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Helen Vivien Petrie was born in Kingston, Ontario. Entering the service of The Canadian Bank of Commerce on April 27, 1914, she worked at the Department of the Superintendent of Central Western Branches. In February 1916, she enlisted in the Canadian Medical Corps with the rank of Nursing Sister. She served at the Third Canadian Stationary Hospital in Doullens, France. Petrie was demobilized in March 1919 and, in July of that same year, returned to work at the bank.
Excerpt from letter dated June 30, 1918 from England where she was recuperating from hospital life on the front lines in Doullens:
In the first days of the push it was terrible-that was for three weeks before anyone got his breath. You could hear Amiens being bombed and the continual noise of lorries and guns being taken up the Ameins road and see the sky flaming from fires. It never ceased day or night...
For three weeks I was in a place called 'Isolation,' quite seven minutes walk from the main hospital, and I had as many as 233 cases and only a youngster, a convalescent, to help me...Then I was put in the operating room and, as I told you, we three girls had 291 operations in ten nights so that gives you a fair idea of a week's work. It was wonderful, though, and the experiences of a lifetime, and I'm so glad I was where I was so that I did not miss it.