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Monday, April 13, 2015

Death Comes to the Staff of Base Hospital 46: Nurse Norene Royer Dies From Influenza September 17, 1918

As noted in the last post, the American Expeditionary Force was unprepared for nurses to become ill. The death of Norene Royer during the influenza epidemic in September 1918 affected many of the staff in the unit in powerful ways. Her death also allows us to explore other aspects of nurses' lives at Base Hospital 46 because of the documents relating to it. I'll be exploring these themes in the next several posts.

"Norene Royer," Box 1, Folder 8, Grace Phelps Papers, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections & Archives, OHSU.
Personnel information from the Grace Phelps Papers at the Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University tells us that Norene Royer was born in Appleton, Wisconsin on July 30, 1893. She was a 1916 graduate of the Sacred Heart Hospital Training School for Nurses in Spokane, Washington (now Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children's Hospital). Her file lists her as engaged in private duty nursing and in work as an office nurse before her enlistment with Base Hospital 46.

Royer's file indicates that she contracted influenza on September 8, 1918. This was part of a global wave of the disease; Royer was among an estimated 20 to 40 million people who died worldwide. She was presumably in the nurses' infirmary until her death on September 17, 1918.

The only place to bury the body appears to have been the Base Hospital cemetery that had been used to bury the bodies of patients who died there. It was the cemetery to which Eleanor Donaldson referred in her essay on "The Nurses Club" in Wight, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46: "The third road ran just a few yards from our tent door, with the river beyond--the last road of all, for the boys we left in France. It was a short road, ending in a plot at the foot of the hill where the sun's light touched the white crosses 'row on row.'" (152)
"American Cemetery at Bazoilles," Otis Wight et al., On Active Service With Base Hospital 46 (Portland, OR: Arcady Press, 1920), 9.

"Funeral of Miss Royer," Otis Wight et al., On Active Service With Base Hospital 46 (Portland, OR: Arcady Press, 1920), 9.
It is significant that the staff of the unit photographed Norene Royer's burial service and suggests a particular need to document the event in On Active Service with Base Hospital 46. Here we see male staff members in their coats on this mid-September day, and in the space on the right a nurse with her rain hat, tents of the hospital complex in the background. Flowers decorate the coffin.

Two other staff members of Base Hospital 46 died while in service in France: Corporal Ernest D. Stout (September 21, 1918) and Private First Class Kenneth Welshons (November 9, 1918) (Wight, On Active Service, 8.) Their funerals were not documented with images.