Tuesday 23rd April, 2019
I learnt something new this ANZAC Day.
Every ANZAC Day has a theme, and that is featured on the ANZAC Day poster.
This year it is Military Nurses.
I have a history of family in the army, including service as nurses.
I also have a number of nurses in the family not in the military.
So this theme resonates for me.
As part of my Samhain observances, I decided to dedicate this blog post to the Military Nurses.
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as ANZACs, and the pride they soon took in that name endures to this day.
The 25th of April marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
For more than a hundred years, women have served as nurses in Australia’s armed forces.
During the First World War nurses serving with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) were the only women in the Australian Imperial Force – the force that Australia sent to the war.
A number of Australian women also served with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) or contributed to the war effort overseas through associations like the British, French or Belgian Red Cross or the Young Women’s Christian Association.
Australian nurses served in the Mediterranean, France, Belgium, England, Salonika and India, as well as on hospital ships.
On the Western Front they worked in advanced dressing stations and field hospitals behind the lines, often within range of artillery and subject to aerial bombardment.
By the end of the war more than twenty AANS nurses had died and seven had been awarded the Military Medal for courage under fire.
More than 4000 women served with the AANS during the Second World War, more than 600 with the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service and sixty with the Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service.
They deployed to an even wider variety of locales than their predecessors, reflecting the global nature of the war and the extent of Australia’s involvement in the campaigns against Germany and her European allies, and against Japan in Asia and the Pacific.
Australia’s Second World War nurses faced considerable danger and seventy-eight lost their lives.
Nurses were among the thousands of Australians who became prisoners of the Japanese, suffering more than three years of severe privation in poorly equipped, crowded and unsanitary camps.
After the Second World War Australian military nurses served with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, where they tended British Commonwealth servicemen and their families and worked in the major British Commonwealth hospital alongside British Commonwealth doctors and nurses.
During the Korean War in the early 1950s, Australian nurses served in South Korea and Japan and on medical evacuation flights.
In the following decade they played an important role in Australia’s longest war of the twentieth century, the Vietnam War, many of them serving in the main Australian hospital at Vung Tau.
Over recent decades the ranks of female military personnel have swelled and women are now to be found in most branches of the Australian Defence Force.
From 1972 onwards, men were permitted to serve within the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps.
Women still serve as military nurses, but now also as doctors and in other fields of military medicine.
As well as treating those wounded in the wars and conflicts in which Australians have fought, military nurses now also deploy on peacekeeping operations treating wounded service men and women from Australia and from other countries’ armed forces, and often also local civilians.
- Jan Bassett, Guns and Brooches, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2008.
- Kirsty Harris, More than Bombs and Bandages, Big Sky, Sydney, 2011.
- Melanie Oppenheimer, Australian Women and War, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Canberra, 2008.
- Richard Reid, Just wanted to be there: Australian service nurses, 1899–1999, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 1999.
- Patsy Adam Smith, Australian Women at War, Thomas Nelson, Victoria, 1984.