Army Nurses Day 12 May

During the war

Records show that 2861 women in the AANS served overseas during World War I. Of those women, 25 died during their service. The nurses worked in many countries, including Belgium, Egypt, England, France, Greece and India:

  • at Australian and Allied hospitals near the action and behind the lines in England
  • in casualty clearing stations close to the front line
  • on board hospital ships and trains

Nurses were essential in the complex triage created by British forces to transport and treat sick and wounded soldiers.

Australian nurses also trained to work in veterans' hospitals back home in Australia. Many returned soldiers needed health care after the war.

In late 1914, 25 AANS nurses sailed with the first convoy of the AIF in seven ships:

Another four nurses selected by Dr Frederic Bird from his private hospital in Melbourne sailed on the flag ship, HMAT Orvieto.

The sea voyage formed part of the training for the ambulance, medical and nursing personnel. Some ships in the convoy had well-equipped hospitals. The nurses in charge lectured and trained ambulance staff and regimental medical detachments.

When the first convoy was ordered to remain in Egypt, many of the nurses joined Allied and Australian military hospitals near Cairo.

During the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915, some nurses served in hospital ships off the coast and in primitive hospitals on Lemnos.

By 1916 in France, the AANS provided enough nurses to staff:

  • No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Rouen
  • No. 2 Australian General Hospital at Wimereux

Nurses remained in France until the end of hostilities. They continued to care for the men in hospitals after the war, and on troopships back to Australia.

In early 1916, the Australian Army gave officer rank to the AANS nurses along with badges of rank.

Despite the equal rank, the Army paid the nurses around half what the male officers received. Nurses' wages were so low that they often received financial support from their families while they were away.

Lieutenant Harold Williams was wounded at Peronne in September 1918. After his experience in a casualty clearing station at Daours, Harold recalled admiration for the nurses' work:

In large marquees, nurses, pale and weary beyond words, hurried about. That these women worked their long hours among such surroundings without collapsing spoke volumes for their will-power and sense of duty. The place reeked with the odours of blood, antiseptic dressings, and unwashed bodies … They saw soldiers in their most pitiful state — wounded, blood-stained, dirty, reeking of blood and filth.