History Parkes

stories, photos, anecdotes….. sharing the past

Invisible Angels – Nurses in the Great War

While soldiers immediately come to mind when remembering those who served in the war, the almost-hidden angels were the medical teams – largely dominated by women, serving as nurses. Parkes had several nurses who served during WW1 with Sister Isobel Rose Smith, Sister Mary Ann Hutton, Matron Rose Ann Creal, Sister Florence Lynch and Sister Grace Linda Tomlinson all either leaving from the Parkes Shire or upon returning from service came to call the Parkes Shire their home.

Isobel Rose Smith listed on Nominal Roll for Embarkation on board HMAT A38

Nominal Roll for Embarkation for HMAT A38 Ulysses. Isobel Rose Smith is listed in the bottom half. Source: http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_LARGE/RCDIG1067536/RCDIG1067536–450-.JPG

Isobel Rose Smith

Not a lot is known about Sister Isobel Rose Smith. She was born in Parkes and was nursing here before she enrolled to head to Europe during World War 1. Smith enlisted in Sydney on 4th December 1916 and set sail on board HMAT A38 Ulysses on 9th May 1917. Sister Smith served in England and France before returning to Australia on 1st June 1919. Smith stayed in Parkes for nearly three years nursing before moving to Randwick to continue her vocation. Nursing was in the genes with Isobel’s sister, Georgina Gertrude Smith, being Matron of Western Suburbs Hospital and was awarded The Order of the British Empire – Member (Civil) in 1937. Isobel Smith only has one mention in Western Champion and this was detailing her move to Randwick (Western Champion Parks NSW Thursday 17 July 1919 page 12) No photos have been found as yet of Isobel Rose Smith.

Mary Ann Hutton

Mary Ann Hutton was born in Glen Innes (1871) and died in the same town (23rd September 1956). According to the Australian War Memorial’s embarkation records, she was living in Parkes when she enlisted to serve with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS).  Hutton had a difficult start to her nursing during the Great War. While aboard RMS Mooltan heading for Salonika, she fell during a storm and injured her pelvis. After 12 months of nursing wounded soldiers, she contracted dysentery and was discharged as medically unfit, returning to Australia 30th November 1918.

Nominal Roll for Embarkation on board RMS

Australian Imperial Force – Nomination Roll. Embarkation for RMS “Mooltan” lists Mary Ann Hutton, resident of Parkes, NSW Source: http://static/awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_LARGE/RCDIG1067536/RCDIG1067536–455-.JPG

Group portrait of Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) sisters from Qld, NSW, Vic, Tas, and SA, bound for Salonica, Greece on the RMS Mooltan

Photograph of Mary Ann Hutton with Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) sisters from Qld, NSW, Vic, Tas, and SA, bound for Salonica, Greece on the RMS Mooltan. Mary Ann Hutton is furtherst left in the third row from the front. Source: Australian War Memorial website (which also lists all known names of nurses present)

Rose Ann Creal

One of the most iconic nurses in Australian history began her nursing career in Parkes hospital. Rose was born in a place called “Five Mile Rush” (near Young) on 3rd November 1965 and like so many children of the time, young Rose had experienced the deaths of family members by the time she was seven years old. Her mother and newborn brother died in 1872. This left her father, John Creal, to raise two sons and three daughters. He was already twice widowed, and still managed to work and educate his children (not uncommon at the time as Young did not yet have a school) By fifteen, Rose was already showing she had the makings of a hardworking nurse – being specially called for when a surgeon was in great trouble and didn’t feel he was getting enough support from the other nurses. This in turn led to her being recommended to work at Sydney Hospital. Source: Nursing in war and peace: the life of Matron Rose Creal (1865-1921).. (n.d.) >The Free Library. (2014). Retrieved May 01 2015 from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Nursing+in+war+and+peace%3a+the+life+of+Matron+Rose+Creal+(1865-1921).-a0202253091

Photograph of Matron Rose Ann Creal from Parkes owned by Australian War Memorial

Matron Rose Ann Creal from Parkes. Photo from Australian War Memorial

Sister Rose Creal rose quickly through the ranks at Sydney Hospital, becoming Senior Sister and then Acting Matron, before receiving the job of matron officially. In 1899 she became a founding member and councillor of the Trained Nurses’ Association of New South Wales (Source: http://nurses.ww1anzac.com/cr.html) According to some of her colleagues, she “…was a strict disciplinarian but did her utmost to promote the welfare of those under her care, thereby winning both respect and admiration. She was a large, handsome woman of extraordinary strength and could not understand why some of her staff found their twelve-hour shifts exhausting.” (Source: http://nurses.ww1anzac.com/cr.html) In 14th August 1916 she enlisted with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and five days later was on board HMAT A63 Karoola bound for Egypt. Creal was Principal Matron at 14th Australian General Hospital (AGH) in Egypt. Creal had been responsible for training many of the newly enrolled nurses in AANS and now was taking charge of a hospital in a warzone. Her actions and attitude are described on the Nursing in war and peace website: Despite Creal’s dominance in the AANS in Egypt at a time when the Australian lighthorsemen were gaining folklore status, there is minimal historical information about Creal as a military nurse leader. The letters and postcards of nurses who served under her at 14 AGH describe a matron who was kind, firm and just. She met her new recruits at the station to personally welcome them to Egypt. It was necessary for Creal to treat her military hospital nurses, who trained in various hospitals throughout Australia and indeed the world, the same as she treated ‘her’ Sydney Hospital nurses. One new recruit to the 14 AGH who trained at Sydney Hospital wrote to her mother: ‘Matron is so good to our girls tho’ we won’t admit it to anyone.’ There is no evidence that Creal gave preferential treatment to Sydney Hospital nurses–she was ‘good’ to all nurses who were under her leadership. Once acute casualties were appropriately managed, Creal allowed her nurses to care for their sick or wounded brothers, friends or loved ones. She attempted to give her nurses additional leave when they had friends or brothers in town on military leave. One nurse recorded that Creal tried to dissuade her nurses from volunteering for service in Salonica because of the shocking conditions endured by those who served on this front. Creal instigated a program whereby the staff of 14 AGH sent ‘parcels of groceries to the girls in Salonica’ because of the scarcity of foodstuffs. Sister Lowrey (AANS) sent a postcard to her Sydney Hospital training colleague, Sister Campbell (AANS), who was in Salonica. Lowrey reported that ‘Matron Creal has a puppy dog and it sleeps on her bed’; a very comforting thought for her friend, who was living an abnormal life under dismal wartime conditions. At an administrative level Creal had the double task of keeping the two Australian matrons-in-chief (Miss Tracey Richardson, Melbourne, and the matron-in-chief in England, Miss Evelyn Conyers, Horseferry Rd, London) fully informed. She was also responsible for chaperoning white, Christian women in a religiously diverse country as they cared for thousands of men. Creal–although told by her superiors that nurses should not be encouraged to marry–attended a number of their weddings in Egypt. She didn’t break the rules and those who married were not allowed to return to duty, but she certainly did not judge them harshly for making such a decision. She was a disciplinarian but staunchly defended any accusation of misconduct laid against her nurses with vigour. Rose Creal had a civilising presence at an uncivilised time in history. Source: Nursing in war and peace: the life of Matron Rose Creal (1865-1921).. (n.d.) >The Free Library. (2014). Retrieved May 01 2015 from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Nursing+in+war+and+peace%3a+the+life+of+Matron+Rose+Creal+(1865-1921).-a0202253091 The official historian of the Sinai campaign, H. S. Gullett, recorded that there were

 ... no words which to tell of the service of the splendid band of
 Australian nursing sisters who, under the inspiration of ... Rose
 Creal, matron at the No. 14 General Hospital, greeted the battered
 men from the front as they reached hospital and nursed them back to
 strength, or softened the close of their soldier life. 
H. S. Gullett, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18: Sinai and Palestine, vol. 7, Sydney, 1944, p645 referenced in Nursing in war and peace: the life of Matron Rose Creal (1865-1921).. (n.d.) >The Free Library. (2014). Retrieved May 01 2015 from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Nursing+in+war+and+peace%3a+the+life+of+Matron+Rose+Creal+(1865-1921).-a0202253091

For her services in Egypt Matron Creal was awarded the Royal Red Cross (1st Class) in the New Year honours of 1919. She returned to Australia in January 1920 and was demobilized in May; in April she had resumed her position as matron of Sydney Hospital. Next year, following an attack of appendicitis, she died on 7 August. One obituary described her as ‘sympathetic, yet firm, and thoroughly capable and conscientious’. She was accorded a military funeral, her nurse’s cap lying on the flag-draped gun-carriage. Hundreds of people had to be turned away from the memorial service in St James Anglican Church, and the funeral procession to Waverley cemetery was one of the most impressive seen in Sydney. The Rose Creal Medal, established in her honour, is the highest award made by Sydney Hospital to students of the Lucy Osburn School of Nursing. Source: MacDonnell, F. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981 http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/creal-rose-ann-5814

The Royal Red Cross 1st Class medal with Faith Hope Charity 1883 the words listed on the medal

The Royal Red Cross 1st Class which was awarded to Rose Creal for her sterling efforts during the Great War. Source: Australian War Memorial

Florence Lynch

Originally from Walgett, after her service during World War One – in which she received the Greek Military Medal 4th Class for conspicuous service – Lynch became the matron of Peak Hill Hospital in 1922 and remained there until her death in 1943.

The Greek Military Medal 4th Class

The Greek Military Medal 4th Class which was awarded to Florence Lynch for her “conspicuous service” Source: Imperial War Museums

Photograph of Florence Lynch

Group portrait of nursing staff of the 13th Australian General Hospital at Enoggera in Queensland. From left to right, back row: Staff Nurses Sarah Cairns, Phillips, Catherine Reid Black, Cave, Caroline Rose Griffith, Annie Isabel Warner, Janet Barron, Burt, Gertrude May Skyring, Martha May Homewood. Front row: Staff Nurses Rowe, Bryden, Sister Florence Lynch, Matron Emily Anne Ralston, Sister Goodman, Staff Nurses Lawson and Edith Mary Toft. Source: Australian War Memorial

Grace Linda Tomlinson

Grace was originally from Shepparton in Victoria, but had moved to “Braeside” in Bogan Gate. At age 26 she enlisted with AANS and embarked at Melbourne on board HMAHS Kyarra heading to Bombay, India.

Embarkation Roll featuring Grace Tomlinson of Bogan Gate

Embarkation Roll featuring Grace Tomlinson of Bogan Gate. Source: Australian War Memorial

Tomlinson served her country in Victoria War Hospital and Garard F Thomas Hospital – both in Bombay before temporarily working on the hospital ship Varasova. She discharged medically unfit 23rd May 1921 and returned home.

The Legacy of Australian Nurses from World War 1

While many historians have documented how the ANZACs – our soldiers – were noteworthy for their attitude and dedication to their duty, Australian nurses in the Great War were also raising the bar in their vocation. As noted on www.anzacday.org.au the nurses from Australia were recognised for their hardworking yet compassionate nature in difficult situations:

The first draft of Sisters in the Australian Army Nursing Services (AANS) left Australia in September 1914; and throughout the war, the Nursing Service served wherever Australian troops were sent, and numerous other countries besides these. Most also served in British hospitals in various theatres of war.

They served in places such as Burma, India, The Persian Gulf, Egypt, Greece, Italy, France and England.

The record of service for these Sisters is a brilliant one, and one which set a very high standard for all who were to follow. The following statistics are noteworthy:

  • more than 2286 nurses served overseas
  • more than 423 served in Australia
  • 25 died
  • at least 388 were decorated (seven Military Medals were awarded to Australian Nurses for their courage under fire).

To put into some perspective the workloads and consequent stresses these nurses endured, consider:

During the First World War, a one thousand bed hospital, in Cairo, completely under tentage, without any floor covering was staffed by 1 Matron, 15 Sisters and 30 Staff Nurses with male medical orderlies from the Australian Army Medical Corps. In 1917, in France, the hospital had to be extended to 2,000 beds during a “heavy rush”.

Compare this to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1990… 700 beds and a staff of 670 nurses, excluding administration and education. Acting under such adverse conditions, these ladies proved themselves to be of awesome dedication, courage and spirit, and truly professional. Source: http://www.anzacday.org.au/history/ww1/overview/nurses.html

One comment on “Invisible Angels – Nurses in the Great War

  1. Bren Hand
    October 25, 2015

    What an interesting page, very informative highlighting for me an unknown part of the Australian efforts in WW1.

    Liked by 1 person

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