Nellie Leake

Nellie Leake

Three nurses of No 3 Australian General Hospital and an unidentified soldier during a walk on an island, probably Lemnos. Left to right: Charlotte Donnelly, Kathleen Lillie Doyle and Nellie Leake. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Nurse Nellie Leake trained at Sydney Hospital, where, as a second year assistant nurse she was awarded second prize in 1908, which was presented by the Governor, Sir Harry Rawson.

Nurse Leake enlisted in April 1915, aged 32. She served in Greece, Egypt, England and France. As a staff nurse at the No 3 Australian General Hospital on the island of Lemnos in Greece she nursed Australian casualties from the Gallipoli campaign.

Nurse Leake returned to Orange in August 1919. Her name appears on the Holy Trinity Church Orange Honour Roll.

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Mary Keenan

Mary Keenan was born in Orange in the 1885 to Thomas and Mary Keenan of Amaroo. She trained at St Vincent’s Hospital from 1906 to 1909, after which she worked as a Sister at the Metropolitan Private Hospital, followed by Theatre Sister at Garrison Hospital, Sydney.

Sister Keenan served in Egypt, France and London, returning to Sydney in late 1919. She remained active in the nursing service and was Secretary of the St Vincent’s Hospital ex-trainees in 1940. She was also popular in the Sydney Catholic social scene.

Mary Keenan died in Sydney on 26 May 1955. Her funeral service was held at St Joseph’s Church in Orange on Saturday 28 May 1955, after which she was interred in the Keenan family vault in Orange Cemetery.

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Pearl Stella Goodman

Millthorpe born Pearl Stella Goodman, trained at Orange District Hospital and gained nursing experience in Dubbo, Kurri Kurri and Cairns before becoming matron of Enoggera Military Camp. She left Sydney in December 1916 on the Themistocles, and after a short spell in England was posted to Rouen in France. After just eight months’ service in France she became ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After a couple of months’ hospitalisation in England, she was sent back to Australia in December 1917. On her return, she spent time in Prince Alfred Hospital, knitting socks for soldiers until she became too weak to continue. She died at Malabar Convalescent Home in Pennant Hills in March 1919.

Sadly for her family in Australia, that was not the end of the matter. When Nurse Goodman joined up, she nominated her eldest sister, Frances Helena Tait, of Federal Farm, Forest Reefs, as her next of kin (both their parents were dead). When the Defence Department wished to pass on her British War and Victory medals to her next of kin, a problem arose: the department had a clearly defined line of succession for the distribution of medals to relations of deceased service men and women, which boiled down in Miss Goodman’s case to the eldest surviving brother. Mrs Tait informed the department that the family in Australia had not heard from the eldest brother, Albert Goodman, for some years, and that he was believed to be living in America. The department tracked him down to Indianapolis and asked him if he would like to receive the medals. Goodman said he would and the medals were posted to him. Thus the medals left Australia, although Albert Goodman said in acknowledgement that he was very pleased to have them and would prize them highly.

Pearl was buried at Rookwood Cemetery with military honours; her cousin, Rev. Robert Goodman officiated at the graveside. Her name appears on Memorial Gates in both Millthorpe and Cairns.

*  Edwards, Elisabeth 2011, In sickness and in health: how medicine helped shape Orange’s history, Orange City Council, Orange, NSW

*  Central Western Daily 1964, ‘A Pioneer and his family’, January 18, p. 9.

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Agnes Ellen Dwyer

Agnes Dwyer, the daughter of Michael and Norah Dwyer of Orange, was just 24 when she signed up for war nursing duties in September 1916. She was sent on the Kaiser-i-Hind to Egypt, arriving on 10 January 1917. In August 1917 she was sent to Salonika in Greece where she attended Greek as well as Australian soldiers. Besides those wounded in battle, Nurse Dwyer had to tend some of the thousands who contracted malaria and other infectious diseases. The Leader reported that she ‘had a rough time in Salonika’ and she herself did not escape illness. After the war she was awarded the Greek Medal for Military Merit for conspicuous service in the AIF. She later resumed nursing at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick.

Leader, 6 October 1919, p.3.
Orange nurse decorated

*  Edwards, Elisabeth 2011, In sickness and in health: how medicine helped shape Orange’s history, Orange City Council, Orange, NSW.

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Edith Lillian Dunstan

Edith Lillian Dunstan was born in Orange in 1894 to Charles C. Dunstan and his wife Frances Ellen Dunstan. She completed her four years’ nurses training at Sydney Hospital and enlisted in February 1918. In June that year she was mobilised to No. 4 Australian General Hospital. Despite being nominated and accepted for the No 2 Sea Transport Section she did not embark, since she and other nurses were withdrawn from the Section by Defence prior to embarkation.

In 1930 Edith married Private James Stewart Campbell in Waverley. They lived in Northwood Road, Lane Cove.

Edith died in Newtown in 1944.

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Rose Ann Creal

Rose Creal

Matron Rose Creal

Image courtesy Australian War Memorial

Rose Ann Creal was born on 3 November 1865 in Young to Irish-born miner John Creal, and his wife Ann. Young Rose was home-schooled by her father and began work in a small hospital in Parkes aged 16. The matron there realised her potential, describing her as “a diamond of the first water”, and securing her a position at Sydney Hospital. By 1891 Rose had become head nurse, and by the end of the decade she was matron and a founding member and councillor of the Trained Nurses’ Association of New South Wales.

Matron Creal enlisted for war service on 14 August 1916, nominating her sister Elizabeth (‘Bessie’) in Orange as her next of kin. She arrived in Suez on 20 September and was appointed matron of the 14th Australian General Hospital at Abbassia, Egypt.

Conditions at Abbassia were primitive and extremely challenging, with casualty rates from the battle of Gaza rising to 1,140 and nurses working 18 hour shifts in an attempt to manage the work load.

In recognition of her efforts Matron Creal was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 1st class, in the 1919 New Year honours. In August and September of that year she completed an elocution course and tour of hospitals in England and Scotland “with a view to becoming conversant in the latest methods employed in these countries… This experience should prove of the utmost value to her in the discharge of her duties as a matron, both as regards administration and lecturing.”

Matron Creal returned to Australia in January 1920 and resumed her position as matron of Sydney Hospital. She died in August the following year following an attack of appendicitis. She was accorded a full military funeral at St James Anglican Church in Sydney on Wednesday 10 August 1921. It was the largest funerals seen in the city for some time, with hundreds of people lining the streets outside the church. Her coffin was mounted on a gun-carriage, draped with the Union Jack, with her nurse’s cap on top.

Sydney Hospital established the Rose Creal Medal in her honour; it is the highest award for students of the Lucy Osburn School of Nursing.

Sydney Morning Herald, 11 August 1921, p. 7.
Late Matron Creal: impressive funeral, military honours

Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Australian nurses in World War I

Australian Staff Nurses in the grounds of No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield, England. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Australian Staff Nurses in the grounds of No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield, England.
Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

During the First World War Australian nurses served in 192 locations overseas, in Egypt, Lemnos, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Salonika, Palestine, Mesopotamia and India, as well as on 39 ships.

It is difficult to determine the exact number of Australian nurses who served since there is no complete official nominal roll of nurses for World War One. According to the Australian War Memorial 2,139 nurses served with the Australian Army Nursing Service, and 130 with the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service. A further 423 nurses served in hospitals in Australia. The National Archives of Australia cites 2,304 confirmed nurses, and perhaps as many as 2,497.

Of those nurses who served overseas for whom there are detailed statistics, seven were under 21 (despite the official minimum age being 25), 1,184 were aged 21–30, 947 were aged 31–40, and 91 were 41 or older. 25 nurses died from injuries or from disease whilst on active service, and 388 were decorated for “bravery in the face of danger.”

The Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) established the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve (AANSR) on 1 July 1902.  It was organised from ‘those trained nurses … qualified and willing to serve as such with stationary Field Hospitals and Base Hospitals when required upon a National Emergency.” Nurses were expected to be single or widowed.

When war was declared in August 1914 the Commonwealth called up the nursing Reserve and by October 1914 over 300 nurses had volunteered for the service. Nurses’ motives in volunteering for active service were varied. Some – like soldiers – craved adventure; many felt a patriotism for nation and empire, others sought independence, or to advance their career. Financial gain, however, was not an incentive, since military nurses’ pay was generally less than civilian rates of pay.

In November 1948 the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve was renamed the Royal Australian Army Nursing Service (RANS), and in July 1949 became part of the regular Army.

New Zealand born military doctor Robert Campbell Begg described nursing during WWI as “the most important job of all”, claiming that on the battlefield hot drinks and warm blankets administered by nurses saved more lives than doctors’ drugs and operative skill. Mortality rates during the war would have been much higher without competent military nursing. Nurses worked relentlessly to reduce the shock suffered by casualties, to prevent dehydration and excessive blood loss, to curtail the onset of infection or pneumonia, all of which could prove fatal. Skilled nursing also helped to alleviate soldier’s depression while increasing their will to live.

Nurses often worked under deplorable conditions. The No 3 Australian General Hospital was established in August 1915 at West Mudros on the island of Lemnos, Greece, in preparation for the evacuation of Gallipoli. Medical staff were forced to sleep outdoors on their first night there, and their equipment did not arrive for a further three weeks. Nurses worked in tents in primitive conditions, sterilising equipment and preparing food by spirit lamp, with scant water and other supplies.

The battle of Messines on 7 June 1917 was the first large-scale action involving Australian troops in Belgium. Nurses at two Australian casualty clearing stations admitted 2,800 wounded men in 48 hours, clearing over 2,500 as well as assisting in over 1,000 operations. They managed to perform their duties whilst being bombed and showered by flying glass.

At the conclusion of the war many nurses struggled to readjust to civilian life. Some could no longer work as nurses; others were unable to work at all. Women were not recognised as military veterans by the government, thus they were denied the much-needed healthcare and financial benefits available to returning soldiers.

Australia’s Army nurses received national recognition in 1999 with the dedication of the Australian Service Nurses’ National Memorial in Canberra. Located in Anzac Parade, the cast glass memorial was unveiled on 2 October 1999 by the Governor-General, Sir William Deane.

The memorial is dedicated to Australian Army Nurses past and present, who have cared for the sick and wounded since the South African War. Designed by sculptor Robin Moorhouse, the memorial is made of etched glass, with text and images cast into the inner walls that portray the history and contribution of Australian Service Nursing.

In the words of the designer, the memorial is “a celebration of nurses’ lives, their courage and compassion”.

To date 29 nurses from Orange and the surrounding area have been identified:

ARTHUR, Mary Ellen Aloysius (Mollie)
BOND, Ena Marion
BOON, Gladys Elizabeth Clare
CARTER, Ursula Mary
CREAL, Rose Ann
DUNSTAN, Edith Lillian
DWYER, Agnes Ellen
GOODMAN, Pearl Stella
KING, Esther Wynne
KING, Lydia Kate
LEAKE, Nellie
LEE, Violet Claire
LEWIS, Florence Laura
LOWE, Elma Constance Apsley
McDONALD, Florence Emily Isabel
McLEAN, Christina Elizabeth
McRAE, Elizabeth
O’NEILL, Emily Gertrude
RYAN, Mollie Josephine
SKIDMORE, Jean Gillies
SKIDMORE, Margaret
SOLLING, Wilhelmina Jane
SPALDING, Florence Ethel
STONE, Constance Adelaide

Australian nurses in WWI

Great War nurses

Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) 1914-15 outdoor dress

*  De Vries, Susanna 2013, Australian heroines of World War One : Gallipoli, Lemnos and the Western Front, Pirgos Press, Chapel Hill, QLD.

*  Goodman, Rupert Douglas 1988, Our war nurses: the history of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps, 1902-1988, Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, QLD.

*  Harris, Kirsty 2011, More than bombs and bandages : Australian Army nurses at work in World War I, Big Sky Publishing, Newport, NSW.

*  Rees, Peter 2008, The other ANZACS: nurses at war 1914-1918, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW

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Kath and Wynne King

Kath and Wynne King. Image courtesy John Carter.

Kath and Wynne King.
Image courtesy John Carter.

Sisters Lydia (known as Kath) and Esther (known as Wynne) King, daughters of Orange Municipal Council Alderman Henry King and his wife Lydia, were among the first nurses to volunteer for war service.  Kath had trained at Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and was aged 28 when she enlisted towards the end of 1914.  Sailing from Sydney on the Kyarra, she arrived in Egypt in mid-January 1915 and commenced work in the No 2 General Hospital in Cairo.  As the date for the planned invasion of Gallipoli neared, Kath was sent aboard the hospital ship Sicilia to prepare for mass casualties and on 25 April, was inundated with severely wounded men.  That night she wrote in her diary:

At 1.30am received forty-six wounded, mostly badly. Dreadful wounds. And nearly all were soaking wet, their clothes sticking into their wounds. It was just dreadful. We got them undressed, their wounds attended to, made them warm and gave them hot drinks, then all they wanted was sleep.

The constant work and high number of fatalities took their toll; the physical and mental exhaustion were reflected in Kath’s diary:

I have such a nice boy, too sick to be moved. We have given him subcutaneous saline and everything. Finished loading 6pm and stayed with my patient and instead of dinner I relieved my feelings in my room. My patient died at 10.10pm. My nineteenth death in a fortnight, and such lovely boys. Am just heartily sick of the whole of the war.

In July 1915 Kath was joined in Cairo by her younger sister Wynne, who had trained at Orange District Hospital under Matron Dooly.  Wynne stayed in Egypt for some time, nursing wounded soldiers from the Gallipoli campaign in the hospital at Heliopolis.  She described a typical day in a letter to her parents in Orange:

We were fearfully busy last night, as 600 patients were brought in by train from Alexandria. I had to pity my special pal. She went down to look at the casualty list on arrival and found her brother’s name there, he having died a fortnight before from wounds received … Most of our work consists of dressing bullet and shrapnel wounds, doing it from daylight till dawn.

In Egypt Kath had been working with a fellow nurse from Prince Alfred Hospital, Ursula Carter.  She became friendly with Ursula’s brother, Captain Gordon Carter, who was serving in the eastern Mediterranean.  Captain Carter suffered shell-shock in May, followed by a severe bout of exhaustion and was sent to No 1 General Hospital in Cairo for ten weeks’ sick leave.

In January 1916 Kath and Wynne sailed on the Ulysses, caring for patients returning to Australia.  On their return to Orange the local branch of the Red Cross Society hosted a reception at the Town Hall, which was extravagantly decorated with flags, bunting and pot plants for the occasion.  Speeches were made by the Mayor, Alderman Edwin McNeilly, Mrs Hodges, of the Red Cross Society and Mr J M Paul, a probationer at Orange District Hospital.

The nurses spent a hectic 10 days in Orange before travelling to Melbourne and embarking on the Euripides for the voyage back to Egypt.  In Cairo Kath resumed her friendship with Gordon Carter and in June they became engaged.  A couple of weeks later Carter was sent to France and Kath and Wynne to Netley Hospital near Southampton in England where they tended seriously wounded soldiers.  Kath and Gordon were married on 31 January 1917 in the Parish Church at Southall, with Wynne as bridesmaid.  Kath’s marriage meant the end of her Army nursing career because married women were forced to resign.  However, as her husband was still on active service in France, she remained in England, finding work at Harefield Hospital, where she cared for sick and wounded Australian soldiers.  She nursed there for a few months, leaving when expecting their first child.  Wynne continued nursing in England and France until June 1918, when she returned to Australia.  In 1919 she travelled to India, where she nursed in various British hospitals.

Kath and Wynne’s names appear on the Holy Trinity Church Orange Honour Roll.

* Edwards, Elisabeth 2011, In sickness and in health: how medicine helped shape Orange’s history, Orange City Council, Orange, NSW

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Ursula Mary Carter

Ursula Mary Carter was born in Sydney in 1887 to Herbert James and Antoinette Charlotte Carter. She was working at Prince Alfred Hospital when World War I started, and was one of the first Australian nurses to offer her services to the AIF. Ursula enlisted on 1 October 1914, and embarked the following month, bound for Alexandria.

She nursed in Egypt, where she was promoted to sister in December 1915. After spending 15 months in Egypt, she was sent to France, but the constant exposure to cold and wet conditions resulted in her catching a severe case of laryngitis. Sick and rundown, she recovered in a London hospital.

In January 1917 she returned to Australia for extended leave and left Australia for the second time in May 1917. As the ship neared its destination, Sister Carter fell and injured her left knee. The injury proved so debilitating that she was unable to resume nursing service and was discharged and returned to Australia in October that year. When she was appointed to Orange District Hospital in August 1927 she had been matron of Queanbeyan Hospital for the past three years. She was matron of Orange District Hospital until 1930.

Ursula’s brother, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Gordon Carter, married Orange nurse Kath King, with whom Ursula had nursed at Prince Alfred Hospital.

* Edwards, Elisabeth 2011, In sickness and in health: how medicine helped shape Orange’s history, Orange City Council, Orange, NSW

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Gladys Elizabeth Clare Boon

Nurse Gladys Boon, Salonika, 1917. Image courtesy Jane Absolom.

Nurse Gladys Boon, Salonika, 1917, by Francis William Sabey*. Image courtesy Jane Absolom.


Gladys Elizabeth Clare Boon was born in Goulburn in 1891, the daughter of David and Elizabeth Boon. Her father, David, later joined the police force and the family relocated to Orange.

Nurse Boon trained at Orange District Hospital under Matron Dooly, resigning her position as head nurse in December 1916 to move to Sydney and work at Randwick Hospital.

She enlisted in April 1917 and embarked from Melbourne in June that year. Gladys served in Egypt and Salonika before undertaking a 3-month long course in Domestic Economy at Battersea Polytechnic in London in April 1919. She returned to Australia in August that year.

In July 1925 Gladys and Arthur Firkin were married at the Methodist Church in Orange. Gladys died in Manly in 1948.

Gladys’ name appears on the Methodist Church Orange Honour Roll.

Leader, 29 August 1919, p. 7.
Nurse Boon

*  Francis William Sabey (1892-1987) was a Yorkshireman who served in the Motor Transport section in Salonika during WWI. In September 1917 he was a patient of the 50th General Hospital, where he met Nurse Boon. An amateur artist, Sabey passed his time recovering from malaria painting landscapes and creating drawings, including this one of Nurse Gladys Boon.

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