War Nursing

Sister Clare Deacon MM (AOT, PH30/1/5314)

For most Tasmanians the image of war is one of the Australian soldier charging up some desolate hill or defending a remote outpost, but there is another, less recognisable image. Tasmanian nurses have also been part of those battles. As members of the Australian Army Nursing Service and other military nursing services, Tasmanian nurses have been under fire during every conflict in which the Australian soldiers have been involved since the South African War of 18991901.

Of 89 Tasmanian nurses who served in the First World War, six were awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal, and Clare Deacon won the Military Medal for continuing to care for her patients through an artillery attack. Notable later nurses were Margaret Anderson in the Second World War, who won the George Medal, and Nellie Espie, who served in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam, won the Royal Red Cross medal and became a colonel. Tasmanian nurses have worked long hours, often in appalling conditions, to provide care for the combatants from both sides of the conflicts. They have been confronted with the horrors, grief and destruction of war, and through their stamina, bravery and devotion to duty, they have provided nursing that epitomises the notion of caring.

Further reading: J Bassett, Guns and brooches, Melbourne, 1992; L Deacon, Beyond the call, Launceston, [2000]; J Simons, While history passed, Melbourne, 1954.

Cheryl Norris