unit flag draped around her casket and a beautiful silk flag, which is the particular pride of the nurses of the unit, placed over her as a covering."

"She was given all military honors," Phelps stressed. "The six senior officers, majors and captains of our unit were the honorary pall bearers; six first-class sergeants were in attendance as active pall bearers." The service was important. "Most of the officers, nurses and enlisted men of the unit attended."

Phelps's letter to Agnes Royer was a reflection of her own pride in wartime service and her insistence of the important of nurses to the war effort. Her descriptions of the funeral and burial service suggest that she valued the formal ritual but also the personal expressions of grief and tribute. The letter was also a way for Phelps to reach across the world to share sympathy and loss.