Our brave ladies who nursed our brave men
This is the third in an occasional series of articles by Rochester RSL subbranch president JOHN GLOVER which will provide an ongoing connection as commemorations of World War I continue through its centenary.
CHARLES Bean, the noted war historian, introduced the phrase “sisters of our fighting men” when he wrote the acclaimed ANZAC Requiem which is so lovingly read each ANZAC Day.
The ladies to whom he referred included some former Rochester nurses who had served abroad during World War I.
The traditions those ladies established then have continued and grown by Army nurses ever since.
The Australian Army Nurses Reserve was established by Sister Elizabeth Glover (the last of the Glover family to migrate from England) in 1904 and from their ranks came the first nurses to travel with the 1st AIF in 1914.
Sister Glover declined appointment as the matron of the first Australian field hospital but she used her eminence within the nursing profession to improve the conditions of both the nurses and soldiers during WWI.
Those first nurses had a status very different to that enjoyed by Army nurses today.
Nurses attached to the 1st AIF had no Service Number or Army rank but were treated as officers.
They did not enlist in the AIF but were appointed the day their ship embarked from Australia and were struck off soon after return to Australia.
Multiple appointments were possible and the routine honours and awards were conferred on many of them.
These nurses served across all theatres of war and the Rochester nurses served in India, Egypt, the Middle East, England and France.
Few people would be aware that of the nearly 1000 citizens from the former Shire of Rochester who enlisted in WWI, seven were nurses. They were:
■ Dorothy Richards Gregory, Rochester;
■ Elsie Katharine Jack, Timmering;
■ Inez Frances Lipscomb, Rochester;
■ Fanny Isabella Nicol, Ballendella;
■ Jenny Penny, Diggora;
■ Enid Sabine Wells, Torrumbarry; and,
■ Edith Wilson Yeaman, Pannoobamawm. Sister Jack was Mentioned in Despatches for her service in India whilst Sisters Gregory and Nicol were both discharged because of illness arising from their service.
Thankfully none of our local nurses died whilst on duty.
A total of 2139 sisters served abroad between 1914 and 1918, while a further 423 served in Australia, 25 of these sisters died overseas, and 388 were decorated for their service.
Not only did the nurses in WWI have to cope with the same trying conditions faced by all of our soldiers, they also had to cope with a bureaucracy that was not entirely supportive of them.
Colonel Sir Neville Howse, VC, the medical hero of Gallipoli, was an utter misogynist who refused to enlist female doctors despite an acute doctor shortage and felt he had his hands full whilst dealing with 2000 nurses.
He also could not envisage any advantage that a female nurse could bring to a patient over what was already been done by male orderlies.
Later events proved him totally wrong in his views.
Australian Army nurses have done much since WW1, they even have their own Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps, and the other Services have followed.
Events of WWII showed that nurses suffer with their patients in every respect, e.g., the Banka Island massacre, Changi POW camp, the sinking of the Centaur, and soldiers have admired their skills and compassion repeatedly.
My personal experience has shown there is much comfort derived from an Australian nurse wearing Australian uniform whilst in a hospital in a foreign nation when recovering from injuries in the field.
Adjusting bandages to restore comfort, a soothing presence whilst recovering from the nightmares that accompany drug-induced sleep, Australian nurses have done so much for Australian servicemen in dangerous places.
“The lady with the lamp” was a term coined by admiring soldiers to show their respect for Florence Nightingale who modernised nursing following her observations and experiences of the Crimean War.
Australian nurses have always exemplified her compassion and professionalism so it is so very fitting that the new memorial to be constructed at the REDHS site in Rochester will commemorate nurses as well as soldiers.