World War I nurses pose together at an American Red Cross canteen in Meuse, France, Dec. 23, 1918. Second from left is Gladys Cromwell, and her sister, Dorothy Cromwell, is at right. World War I nurses pose together at an American Red Cross canteen in Meuse, France, Dec. 23, 1918. Second from left is Gladys Cromwell, and her sister, Dorothy Cromwell, is at right.  

Together in life and death: The Cromwell sisters of WWI 

via the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) web site 

Buried side by side at Suresnes American Cemetery just outside Paris, lie the Cromwell sisters, who traded in a life of prominence in New York City to be frontline nurses during World War I.

The twin sisters survived the war, but overcome by what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), jumped to their deaths from the ship that was to take them home in January 1919.

The tragedy was covered extensively by the press in America, with multiple stories appearing on the cover of The New York Times, and ultimately exposed some of the trauma and anguish experienced by those who served in the Great War.

Dorothy and Gladys Cromwell were born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1885.

They inherited a large fortune from their father, who served as the trustee of the Mutual Life Insurance Company, and were living on Park Avenue in February of 1918 when they volunteered with the American Red Cross, according to The New York Times archive. 

The “Misses Cromwell,” as they were sometimes referenced in newspapers, served food to soldiers at a canteen in then Chalons-sur-Marne and were never far from active warfare.

“For several months they were within range of the Germans guns and in the midst of constant airplane raids,” described one New York Times report from Jan. 25, 1919.

“They had been bombed at night by enemy planes, and heard the continuous firing day and night of the big guns while they served in the hospitals and saw our fine young American soldiers die,” explained Dr. C.L. Purnell of the American Red Cross, who accompanied the Cromwell sisters on the French steam ship, in another New York Times front page story from Jan. 29, 1919.

Read the entire article on the ABMC web site.

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