Monday, October 15, 2018

Josephine H - Researching Those Who Served

Irish US Army nurse’s World War I bracelet
returned after worldwide hunt
I recently returned from a wonderful tour, Across Two Wars, sponsored by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. One of the things the tour reinforced for me is it is the stories of individuals which I find to be the most compelling. Charts and numbers about artillery and bombs are all very interesting but the people behind those facts are what really bring the events to life for me.

One such story I came across last week, which has nothing to do with Base Hospital 50, but has everything to do with what motivated me to start this blog in the first place, documents the untold story about one of those who served in World War I. The documentary uncovering the story of Josephine H is exactly the sort of story which inspires and fuels me to continue telling stories myself.

In a nutshell, years ago an 8-year-old student in France came across a bracelet in the schoolyard engraved with "Josephine Heffernan, ABH 59, US ANC". He gave it to his teacher, Estelle Lefeuvre and she promised to find out more about its owner. As so often happens, good intentions to look into the history of the bracelet were derailed by other things and it wasn't until she retired more than a decade later that the bracelet resurfaced and Estelle began to pursue its history.

The United States had an Army hospital at Rimacourt during World War I and the initial theory was Heffernan was an Army nurse there. An international nurse historian, Marjorie DesRosier helped confirm that theory and uncover more details about Josephine, her wartime service and what became of her after the war.

Josephine Heffernan, a native of Ireland, immigrated to the United States in 1906 and attended nursing school. She enlisted to serve during World War I and was deployed to the base hospital in Rimaucourt, France. At some point, her bracelet was lost leading to a historical forensic chase to learn about her life a century later. What a wonderful story combining history, expertise, and luck, all sparked by a curious, and observant, little boy!