Full Circle for Lieutenant Lillian Castley

Nurse, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps Remembrance Day Feature

From her small but comfortable apartment in Lake Cowichan’s Olson Manor, the retired senior occasionally gazed across the river at Lake Cowichan’s Central Park. As she viewed the lovely stand of tall evergreens, the colourful flower gardens, park benches and fountain, fond memories of her childhood returned. Her thoughts drifted back many years, many decades in fact, to the happy days of her youth when she and her family, parents Jack and Esther Castley and her siblings, lived on the property that is now Central Park.

In 1910 Lillian’s father, Jack Castley, took over the operation of the newly built Cowichan Lake Federal Fish Hatchery, which was located on present day Central Park property. Born in 1918 the fourth of five children, Lillian and her siblings loved their home and it’s location.  It wasn’t every child who could say that they lived at a fish hatchery with many rows of ponds filled with thousands of live salmon fry. On special occasions, the Castley children were permitted to feed the fish in the hatchery ponds or perhaps tag along while their father, on occasion, led tours for visiting dignitaries.

For many years, the children enjoyed their world. They lived close to school, just a stone’s throw across the river (the school was on the spot that present day Evergreen Manor is located.)

After high school graduation, Lillian left her family and small town to make her mark in the world. In 1938 she entered the nursing program at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital School of Nursing. After graduation in 1941, she worked for six months at the Jubilee maternity ward prior to joining the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) as a nursing sister  (as they were then called). With World War 2 in full swing, she took her ‘basic army training’ at the Nanaimo militia training camp.

She was then stationed at the Department of National Defense hospital in Vancouver, also known as Shaughnessy Military Hospital. The hospital served as an important point of care for servicemen injured in the line of duty (active duty during World War 11), and functioned as a residence for many veterans as well as a workplace for nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals. Eventually she and another Shaughnessy Hospital nursing sister accompanied English POW’s (Prisoners of War) via hospital train to Halifax. Once there, the men were hospitalized and those who survived were eventually returned to Britain via the Atlantic hospital ships.

She was sent later to a military hospital in Edmonton where she nursed serviceman who had returned home with TB. RCAMC nursing sisters were not discharged at the end of the war in 1945, they were required to stay and nurse those servicemen who had returned with illness and injuries sustained while in active service overseas. Lillian was discharged from the RCAMC in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant.

Years later, she reluctantly recalled the men  (POWs) who had endured the horrors of three and a half years in Japanese Concentration Camps. “They were in terrible shape, just skin and bone, it was just awful. They were all starving and had been terribly mistreated.”

Once back home on Vancouver Island, she worked at Kings Daughters Hospital in Duncan, where she was, for many years, supervisor of the maternity ward. Later she worked at the Chemainus Hospital as matron for the next 15 years. During her time at Chemainus, she lived in a “small private suite under the operating room with her little dog Kim who had the run of the hospital.” In 1968, she moved to Victoria and worked for a short time before permanently retiring to Lake Cowichan, at age 70.

On June 12, 2008 former Nursing Sister, Lieut. Lillian Castley, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) died in Cowichan District Hospital at age 90 (or close to it).  She had spent her entire working life in the field of nursing. She spent her childhood at the fish hatchery home of her family and her last years across the river from Central Park, once the location of the fish hatchery. As she said a few years prior to her death, “I have come full circle”.

 

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