Grace MacPherson didn’t think getting wounded soldiers from the front to the hospital was just a man’s job.
So when the First World War took hold, she put her name forward to help.
She had all the right skills.
“Grace was the first woman in Vancouver to not only have her driver’s licence in 1916 but she really stood out because she had her own car,” said Ted Barris, author of Victory at Vimy. “She could really help the soldiers over in Europe and she was eager to do that.”
But there was one problem. Women’s lib and feminism were not yet in vogue and they wouldn’t let her go.
“I’m going. I’m going to drive an ambulance,” she told family.
Barris describes her disappointment when she wrote the war office in Ottawa and Red Cross in London and was turned down.
It didn’t stop her. She sold everything she owned and jumped on a ship and headed to London.
Her first stop was the Savoy Hotel, where she found the commander of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Sir Sam Hughes, himself in a room full of generals.
“I’ve come from Canada to drive an ambulance,” she said proudly.
“I’ll stop any woman from going to France and I’ll stop you too,” said Hughes.
It was just the sort of challenge she lived for, said Barris.
“Well, Sir Sam, I’m going to France,” MacPherson said. “I’ll get there with or without your help.”
And she did.
Soon after Hughes came back to Canada and with casualties piling up and skills needed, Grace started driving ambulances and found herself in France on April 8, 1917, ready for what was to come the next day.
It was a busy one. The wounded were loaded onto trains and sent to the depot where Grace and fellow ambulance drivers took the wounded to the hospital.
She completed 10 trips on that day alone and was there for all four days of the battle.
Who knows how many lives she helped save.
“When I stepped off that ship and got into that first ambulance,” she said in a letter back home to her sister, “I felt as if I had been there all my life.”
And to think they were not going to let her go at all.
“She’s a hero in my books,” said Barris.