While men fight one another, women tend the wounded, and there can be no doubt at all but that theirs is the nobler part. Naturally enough the eyes of the world are on the firing line and sometimes the work of the nurses, from the very firing line to the hospitals is overlooked. It was ever thus. Those who scar the tree of life, a great thinker once said, are remembered by the scars, but those who water its roots have nothing by which they may be known. But theirs is the tree. – Christchurch Star, 3 November 1915
Hospital Ship Kyarra 1914-1918
Inspirational Women of the AANS
World War One was the first test of the fledgling Army nursing services of Australia and New Zealand. For the first time nurses were part of dedicated army services—The Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and the New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS) The declaration of war brought an immediate surge of volunteers among trained nurses keen to serve their country, however waiting lists were so long for overseas postings that at least 130 Australian nurses chose to sail to England to join Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Army Nursing Service. To be accepted into the AANS a nurse had to have completed at least 3 years training in an approved hospital, be aged between 21 and 40, and be either single or widowed.
The first draft of Sisters left Australia in September 1914. Throughout the war, the Nursing Service served wherever Australian troops were sent including places such as Burma, India, the Persian Gulf, Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, and England.
At the start of the war, AANS nurses were made honorary officers, however there were at times soldiers who paid no respect to orders issued by women, so in May 1916 nurses’ status changed to Army Officers and they were given badges of rank.
These women worked long and hard under all kinds of conditions. In the heat and sands of Egypt. On board ill-equipped ships in the Aegean sea near Gallipoli. At primitive medical facilities on the Western Front during France’s coldest winter in a century. And Casualty Clearing Stations where patients lay on stretchers in the mud. Time and again the nurses proved their worth as they removed shrapnel from wounds, assisted with operations, kept up the moral of the recovering men, and comforted the dying for whom they often wrote home to break the sad news of the death of a husband or son.
Matron and nursing staff of the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital. Suez Canal. Feb 1916
After The War
The war forever changed the lives of the nurses and troops who were part of it. Many nurses found it painful to readjust back to civilian life. Some married soldiers—being able to understand what each other had been through. Others found themselves unable to let go of the commitment to caring for their patients. Some continued nursing until age or health forced them to stop. Many were treated shabbily by governments on their return, some having to pay their own passage home, and also not being given the recognition or aid bestowed upon returning soldiers.
During WWI at least 2498 nurses served overseas with the AANS, with around 720 other trained nurses and masseuses serving overseas with various other allied services.
388 nurses were decorated, of which 8 received Military Medals for their courage under fire, 44 received the Royal Red Cross and 143 received the Associate Royal Red Cross.
25 died in service on the field.