Welcome word on war nurses
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