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Authors: Peter Rees

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The Other Anzacs

BOOK: The Other Anzacs
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has been a journalist for forty years, working as a federal political correspondent for the
Melbourne Sun
, the
West Australian
and the
Sunday Telegraph
. He is author of
The Boy from Boree Creek: The Tim Fischer Story
Tim Fischer’s Outback Heroes
(2002), and
Killing Juanita: A true story of murder and corruption
(2004), which was a winner of the 2004 Ned Kelly Award for Australian crime writing. He lives in Canberra and is currently writing a book about Australia’s desert campaigns.

The Other
The Extraordinary Story of
our World War I Nurses











First published in 2008

This paperback edition published in 2009

Copyright © Peter Rees 2008

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin

83 Alexander Street

Crows Nest NSW 2065


Phone:     (61 2) 8425 0100

Fax:           (61 2) 9906 2218

Email:        [email protected]


National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Rees, Peter, 1948-
The other Anzacs : nurses at war 1914-1918 / Peter Rees.
ISBN: 978 1 74175 549 7 (hbk.)
ISBN: 978 1 74237 118 4 (pbk.)
Includes . Bibliography.
Australia. Army. Australian Army Nursing Service.
New Zealand. Army. Nursing Service
Military nursing—Australia.
Military nursing—New Zealand.
World War, 1914–1918—Participation, Female.
World War, 1914–1918—Medical care.
Women in war.


Set in 11/17 pt Minion MT by Midland Typesetters, Australia

Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press, Adelaide

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1







For Sue, who has shared this journey.




Author’s note


1 The big adventure
2 Relative relations
3 Different rules
4 The prelude
5 Gallipoli
6 Blooded
7 Not much comfort to a mother
8 Heartily sick of it
9 The Kiwis arrive
10 None of the old smallness in it
11 Broken bodies
12 Tears in the dark
13 The shabby sisters


14 Alone in the Aegean
15 ‘We thought they would let us die!’
16 No time for mock modesty
17 The price of sacrifice


18 The first Anzac service
19 Waiting for Harry
20 Harry’s letter
21 Grasping for hope
22 The chill of war
23 No place to hide
24 Bombs and basins
25 Desolation
26 Survival
27 Gifts for France
28 Conscription
29 It’s something big, Sister
30 The struggle ends
31 The fifth New Year
32 The aftermath
Australian World War I nurses honour roll
New Zealand World War I nurses honour roll


I have attempted to tell the story of the war through the eyes of particular women, using their diaries and letters to show the conflict’s effect on them professionally and personally. This book is not intended as a definitive history but more as a representative account, in the context of the unfolding war as it was seen by a few representing the many in Egypt, Lemnos, the hospital ships and the Western Front.

Throughout the war, staff nurses and sisters were addressed as Sister, with matrons generally being called Miss. The staff nurses did not like being referred to as such, preferring to be called Sister. I have mostly used Sister in titles, but Nurse and Staff Nurse are used where necessary. I have also standardised spelling and capitalisation for readability.







While men fight one another, women tend the wounded, and there can be no doubt at all but that theirs is the nobler part. Naturally enough the eyes of the world are on the firing line and sometimes the work of the nurses, from the very firing line to the hospitals is overlooked. It was ever thus. Those who scar the tree of life, a great thinker once said, are remembered by the scars, but those who water its roots have nothing by which they may be known. But theirs is the tree.

, 3 November 1915


As nurses in Australia and New Zealand saw it, the issue in 1914 was quite simple. They wanted to be there, with their boys, when they went to war. And the Anzac boys wanted the women there, too, with them on the other side of the world. It was not only their nursing expertise, they were a link to home. As one Australian sister at a hospital in France noted, they always knew when wounded Anzacs arrived: ‘If they are not too ill they generally call out “Hullo Australia” or some such remark, they know our uniform from the English sisters. How we do love our dear brave boys.’

Another sister captured it this way in a letter home from a hospital on Malta: ‘You don’t know [how] these boys of ours love to come across an Australian woman, and then when they saw us they were nearly too shy to come and speak to me . . . poor dears, I would do any mortal thing for them.’ Like so many of her boys from the bush, Narelle Hobbes, the former matron of Brewarrina Hospital in far western New South Wales, died on active duty before the war ended.

The Great War was the first test of the fledgling Army nursing services of Australia and New Zealand. More than forty Australian civilian nurses had served officially in the 1899–1902 Boer War in South Africa, together with several more from Australia and New Zealand who went either individually or in independent units. But the Great War was the first time nurses were part of dedicated Army services—the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and the New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS).

The AANS was a trained civilian reserve of the Australian Army Medical Corps. It was established when the various state nursing services joined together. The nurses had done their training in rural and urban hospitals. As civilians, they had limited knowledge of military matters when war was declared.

The NZANS was not fully established until shortly after the Great War began, by which time Australian nurses were already in the field. New Zealand nursing leaders told the government on New Year’s eve 1914 that, as with Australia, ‘if the sons of New Zealand were serving the Empire in the field it was only right that her daughters, who were able and willing, should be allowed to do so too.’
In the years ahead, New Zealand and Australian nurses would often work side by side in military hospitals tending their wounded compatriots, and soldiers from other countries as well.

A wave of patriotism swept Australia and New Zealand when war was declared on 4 August 1914. Anti-German sentiment was strong. Men walked long distances to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and women’s voluntary organisations were soon established to assist the war effort in any way they could. In New Zealand, men joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) with similar enthusiasm. In Melbourne, an over-zealous mob attacked the German Club and Consulate. German citizens were quickly rounded up and interned. A year later, the town of Germanton, in the New South Wales Riverina, would change its name to Holbrook. By 1918, from a population of fewer than five million Australians, 331, 781 men would serve overseas, of whom nearly 62, 000 would be killed and 153, 500 would be wounded or gassed. In New Zealand, with a population of 1.1 million, more than 128, 000 enlisted. Of these, more than 16, 000 would be killed and 41, 300 become casualties.

BOOK: The Other Anzacs
3.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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