Saturday, January 25, 2014

Searching for Information about Sister Catherine O’Rorke - Much decorated WWI Nurse who served in Serbia

Aleksandra's Note:

One of the great things about researching THE GREAT WAR, is discovering the true-life stories of the female heroines who served with the military and the civilians in a good Samaritan capacity and who survived the war to share their experiences. Some of the stories of these remarkable women are well known, but others are not. If anyone has additional information about Sister Catherine O'Rorke whose story follows below, please do get in touch with me at the e-mail provided at the bottom of this post.

Although her obituary reads that she died in Switzerland, the authorities there appear to have no information about where she is buried. There is a question of whether she might have been buried in Serbia, the land that she loved so dearly.

Thank you for any help you can provide in this search for information about Sister Catherine.


Aleksandra Rebic



The British Journal of Nursing - February 1932

The death of Sister Catherine O’Rorke in a Nursing Home at Territet, Switzerland, brings to mind memories of the Great War, for Sister Catherine underwent the alarming experience of being arrested with Miss Edith Cavell (in whose home she was working) by the Germans in Brussels.
She subsequently served as a nurse in France, at the Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont, and through a typhus epidemic at Vranja [Vranje], Serbia, after which she spent eight years at the Children’s Hospital in Belgrade.
Miss O’Rorke was awarded by the French Government the Medialle Militaire and by the Serbian Government the Order of St. Sava.  She also received the Croix de Guerre of France and the Cross of the Red Cross Society, Belgrade.

The British Journal of Nursing - February 1932



Obituary, Straits Times – 13 February 1932

There has died in a Swiss nursing home Sister Catherine O’Rorke, who was arrested with Nurse Cavell by the Germans, in Brussels.  Of Sister O’Rorke, the saying of her friend and leader can be used: - “Patriotism was not enough.”

After her ordeal in Brussels she served as a nurse in France throughout the rest of the War, nursed through a typhus epidemic in Serbia and spent eight years tending the children of Belgrade.

Though her adventures were many, no one ever heard her talk about them.  She was quiet, modest and aloof.  Her awards: – the Cross of the British Red Cross Society, the Croix de Guerre of France and the Order of St. Sava of Serbia were gained in a life of self sacrifice.
Sister O’Rorke came to London in 1913, at the age of 24 from Ireland, having already qualified as a nurse.  At the time Edith Cavell required help at her training school for nurses in Brussels.  Sister O’Rorke gained the post.
I was told today, “When Nurse Cavell was arrested, Sister O’Rorke was arrested with her.  She would never talk about that time, but we who knew her guessed what a terrible experience she must have had.”
Among Typhus Patients
“In December 1914 she was sent back to England.  She immediately applied for service in France and was at the Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont in January 1915.  That was where I knew her best.  She was not physically very strong, but her spirit of devotion to the wounded kept her going when other people of similar physique would have collapsed.”
“Except for a break of a month or two when rest was ordered because of ill-health she carried on at Royaumont to the end of the War.  Her excellence as an organiser and her wonderful spirit led her being promoted to Matron.”
“We expected her take a short rest after the War, but instead she at once volunteered for service at Uranje [Vranje], Serbia where an epidemic of typhus had broken out.  After nine months of the hardships and perils that surrounded this work she joined Dr. Katherine MacPhail at the Children’s Hospital, Belgrade.  Here again she provoked the warm regard of everyone.”
“During her last four years in Belgrade she was in charge of the out-patients’ department.  There are few children in Belgrade who do not know and love her.  This constant over-taxing of her energies led to her death.  She would not rest and her health suffered accordingly.”
Obituary, Sister Catherine O'Rorke
Straits Times – 13 February 1932
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra,
please feel free to contact me at

1 comment:

Zvezdana said...

This is a fascinating story. As I am researching activities of Scottish Women's Hospitals, if I find information about Sister Catherine O'Rorke, I will forward it to you.
Why don't you check the Centenary partnership website?
The First World War Centenary Partnership is a network of over 2,000 local, regional, national and international cultural and educational organisations led by IWM (Imperial War Museums).