The Narooma community has stopped to honour and recognise the contribution of wartime nurses.
Canberra’s Robyn Shackleton made one of the keynote speeches at the town’s war memorial on Anzac Day, not only reflecting on her time as a Navy nurse but also the work of her compatriates in World War 1.
“The Australian Army Nursing Service was formed in July 1903,” Mrs Shackleton told the 400 people gathered.
“During the war, a total of 2,139 Australian nursing sisters served abroad between 1914 and 1918, while a further 423 served at home in Australia.
“There were also more than 3,000 civilian nurses who volunteered for active service during the first world war, working with other organisations such as the Red Cross,” Mrs Shackleton said.
The toll the service took on these women, who had to be unmarried or widowed at the time of enlisting was just as great as the soldiers they treated.
Mrs Shackleton detailed the mud, the bombing, the leaky tents, and the confined spaces of a hospital ship.
“Their war was also against the despair, the agony, and death of so many young, brave soldiers with unimaginable wounds and rampant infection.”
It was work that took them close to the frontline on battlegrounds around the globe – Britain, France, Belgium, India, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.
Mrs Shackleton invited her audience to imagine themselves in one of the hospital ships many nurses worked in.
“Wards on the lower decks were crowded and poorly ventilated, even simple nursing tasks were made difficult by the movement of the ship, seasickness struck down nurses and patients alike,” Mrs Shackleton said.
“Medical supplies were limited and there was a desperate lack of fresh water.
“Port and sugar warmed with water were used as a painkiller when morphine and other medications were not available,” she said.
“Despite the constant threat of Turkish shelling or torpedoes, the exhausted nurses cleaned, bandaged, warmed and comforted their patients.”
Anzac Day In Narooma.Ian
Posted by About Regional on Tuesday, 24 April 2018
Twenty-five Australian nurses died in World War 1, while seven received the highest bravery award available to them:
- Dorothy Cawood
- Clara Deacon
- Mary Jane Derrer
- Alice Ross-King
- Alicia Kelly
- Rachael Pratt
- Pearl Corkhill.
All received the Military Medal, “for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire” while working in casualty clearing stations in France, Mrs Shackleton said.
“During one bombing raid in August 1917, Sister Kelly shielded her patients’ heads with enamel wash basins and bedpans.
“A chaplain found her in a hospital tent, holding a wounded man’s hand as the bombs fell – I couldn’t leave my patients,” Mrs Shackleton detailed.
“Nurses to this day continue to serve with distinction in the military.”
Adding to Mrs Shackelton’s words, the Narooma Community Choir sang “Rose of No Man’s Land”.
Written by Jack Caddigan and James Alexander Brennan and published in 1918, the song is a tribute to the nurses of the Red Cross:
There’s a rose that grows on “No Man’s Land”
And it’s wonderful to see,
Tho’ its spray’d with tears, it will live for years,
In my garden of memory.
It’s the one red rose the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s hand;
Mid the War’s great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of “No Man’s Land”.
Out of the heavenly splendour,
Down to the trail of woe,
God in his mercy has sent her,
Cheering the world below;
We call her “Rose of Heaven”,
We’ve learned to love her so.
Choir President, Lynda Ord says women have always played a significant role in wartime and it was important to recognise that and recommit ourselves to peace.
On top of singing, the choir coordinated the making of around 600 red and purple crocheted poppies that were handed to the crowd.
“We wanted to do something tangible to show our support for veterans and current serving members and this seemed a nice way to do it,” Ms Ord said.
The choir went on to lay a wreath made of their handmade poppies in memory of the nurses they sang about.
*This article first appeared on RiotACT