Wel­come word on war nurses

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - Reg. A. Wat­son

WHAT Peter Hen­ning deals with is a ne­glected sub­ject. Books on our na­tion’s war nurses are quite scarce, so this lat­est ad­di­tion is a wel­come one.

What is more im­por­tant for Tas­ma­nia is that the pub­li­ca­tion is specif­i­cally about Tas­ma­nian nurses in World War II. It is there­fore a most valu­able work, so­cially and his­tor­i­cally.

The num­ber of Tas­ma­ni­ans who served as nurses ( sis­ters) was at least 200, with a num­ber en­list­ing out­side Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing Bri­tain, Canada, New Zealand and even one as far afield as the US.

Our nurses served where our troops fought. They were in the Mid­dle East, Greece and Cey­lon from 1940- 43, in Malaya and Sin­ga­pore in 1941, while in early 1942 they were in Pa­pua New Guinea, New Bri­tain, New Caledonia, Mo­ratai and Bor­neo. They were then back in Sin­ga­pore af­ter the war had fin­ished.

Some served in hos­pi­tal ships, sev­eral were pris­on­ers of the Ja­panese and some died in cap­tiv­ity. Oth­ers went to the Philip­pines to nurse re­leased pris­on­ers of war, while some went to Ja­pan as part of the oc­cu­py­ing forces.

They also served in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory when the mil­i­tary there was ex­posed to Ja­panese air at­tack and they worked in med­i­cal units scat­tered through­out Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing the var­i­ous hos­pi­tals in Tas­ma­nia, such as the one out­side Camp­bell Town.

The ex­cite­ment be­gan when our nurses were despatched to the Mid­dle East. Their sta­tus was un­clear. Were they part of the army or not?

Should they en­joy of­fi­cer rank, as did their Bri­tish coun­ter­parts?

Most of the girls who served were ex­pe­ri­enced, with some of them in their mid- 30s, be­fore be­ing shipped off half- aworld away.

By the end of 1940 there were 25 Tas­ma­nian nurses in the Mid­dle East.

Of­ten, they were split up and served at Bri­tish hos­pi­tals in Cairo, but they fol­lowed the troops to such bat­tle places as To­bruk and El Alamein.

My fa­ther was at To­bruk and I have two pho­tos of him when ill, ac­com­pa­nied by nurses without iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

I won­der whether they were fel­low Tas­ma­ni­ans.

The con­di­tions our sis­ters had to work un­der were of­ten more than testing and they were not im­mune to sick­ness.

One of the prob­lems was the sand storm, which “crept up your nose and down your throat, itch­ing un­bear­ably and mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to breath. It got into your eyes, mat­ted your hair and, from be­hind sand- gog­gles, your eyes kept weep­ing and smart­ing”.

Then af­ter the Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bour, the nurses re­turned and served to the north of Aus­tralia.

The sce­nario here was dif­fer­ent; as was the en­emy, the en­vi­ron­ment and the type of sick­ness the troops ex­pe­ri­enced.

Be­sides army nurses, there were Tas­ma­ni­ans who joined the Air Force and Navy, while two Tas­ma­ni­ans were among the first six of 52 Aus­tralian Air Force nurses who would ac­com­pany Aus­tralian air crews sail­ing to Canada and the US from late 1940 un­til Novem­ber 1943.

The book deals with the es­cape from the Ja­panese ad­vance to the north of Aus­tralia, which is riv­et­ing read­ing, and the sur­vival of those who re­mained be­hind un­der the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion.

They fi­nally re­turned, dread­fully ill, to Aus­tralia.

It also deals with the work of those who nursed within Aus­tralia.

In all, one can only ad­mire the valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to the war ef­fort, but more than that, their sac­ri­fice.

An ex­cel­lent book, well re­searched with in­ter­views of those few sis­ters still alive.

It comes with a valu­able Nom­i­nal Role, where listed are many well- known Tas­ma­nian names.

Most read­ers will be re­lated to some of them. Many pho­to­graphs. Thanks Peter Hen­ning for such a work.

VEILS AND TIN HATS: TAS­MA­NIAN NURSES IN THE SE­COND WORLD WAR By Peter Hen­ning RRP $ 55

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