Women of The Month – April
Today is ANZAC Day. Every Australian has been taught the history of World War One and the part that our soldiers played in it.
Every moment from the landing on the rocky shores of Gallipoli, to the unthinkable tragedy of the Somme and Fromelles and to the victory at Villiers Brennonuex.
We all know about the sacrifice our fighting men gave in defence of our country and indeed the Empire.
However little is known of the brave women who also sacrificed 4 years of their lives to care for and heal our wounded soldiers, often enduring terrible hardships and danger in the process themselves.
A brilliant series that depicts the true stories of our braves nurses that also headed off to war.
More than 3000 nurses volunteered for service during WW1.
Most saw this as not only a way to serve during the conflict, but also a way to see the world and develop a sense of independence. Something that was extremely hard to for a woman to do in the early 1900’s.
Others that joined the nursing service saw it as a way to stay close to male relatives who were fighting.
The women worked on hospital ships, hospitals or in casualty clearing stations which were located close to the front line. Many also received medals for their bravery and heroism with 8 nurses receiving the Military Medal.
Around 300 Nurses left for Egypt in late 1914. Aboard the transportation ships they assisted with vaccinations and operations and training orderlies. The nurses were then posted to the 1st Australian General Hospital in Cairo.
Once the campaign at Gallipoli started, the hospital started to become overcrowded with so many wounded and sick soldiers.
On hospital ships many nurses came face to face for the first time with the confronting reality of war.
“ I shall never forget the awful feeling of hopelessness on night duty. It was dreadful. I had two wards downstairs, each over 100 patients to look after – altogether about 250 patients to look after and one orderly and one Indian Sweeper. Shall not describe their wounds, they were too awful. One loses all sight of the honour and the glory in the work we are doing” – Lydia King, in Goodman, Our War Nurses .p 39
Many nurses were also employed on the hospital ships that were ferrying wounded soldiers from the shores of Gallipoli to the surrounding islands such as Lemnos.
The conditions on Lemnos during this period were awful. Upon arrival to establish the hospital, Matron Wilson and her sisters were confronted with 150 patients all lying on the ground, no equipment at all and no water to drink or wash in.
Supplies arrived extremely slowly and nurses were reduced to tearing up their petticoats to use as bandages . They were also forced to treat men on the hard rocky ground.
Their supplies and tents would not arrive for 3 weeks.
With no water to bathe in many nurses cut their hair short to prevent infestation from the islands centipedes and scorpions.
Many nurses also fell sick of dysentery due to the unsanitary conditions and a lack of fresh water.
Once winter hit in December 1915, the hospital which was in an exposed position on Lemnos, bore the brunt of ferocious winds and barely a night went by whereby a tent wasn’t blown down.
Within the month Matron Wilson’s hospital was treating over 900 men. Despite the horrifying conditions and hardships, her hospital had a mortality rate of only 2%.
After the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula in December 1915, the Australian and New Zealand nurses followed their soldiers to the Western Front in France.
Besides working in the hospitals, nurses also worked in casualty clearing stations which were located close to the front lines.
Nurses themselves suffered from many severe infections as a result of their work, especially to their hands. A consequence from the awful wounds they were treating.
Many also caught measles, mumps, typhus, influenza and dysentery from their patients and some also received shrapnel injuries.
Wounded soldiers were brought directly to the Casualty Clearing Stations of the Western Front from the front line to receive initial treatment for their wounds.
Operating theatres and wards catered to thousands of butchered men in tents set up beside railway lines.
Nurses and doctors worked around the clock treating thousands of wounded soldiers.
In July and August of 1917 the unit performed more than 2000 surgeries with staff working shifts of more than 16 hours each..
A few notable nurses were also recognised for their incredible bravery.
Sister Alice Ross-King was one Australian nurse transferred to a the No 2 CCS at Trois Arbres in advance of the 3rd battle of Ypres.
Being located so close to the front line also posed a real risk to medical staff and the hospital was vulnerable to attack. It was here that Sister Ross-King was awarded the Military Medal for her bravery she showed rescuing wounded soldiers when the CCS was bombarded by German aircraft.
Sister Ross-King ran into the wards calling “Are you all right boys?”. She fell into a blood soaked crater in the dark and after struggling out she learned that many orderlies and patients had been killed. Citations praised her “great coolness and devotion to duty”. She was one of only 8 Nurses to be awarded the Military Medal.
Nurses during the Great War were often called upon to do tasks that would be practically unheard of out of war time. Some were to gain new qualifications as anesthetists, some even performing minor surgeries.
Once they arrived home they largely settled back into their home lives. When they married they were then expected to stay at home and become only wives and mothers.
Their heroism and amazing feats went largely unnoticed by those back at home, however to the front line soldier, they would always be the “Angels of The Front Line”.
You can catch the whole series ANZAC Girls on Australian Netflix, Lest We Forget.
*I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team*