I’d like to begin by going back to the beginning and you were born in England and you came out here and spent your first few years in Lithgow. Could you just talk to us about growing up in Lithgow?
It was rather wonderful in a way. We went up there and my father was working in the steel works which from the front of our house you could see it, Hoskins Steelworks, and close enough for us to hear when something broke down and we’d, the kids, would yell to Dad, “Such and such a crane’s broken down, Dad!” He’d know that he’d be out before the night was over. And I think, as we said the other day, that’s where I decided I was going to be a nurse when I grew up.
Tell us about that moment when you think you made that decision.
Well I wasn’t very old. I don’t know if I’d [have] been five even, but we had the telephone on which was really a luxury. People didn’t have the telephone on
and there were a lot of miners’ huts and things about and some of them were corrugated iron and so on, they were really poor people. Someone would come and knock on the door at night and say, ‘Would mother ring the doctor and ask him to come out, that so and so was sick.’ And it used to be that the doctor would say, “I was out last night at a confinement and I’ve been busy
all day. Mother, would you duck around and put a poultice on so and so,” or whatever it was he wanted done. And being a nice, kind lady she used to get me out of bed and take me with her and I would be told to stand in the middle of the room and not to move and I thought it was wonderful. They
had wallpaper, we didn’t have wallpaper but they had wallpaper on their walls and it moved and I never found out for quite a long time why it moved but mother used to come out and grab me by the hand and away we’d go back home. And she was known to have stripped me off in the garden and
hosed me down. I still didn’t know what that was about for many years but I did find out at a later date. But anyhow, also we had another trick. The doctor’s car would come down the road, Model T Ford, and we used to be allowed to put a brick under the wheel and then when he was ready to leave we were allowed to pull the brick out so that, you know, we were constantly
aware of the medical profession and not so much the nursing profession. But I’d be coming home from school sometimes and if a doctor was round about he’d, “Come in till I weigh you and see how you’re getting on.” I used to think this was absolutely wonderful to think he’d take the time to do that, you know. And I think that’s when it started. I never thought of being anything else, never for one minute did I.
Why were the walls moving?
Well there were a sort of insects on them if you know what I mean. Probably six legged ones you know that would give you a nasty nip if they caught up with you.
So there was obviously, the workers’ conditions were quite severe.
Oh yes. In those days they were, definitely. And I can remember one family that we were friendly with, the kids - we all played together - and they had a little wind up gramophone and every now and then they’d break the spring, they’d wind it too hard and they’d come around and knock on the door and say, “Is your father home?” “Yes.” “Do you think he’d mend the spring on the gramophone?” And I can remember my father very plainly one day saying,
“Well they’ll have to keep winding it all the time soon,” because he’d taken so many inches off the spring that it wasn’t going to work. But we were all very happy. It was a wonderful atmosphere. It was a good place to grow up in.
Okay, let’s continue with your growing up. You leave Wollongong, you go to Sydney and study at the school of business.
Business college, oh yes, well I wasn’t old enough to go nursing so I had to do something and my parents said I could go up to Sydney for business college, it was a very well-known one that I can’t think of the name of off hand, and I used to board over at Manly with a dear old lady and come over on the boat with Nancy Bird Walton and her sister. She was the most wonderful thing. There she was going out to learn to fly aeroplanes and we were going into an office and she said her trouble was getting home in the
evening because there were a couple of them out there, I should remember them, like Smithy and Allman and somebody like that, they were going to bring her home but, ‘Oh look, if you’ll just run and do this job for us,’ or something, ‘before we go,’ so she used to be caught up a little bit. She is a lovely person, she really is. Anyhow, I got a job at 2GB. I worked for Jack, George Edwards and his wife Nell and that was very interesting. And then I
became 18 - so I whizzed out to Prince Alfred, almost breathless, and I had a medical and they decided they would take me. It was wonderful. Didn’t realise what I was letting myself in for, but still.
Can you remember that day? Can you tell us a bit of detail about that day?
You were merely told you had to have medicals and so on. They told you they would take you on such and such a day and there might be an intake of so many. At the time we had what they call a preliminary training school where you did a couple of months learning how to do a lot of things that you would learn and that you would have to do in the ward. You know, the scrubbing mattresses and making the wheels on the bed all go the one way
and all this sort of thing. Then we went in one day, went into the wards on the one day, and stayed there for the next four years but that’s where you made your friends that I still have. It carried on when we went into the army, you still had the people that you’d trained with. Today it’s slightly different. I think they come in a car and go. We couldn’t have afforded the petrol in a car, let alone anything else, but they come in a car and they leave in a car and they don’t have that same affiliation. If you go over to the nurses’ home and
go up to your room and you live next door to someone and you would say, “That old so and so - what she made me do today [(UNCLEAR)]. You got it all out of your system, it was wonderful.
What was the relationship like between the nurses and the women doctors?
Oh well we did as they told us. They would tell you to do such a thing - they were quite friendly and the patients were gorgeous. We loved the patients and they used to keep the papers for us or they’d keep lollies for us and all this sort of thing and we had a very good relationship with them because they spent ever so much longer in the hospital. They used to have to pay, I think it was about threepence or something like that, they used to have to pay when
their visitors who came into the hospital to visit. And night duty was another thing. You had a kerosene lamp and if you were junior you had to clean the globe and put blue paper off the cotton wool in so that just a little beam of light came out and shone on the locker when they put it on the locker. You couldn’t have a light blazing out all over the place but we had to do all sorts of things. You had to cut the bread and butter for breakfast the next morning, boil bandages. Oh you learned all sorts of things. And then, I must have been - don’t know if I was in third year or fourth year – …
Before we move onto the war, because obviously that was a big moment, I want to just go back a little bit and talk about the Depression because you would have been very conscious of the Depression.
Oh that was, yes, hat was mainly after - while we were still in high school down at Wollongong. It had a very big effect on the town down there, especially with the steel works cutting down quite a few things, and it was nothing to come home and say to mother, “You should have seen Mr so and so today.” You’d be walking down and men would be digging trenches and you’d see neighbours or lawyers or solicitors and what not digging in the
trenches and they didn’t mind, they were getting their money. We used to have a queue coming to see my father at night. Mother used to say, “Let him have his evening meal before you come and bother him,” because it was a short train trip from Wollongong Station out to the steel works and she used to think he should sit down and relax before he was attacked, you know. It was amazing what happened. There were men who used to go up the mountains and come down with rabbits. You had people coming around with cakes and things. It was wonderful the ingenuity of some people and
what they did do to make ends meet and you used to feel embarrassed you were wearing shoes to school and other kids didn’t have shoes, you know. It was sad. I think they were dreadful times, absolutely dreadful. I don’t think I could tell you any more about it.
You just told that wonderful story of putting the blue paper around the light. Obviously you became a nurse and a sister at a particular time in history in the 20th century. Tell us more of the things you did to train as a nurse.
Well you started off doing very menial things you know, as I said, and you scrubbed mackintoshes and you scrubbed bed pans and you did all those things and, you know, sometimes when you went out and you were scrubbing bed pans, you got it off your chest and what Sister had said to you or what Head Nurse had said to you or something like that. You really, we had a wonderful time and we used to have to, when you made a bed all the wheels had to face the one way and if she found one facing the wrong way you got into trouble. All this sort of thing, you know, and we’d go out to the pan room, as it was known as, and you got it off your chest there by doing all the scrubbing and cleaning.
And did you immediately want to become a nurse in the army?
I don’t think I was quite through my training. I can’t remember that. But as soon as you were – oh and I’d had the measles or something when I was there and you had to make up time that you had off duty and this sort of thing, you know, so you couldn’t say, “Well I’ll be through on the first of the month,” because you might have time to make up and so on. But when I finally did get to Matron and announced that I wanted to join up, she said, “I’m sorry but you can’t.” I looked stunned and she said, “I’m keeping you for another 12 months,” so she put me down in that preliminary training school, teaching kids to make beds and turn the wheels the right way and scrub bed pans and mackintoshes. For 12 long months I supervised them doing that. And then we had another old sister who married and lived in – where PA is, can’t think of it – anyhow she had classes of young girls she was teaching first aid to in case it was necessary and she used to bring them down for me to lecture
them. It was a bit rough, I was spending my evenings lecturing to her little girls. She went to Matron and she said “Don’t you let her go” which I thought was very miserable. Matron let me go when she was ready, I must admit. She did keep me quite a while.
And one of your brothers joined the service didn’t he?
My elder brother, he was in the air force. He joined up very early on and he went over to the Middle-East, Number 3 Squadron. They were the first squadron over there. I’m not too sure when they went but he was there. They had spitfires. Did you watch the funeral the other night, the Queen Mother, and they came through. I thought, ‘I know a couple of the boys that are still around that were in his unit and they’d be thrilled to see that.’ But, he developed some, anyway his legs were not doing any good at all and they sent him to Melbourne. And he wrote to me and said, “I’ve got to have such and such an operation. Would you write and tell Mum?” I thought, ‘Not me, I’m not going to do that.’ But I had to do it in the end of course but he was not a well boy from there on in and he came and lived with me for many years, walking was a difficulty.
And at that stage you were dreaming of going, where did you imagine you’d go?
I was going to be Winnie the War Winner. I wasn’t sure where I’d go but still. No I, everyone went to Concord to start with and I went out to Concord and I wasn’t kept there very long. I went up to Dubbo from Concord. Dubbo had a camp hospital because they had a big army camp there, so we didn’t have quarters at the camp, we had quarters behind the local hospital. Every morning we’d be driven out in an ambulance to spend the day there and brought back home at night. And they got the measles and the mumps and
the chicken pox. What happens when you put lots of people together, these wogs take over and we had quite a time with these various things but from there they closed the camp down, that’s right, because things were moving and they didn’t need it. They never told you what they were doing it for but you took it and one of the things we did, we knew we had to move and we had a little dog called Koko ‘cause he used to dance and he was a bit like – what’s the little Japanese story? Anyhow, I rang mother up and she already
had a pup and I said, “I’m sending down a puppy on such and such a train,” and so on and so forth and then she rang to say, “No.” The stationmaster in Sydney was most upset because another dog had eaten all the labels off the dogs, so he had these dogs there and no labels. Oh dear, oh dear. Anyway she finally got Koko and she loved that dog and the dog loved her and when she died we couldn’t get her to eat, we couldn’t get her to do anything, she wanted mother. I thought of all the time I’d spent with her and [(UNCLEAR)] no.
We missed a big moment there, all of a sudden your fiancé is on the scene. When did you meet?
When did we meet. We met in Dubbo. That’s right. And from there we all ended up in Tamworth and we weren’t aware of it at the time but we used to have to march into the township, we used to have to do so many laps of the pool, and the cooks would bring the dinner in, such as it was, you’d have your meal and then march back to the camp. We weren’t aware at that stage but they were getting us ready. See they’d lost the girls from Singapore and some had drowned and some had been shot and a lot, they’d had to swim, and a lot couldn’t swim and they were really toughening us up. We didn’t realise that. We used to have a lovely time coming back from Tamworth. So we were in Tamworth and we used to have to play softball and what not. Have you ever heard of Reg Beddington? He was a famous batsman and he was on the medicos’ side, so when he’d hit a ball, we’d all go looking for it. It used to take a long time to find it, I’m telling you.
the road that went through the camp and many years later, or quite a few years later, my young son was in having his tonsils out. He was in the children’s hospital here and at that stage I worked in Macquarie Street in a doctor’s surgery so I finished up my work, raced down and grabbed a cab – “Children’s
Hospital!” – you know, desperately. “Okay Sis, we’ll get there.” I said, “Beg your pardon?” He said, “Don’t you know me?” I said, “No, I don’t think I do.” He said, “Don’t you remember the night I came back AWOL [Absent Without Leave] and I jumped out the back of a truck and broke my ankles?” And I hadn’t reported him as being out but he knew me and that was most unusual. Anyway that was a little story for you.
were getting ready to go overseas and all of a sudden out of the blue came the Manpower and we were all sent here, there and everywhere. And three of us were sent to Collarenebri and we said, “Where’s that?” “Head west.” So we headed west and it was New Year’s Day, we were on the train, most unhappy the three of us and we finally reached Collarenebri and then somebody picked us up and I know we got to the hospital and the matron came out and said, “Oh youse have arrived have youse?” (Don’t put that in) and we nearly
died. ‘What have we come to?’ Well we got to know a few people, a fellow who had the local store and he used to have a little afternoon drinking session with some of his friends and if we were off duty we were welcome to go down there and have a little beer or a whisky and then tootle back home. That was good fun but it was awful hot weather around Christmas time and the creek just about dried up so the water supply wasn’t too good. And there was a horse dead in the creek and so we spoke to the policeman and a few other people and said that we objected to drinking dead horse water. “Oh,” he said, “you want to go up a bit further and see what’s up further, you wouldn’t
be drinking it at all.” So you had to wonder a bit about Collarenebri. Then the laundress’s son developed an acute appendix and a little doctor had just come up from Sydney and I don’t think he’d done an operation on his own and he had to remove the appendix so it was rather funny with the three of us saying, “Do this, do that. Don’t do that,” and I was what we call ‘the dirty nurse’. I wasn’t scrubbed up, I wasn’t sterile, so I couldn’t touch the patient but I could get things for them or do things. We always had a ‘dirty nurse’. And there was something we wanted and I flew out the door or tried to fly out the door but I hit his mother, she was down on her knees praying to God and thanking him for sending us up there. He did remarkably well that boy. I’d forgotten about that.
So, when do you eventually head back to Sydney?
Well, I didn’t go back to Sydney but we used to ring one another up I think. Ray was further down the track and we’d ring back to the camp and say, because there was still a skeleton staff at camp, ring back and say, “We’ve only had about one patient,” or, “We’ve had this or that.” The girls were all doing the same thing and the Manpower had put us there and one day somebody was on the phone back at camp and I was speaking to one of the senior fellows and he said, ‘Where was I,’ and he said, “Put her on, I want to
speak to her. How many patients have you seen?” and blah, blah, blah. And so I told him and he said, “God Almighty, we can’t afford that.” The others wouldn’t pay them and so we got back from Collarenebri very smartly because they couldn’t afford to keep us there. It was an experience and a half I must admit, between the dead horse and the laundry lady, I’ll never forget that. But I did. You’re making me remember things I shouldn’t remember.
I’m interested to know when you learn the news that you’re going to be getting on a boat and heading overseas?
Well we knew that sort of thing but we didn’t know where we were going or when we were going. They don’t really tell you till the very last minute. You’re almost putting your foot over the side of the ship but we came, I suppose we were told to pack up and come down to Sydney and I think we might have spent the night at Concord, I’m not sure, and we went into Central Station and there wasn’t a train. But we finally got a train and we got up to
Newcastle with a meat pie and something that was handed to us to keep us going. There was something that wasn’t quite right about that but we finally got on, we were on a hospital ship, we finally got onto the ship and there were other units that had joined us there. It was a big ship and – there’s something I can’t remember, about our activity there between the train and being on the ship. But we eventually set sail for Morotai.
And we went up round the top of Queensland, Cape York, round that way and somebody pointed to New Guinea, I remember that. If you put this in I’ll clobber you. We pulled up at some place for water, it must have been ...
anyhow the Yanks were on the island, Rabaul’s that side and it was on this side. Anyway so the CO [Commanding Officer] said, “Any of you go ashore, I’ll cut your throat.” But Matron went ashore and went up and had a look at their premises but we weren’t allowed ashore and I would have to look it up on a map to see where it was. But they had a launch going round and round the ship all night so that nobody could land, protecting their little girls.
Where did we go from there? We finally went to our little island home and it had a lovely big harbour. But you know the Yanks were there too. And the hospital ship being a big ship had to pull up outside. It couldn’t go into the wharf and it was lovely. We watched our cabin trunks go over the side, mine’s still alive, somebody’s got it, it’s still got the dents in the side it got, and they went down and they were taken ashore and there were people on the
beach wondering what on earth was happening to us. But it took ages before we were landed and we had to get into tiny little things to go ashore and Ray said, “What the ... so and so ... was all the fuss about?” I said, “It wasn’t our fault.” But we had arrived, we arrived with gusto in Morotai, I don’t mind telling you. It was fun and games but the Yanks were getting ready to go somewhere, do something, round and round, really and truly. So we
were put in trucks, I think, and taken up the hill and we had to go through a gate and this huge wire fence, about 8 feet or more, and we went up there and there were rows of tents and things and I was called, you knew many are chosen and few are called or many are called and few are chosen, whatever it is, but I had been in the mess in Tamworth so it was automatic that the minute I put my feet to the ground on the island, I go to the dining room and start to get the lunch ready. Ah dear, it’s really beautiful the things that happened and then you’ve seen the picture of the girls sweeping up the papers and things? So then I said, “Oh, Matron, excuse me but which tent am I in?” because on the ship on the way up you’d had to say who you wanted to tent with. And I was only [(UNCLEAR)] that
the girl I wanted to move in with was a captain. Dear oh dear. Well that couldn’t be worked out but word came back to us later that the three of us could share a tent but we had to have another girl in with us. So the three of us shared the tent, plenty of room for three. We weren’t …. So my dearly beloved came down and dug a trench around the tent but he didn’t dig one deep enough, being a doctor he wouldn’t. And it rained that night and the water came in a bit but you accepted that. Told him the next morning what I
thought of him, just a few well chosen words. But I should have some lovely pictures of Morotai. But we were under the coconut palms which wasn’t good, and the guards were going round and round the outside of the thing. I remember one morning, the AAMWS [Australian Army Medical Women's Service] they used to come and tidy up the tents a bit and this little girl, she let out an almighty yell. My duties included the housework and the meals and housework as it were, seeing the tents were alright, so I went to see what was happening to this child. I thought anything could have happened and, a crab like this, chasing her.
I started running too, no way I was having the crab and the guard fired a shot and killed it. Well then, of course, all hell was let loose because a shot had been fired and we had to explain, how, when, where and why. But there was nothing else would have stopped it. It was an enormous crab, nightmares thinking about that. But we survived that and then eventually I, I used to have a whale of a time. Matron would say, “The CO’s coming up to do rounds.” This pernickety old WW1 feller and, before we left Sydney
we got a whole lot of hessian and it makes lovely curtain and things so we put the odd curtain around the toilets and the showers and so on, well he nearly had a fit. He came into the toilets with me and he’s going around and saying, “That’s where the mosquitoes are. That’s where you’re most likely to be bitten.” And then when he found we had curtains in the shower recess he nearly had a fit. But anyhow I went back to Matron and I said, “What you did to me, do you know where the mosquitoes get?” and she said, “No, and I don’t want to know.” But you had to do all these jobs, you had to go around and check on everything. Oh and then we got a hairdresser, we’d never had a hairdresser in our lives, we got a hairdresser. Little girl …
We’ll talk about your nursing. We want to talk about the whole of your life and then we’ll come back and do the details. So you’re on Morotai and VJ Day happens.
I gotta think. Well I was on duty. Oh I have to tell you this. Outside our gates was a radar station which was run by the Americans. Now we weren’t supposed to know they were there, we were supposed to walk past, eyes right, and you didn’t see what was on the left so it got to the stage where you might say, “It’s going to rain this afternoon,” and they’d say something and they’d let us know what was going on. They got news quicker than we did and they knew that it was coming and they would, as we went past nobody
would say hello or goodbye or anything else, but they’d be talking to one another and that’s how we learned all the latest news. So I was on evening duty in the surgical ward and I went down and out of the blue came one of the little doctors that we were friendly with, a clever little boy too, from Victoria, and Bob came in and brought a friend with him, an American who was slightly the worse for wear and I said, they were hungry, they were starving, they’d just come in from somewhere, and I said, “I can’t get anything for you now but if you sit down there and wait until I’m off duty we
can go up to the mess and I can feed you.” And they sat there and it wasn’t a very long, might have been an hour and a half that they were there at the most, and we walked out the tent and all hell was let loose. The hospital ship was in the harbour, had Lady Blamey aboard and my future husband. He was going to Borneo and so was she and everybody said, “Well you’ll never see him again, write him off.” So they’re out in the harbour and every conceivable thing that could fire, a shell or a shot or anything else, did so.
The sky was ablaze. Here I had these two hungry Harrys wanting to be fed. And I’ll never forget it, the Yank that was really drunk said, “Cut that noise out! Stop that noise! Don’t fire that gun! I’m a taxpayer now. I’m paying for that.” He was. He was a taxpayer. He was paying for that. Fortunately I had two escorts. We went up to the mess but people were thrown in the harbour and what not. They all went berserk and the next morning someone came around from one of the Yankee places, be it from down the road or wherever it was, and said, “Anyone have any badges of rank?” because they couldn’t go on duty. They didn’t have any, they cut their badges of rank off, they wouldn’t need them. It was a night and a half, a night to be remembered.
our lines, as they were called, and the women went in there with the children so that they were locked in, the same as we were. And then – we were almost ready to come home and they opened a little club for the Australians. You know, you wanted an escort and a half, you couldn’t go there. But I’m trying to think what else happened.
Oh well, I suppose it would be about that, on a little bit when that big Red Cross ship was brought into harbour, we all left whatever we were doing and went like hairy goats down to the wharf to see it. We were absolutely fascinated and I’m not sure whether they took them off, they’d hang onto the ship I’m sure of that, but they just felt that there was something wrong with it, it wasn’t what it should have been and here they were, all these fellows lined up with bandages on and guns underneath them.
After VJ Day you must have made your way back to Australia?
Not for a while because then what our job was, was to pick up prisoners of war. And we had prisoners of war from all countries. And we specifically went up there to do that, so we had our own boys and our own troops and hospital boys. Went out around the islands looking to see if anyone had been, you know, caught up on an island and got free and we had a very busy period there, very busy. We really worked and it wasn’t, we had the medevac, you know medevac? Medevac is when you decide that a patient
would make it back to Australia on a plane if cared for and the air force then took responsibility for him and they were flown home. They were anxious, didn’t want a long trip on the ship, but we had quite a few medevac and that meant we had RAF coming up and coming back with them, lost me thread now, and we were sending troops on a ship every so often until it got down. I’ve got a book, it could tell you how much longer we were there but I was one of the last 14 nursing sisters to leave the island. But we didn’t come home until the March, I think it was.
You were looking after the prisoners, which I really want to talk to you about in more detail.
Especially when we got Indians or something, or Sikhs, they were naughty but they were lovely. The phone’d ring, “Are you busy?” “Oh, usual.” “Well come down to ward such and such,” and they either had an overflow or, and with the
Indians, they came in one night, a group of them, and they didn’t bring an interpreter. And you weren’t supposed to have a shower after four o’clock because of the mozzies. And they were showered and they got to bed and all seemed well. A little bloke got up and he wanted to go outside. Well they all had to get up and have another shower because an Untouchable had cast his shadow upon them, it was absolutely fascinating. Everybody was called for, as many people as possible to come down and see what we can do about it, and there was never a dull moment really that I am aware of.
Remember one day they had an accident down the road and Matron was looking for someone extra to go in the ute. She came down and couldn’t find anyone in the ward and she came out the back and there was I and she said, “What on earth are you doing?” And this little Pommy boy was hoping to get on the small ship home and he’d been in water up to his knees and accidentally trodden on one of those awful, spiky anemones and he was plucking … , and she said, “I’d better not move you. Stay there.” And then he was getting anxious with the time, gee it was awful, but at least I’d gotten the worst of it out. We only had him for such a short time.
And I’ll tell you another one. I’ve often told this story. We had in both wars, you always had an older man looking after a young one that shouldn’t have been there. And these two came in from Borneo, plaster from head to toe and at that stage the Japs were a little bit active. So all you get was, “If anything happens, Sis, you get under my bed. I’ve got more plaster on me than he has. You’ll be safer under my bed.” The other feller would say, “It serves you jolly well right. If you hadn’t been so damned stupid I wouldn’t be in here either.” Oh dear.
Oh that’s great. And in your training at the RPA [Royal Prince Alfred Hospital], just some of the other things you were telling me about like the theatre, having to boil all the gloves.
You had to sterilise everything and as a junior of course you did the dirty work as it were and at the end of a day’s surgery you had to leave everything in order so they could start again. They might be called out in the middle of the night or start early in the morning and there had to be gloves and things sterilised so that they could do that without, you know, worrying about it, so that sometimes we were very late at night. Sometimes you were called up in the morning depending if there was an emergency, you might be called out of bed and start the day very early or it may go on and you were there for quite some time in the evening. But it was very interesting if you were interested in surgery, it was interesting in the theatres. You progressed from being a junior who just stood around and if somebody wanted something they might ask you to get it, or you might even be asked to hold something which was tremendous and you gradually learned to do things and to become more proficient and become a theatre sister.
Was that useful experience for later on when the war wounds came in?
War wounds were slightly different, I suppose. You’d have soldiers in with normal complaints that people would have in civilian life but we did have quite a few war wounds
and they were cared for to the best of our ability and then, if possible, they were put on a plane and sent back. But when it came to putting them on a plane and sending them back to Australia, they had to take into consideration whether the patient was going to survive the flight and the air force sisters would have to care for them, and I must show you a picture of them coming home in a plane, it wasn’t the easiest of things.
What was it a cut out of?
Of your cap. Your cap turned up in the front and had a little cut out and they could pick you from that and as you went up in years of course your responsibilities went up further and you’d do dressings and the other thing we had to do, which is not done very often these days, rub backs four-hourly. We had to turn the patient over and rub the back and get the circulation moving so that being in bed for any length of time, bed sores, oh my goodness, if somebody had broken skin on their back you were in big trouble and you rubbed backs and made sure you didn’t have any problems.
Also making beds. We had to lift patients up in the bed – a lot of them didn’t lie flat – you lifted them up and you used to put a sheet – a pillow in a sheet – and then the two ends were tied to the back of the bed to keep the person propped up, well you couldn’t really lift on your own. Well sometimes you’d be on duty in the day room, which meant you sponged three or four patients and then you galloped to the day room to cut up bread and butter to go round [with] the breakfast trolley so that you were panicking if you had a patient that wanted lifting, and you might have a couple, and the others were busy and they didn’t want to come and help you, you know you were
not very happy. But usually you find somebody would stop what they were doing and come and help you, that was a double sponge that one. You had to have someone to help tie them up in the bed. I hadn’t thought of that for years.
And you were a nurse for another year before you could go to the army so war had broken out and you were still in the hospital. How did that affect what you were doing, the fact that all the doctors were leaving?
Well, in the preliminary training school, I was training the young ones that wanted to come in so I didn’t become involved actually much with what was going on in the hospital at that time. But I must tell you that my Winnie the War Winner – my big experience or my big, what shall I call it? We had a seven storey building and this school I was attached to was down in the basement so when we had an attack round about Bondi or some place, and if the alarm went off, my duty was to get in the lift and go to the seventh floor, which meant that the weight went to the basement and then I had to tootle down the stairs and that meant that, if anything happened, that weight wouldn’t come down and crash into someone or do something. Very important job I had.
and they’re all wooden and you’d hear ‘clonk, clonk, clonk’ of the army boots coming down the ramp and the most wonderful things would happen. We didn’t think so at the time but looking back they were wonderful, a fellow would see one of his mates that he hadn’t seen and he’d suddenly realise he was alive and well and there were the greatest reunions that went on and you’d go out and say, “Look, you’re supposed to be down at the pack store with your goods. Get down there. You can come back and talk to him later.” But it was wonderful to see them and you had them in bed, they’d be eyeing the AAMWS off that you had in the ward. The minute they could put
their feet to the ground they were out to the day room to help. The day room was like a kitchen where the drinks were made up or water bottles were washed out and put back on lockers and all these sort of things. Look, some of their wives would have been shocked had they seen them, terrific. They’d do the lockers for you and empty ash trays, they were just so thrilled to be home and doing things, you know? But also we had physiotherapists, I think we had about two physios at PA but we had physios out at Concord
and they gave them jobs, not jobs, but taught them how to do things. We had them, they were making at one stage Dutch dolls out of felt and stuffing them and there were Dutch dolls everywhere, then they’d get onto some other thing. Or you’d go to take a meal time [to them] and they had meal tables and you couldn’t put it on the bed table because there was a great loom there. “Don’t move that, Sis, I’m just doing so and so.” They were into the weaving, and you know, it was wonderful. If you had the evening off and there was a movie on, which we had, or Jack Davey and all that crowd used to come out regularly, we had some wonderful shows out there because we
had a big theatre. And you’d take the ones that were ‘up patients’, as we’d call them, and down you’d go and have a wonderful time down there. And then you’d bring them back and you had to get them into bed again and they were all highly excited and full of beans. And the sister on duty wasn’t too pleased with you and you’d have to get them to bed again but you wouldn’t get them to bed until they’d had a cup of coffee or something like that. It turned out to be quite a long night for the rest of us but they thoroughly enjoyed it and I mean, so what? We were in it too. Thinking back they were terrific. When you’d think what they’d been through and what they were probably going to go back to.
had guards around the hospital, it was a real military establishment you know. And you’d just – there’d be a pillow in the bed and you’d think, ‘Oh God! If there was a black out…,” we had a black out, you couldn’t see your nose in front of your face. And you’d think, ‘He might be hit by a ….” It was nothing to be coming home at night, and we’d come to the station and get a bus up, to find one of the patients sitting up in the bus, shouldn’t have been there you know. Oh they were naughty, they wanted to be. Ward 35 was a well known thing out at Concord Hospital if you mentioned ward 35. But that’s where they used to go. What else can I tell you?
I’d tell you, a convoy would come in. A convoy was supposed to go out and a convoy would come in. And sometimes one hadn’t gone out before the other one came in and we used to have confusion around the place but we’d get that sorted out. Everybody, it was like a beehive. Also the air force had number 3 Air Force Hospital down the ramps so they had people coming in and out too, you know. Concord was just extraordinary and as I said to someone one day, very military, and sometimes you’d see the bus coming and you’d be going out and you’d make a dive across the front lawn to catch the bus and the bugler would start and you’d come to attention and you stood there and watch the bus depart for town without you. Being the military was loads of fun but at times was a little inconvenient.
grey button through frock, had your tan shoes and stockings, we wore our veil, we wore a red cape and we had our rank on our shoulders. You’ve seen what we call pips, so you had two, three or whatever on your shoulder. We also had a white apron that we put on and you’d take your cuffs off, we had white cuffs with a stud in them, take your cuffs off, put them in the front of your apron and away you went doing duties and then when you
finished whatever you were supposed to be doing, you’d roll your sleeves down and put your cuffs on again and be regimentally dressed. When we went out we had, we thought it was the most beautiful uniform, it was a grey woollen material, it was a suit, a beautiful suit. Again you had your rank on your shoulders. You had a white shirt and you had a brown tie and we had a lovely hat with a band on it and we carried a little handbag. It was a little wallet, I suppose it might have been four inches long, three inches deep, and
into that you put everything but you weren’t supposed to carry a parcel or anything when you were in uniform and we had our brown gloves, leather gloves, and that was our stepping out uniform. We were very, very proud of that uniform.
down at Narrabeen and starting that. And he really cared for his troops. He was strict, he didn’t like anyone playing up, but he did a wonderful job setting up the hospital. You know it was built in record time and it was the largest hospital and there must have been a lot of admin work that we didn’t know about that he did. He used to have a parade, all the boys who’d been naughty and gone AWOL and so on, and I always remember one little fellow and I said to him this day, “He’s going to throw the book at you,” I said, "you’re a naughty little boy." He used to duck off at the weekends. He said, “Couldn’t care less, Sis,” and I said, "But you should care," and he said, “I’ve
got property out in the country there,” and I think his wife was trying to run it and he used to hire a plane and fly home at the weekends and then come back. I couldn’t tell you what happened to him in the end. I really don’t know. He may have been discharged and sent back to his unit, I haven’t a clue, but he didn’t care how much the old boy charged him, he was going home to help on the property. I think he was still there when I left. Everybody knew Colonel Willie Wood. Then our matron was a colonel, Hope Croll.
When you say ‘such and such’ what kind of things would she be looking for?
Well she might be looking for, I mean it's ridiculous to say this but something mightn’t have been attended to properly, she might think they weren’t caring, doing the right thing by a patient or something in the ward wasn’t being ... or equipment or something like that she felt was not being attended to properly and then she’d get a call back to the office so that would be called off and everybody relaxed then till the next time she did rounds. When I came there, she’s been there of course two years but a lot of people
didn’t like her, I liked her and got on well with her. We had what is now the Medical Centre, was number one nurses’ home and that was for nurses and then there’s another one a little bit further down and that was number two nurses’ home, so you can image there were quite a few nurses there. And she had a lot of domestic things she had to look after as well as technical things in the hospital side and the other thing about it was that her staff was moving. I mean I might come in this week with three or four others and ten or eleven might go out, she never knew. Then the hospital ship was having its barnacles removed. The girls would have a couple of days leave or
whatever and they’d be sent out to Concord so she’d have staff that way. It must have been a nightmare in some ways, whether she’d have enough or whether she wouldn’t have enough staff, but then she might have to send so many off to different hospitals. I know I was there and I … the 2IC who was a lovely person and she said to me, “Have you ever been to Dubbo?” and I said, “No,” and she said, “Would you like to go?” and I said, “I would.” So I went up to Dubbo Camp Hospital which was an entirely different thing to the
hurly burly of Concord. A military camp up there and we didn’t live at the camp, we lived in behind the hospital in town and one of the women’s services, I don’t know if it was AWAS, she was an AWAS, used to drive us out in the morning in an old ambulance and bring us back in the afternoon and we had measles, mumps, you name it. All these young boys got together for training and all these things they could come up … was nobody’s business so you were kept pretty busy out there. And we were there until the camp
closed or those boys were moving on to God knows where and we had the honour of standing up and watching them march past our camp, you know. And all very ceremonial and wonderful but I didn’t meet up with Croll then. I did, I was posted from there to Goulburn but you never went in a straight line in the army, well we didn’t. So you had to go to Concord and do a few nights’ night duty and then you’d move on somewhere else and eventually get to where you were posted.
You talked about at Concord there was a navy hospital nearby or a navy unit nearby. Air force was it? I’m just wondering, each of the forces have their own nursing service. How did they get on - the various nursing services?
We didn’t come in contact that often. We came in contact with the air force when they came in, sometimes they would if there was an air force base and they had a sick bay or a small hospital, the girls on the medevacs [medical evacuation] would stay there. When things were closing down, the air force had closed and I know they came in and they stayed in our lines till the next morning when they took off with a plane load, but a lot of us, we knew one another from our training days even. So that we are a funny group of people but ... that’s me, friend.
As I was saying we were a funny group of people because we did know one another from hospital days and then we came home and we still went to work in various places together and we joined, we had, the World War I sisters had formed the sub-branch of the RSL [Returned and Services League] so we all joined up there and had a wonderful time with the old dears, learning about what they did. We all became quite close but so many have moved on these days, it’s very, very sad.
Let’s go back to – Australia before you head off. You go to the Dubbo camp and to the Goulburn army hospital, having popped back into Concord on the way. What were you doing out at Goulburn? What was that like?
They were psych people I was telling you about and it was cold and there was frost on the ground, it was all white in the morning, it wasn’t very pleasant at all. The poor little boys. We had to get them up in the morning and they were sent off for their treatment and they’d come back and we’d have to try and stuff, we had to get food into them, we had to stuff their breakfast into them and I had one little boy there, this is sad, don’t put this in, and I couldn’t find him one
morning and he was lying naked in the frost. I thought, ‘What was he doing?’ And he said, “Enjoying the sunshine.” He decided that I should marry his brother who was in the railway but after I got him out of this little garden of frost that he was in, no way was I getting near his brother, I was an old witch. And what he did for a living - he went from door to door (and you’re probably too young, the pair of you, to know this) and he sold black aprons with colourful, they used to have a coloured piece on them, and he went from door to door selling these aprons. He shouldn’t have been in the army at all, God bless him, but I didn’t get the feller.
So when you say you were sorting out the menu, did you actually write the menu up for them?
Oh no, when I mean sorting out a menu, talking with the boys about what we would have, you know, and they’d say, “We’re having so and so and so and so,” and I’d say, “Okay,” because they did the cooking, we didn’t do the cooking.
launch that belonged to the Sultan of Samaranch or whoever he was, 300 people were packed on that and went up the river and it lasted one night and the next day the Japs spotted it and it was sunk and all these people were in the water. Some could swim, some couldn’t, and others were helping people. It’s an awful thing to read about really, it doesn’t do you any help at all. Beautiful women, a couple of beautiful matrons just disappeared and then the girls that did land, as you probably know, they landed on Banker Island and the Japs watched them, watched them land, made them turn around,
walk back into the water and machine gunned them. And one girl, Vivienne Statham, was hit, but just on the side, she wasn’t badly hit, and she floated in the water and pretended she was dead with the rest of them until she floated away from where the Japs were and she finally came back into land and then others eventually came up the river and found that they could land in a little place there, which they did, and were taken prisoners by the Japs and were then all taken further up the island and put in these dreadful camps where they were for the next two years.
And I mean news of surrender? What was it like, you were still in Australia at this point.
No we were up on the island and my husband-to-be was going to Borneo on the hospital ship that afternoon and also Lady Blamey, the wife of General Blamey was going and the ship was out, say at the heads, as it were, and it was stationary at the time and one of our doctors came in. He’d been out around the islands looking for, they went around to see if there was anyone lost there that they could bring in to the hospital and he had an American with him and they were slightly under the weather, I must admit, but they were very hungry and they wanted food and I said, “You’ll have to wait until I’ve
finished here and then I’ll take you up to the mess and give you something to eat up there.” So I finished my duties, walked outside the tent, when the world exploded. Guns went off, rockets went up in the air. The Americans went completely and utterly mad, they had heard. And in, we went up past on the way up to the mess. There was a little hut there and it was American and it was on our property and we weren’t supposed to speak to them. But they were radar and [knew] all sorts of things that we knew nothing about and they said as we went past, “It’s all over.” That night it was all over, people were thrown in the sea. The next morning we,
the excitement just went on half the night. The next morning a call came around, ‘Did any of the sisters or any of the AAMWS have any American badges of rank because they couldn’t go on duty. They didn’t have any.” But that was our night that we knew it was over.
a pleasant sort of an island so then I think we got in a, it must have been a mini bus or something like that and we were taken up and greeted by this great compound with a wire fence around it and had to give our names etc to the guard on the gate to get in and face up to matron who had a list of tents and who was going to tent with whom. And she was saying, “You three that way and so on and so forth.” And I said, “You haven’t given me a bed.” So eventually we fixed that up and I got in with people I wanted
and without giving me time to breathe or put my finger in the tent, she said, “You’d better get up to the mess and start getting ready. It’s past lunch time,” and you didn’t argue. You just trotted off. It was all very new and I wasn’t too sure. We had a sort of a free-for-all lunch. We had sandwiches and this and that and the other thing because they didn’t know how many were coming or what was happening and our boys had only just landed too, our cooks and so on. And then you had to go and, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a tent when you’ve got to stretch out the tent ropes and things, it's interesting, very interesting. Then I talked my boyfriend into digging a trench around it and he didn’t go deep enough and the water came in that night. But we weren’t the only ones that suffered that way.
Tell us how much interaction you had with the soldiers though.
Well we, it depended. I suppose I was different to the others and there were several of us who did have boyfriends there so we weren’t that keen to go off to American messes. A few times I went out to boats on the harbour. I’ll never forget the day that a fish landed at my feet and I said, “Look what I’ve caught!” So what did they do? They took it down below and cleaned it and gutted it and brought it up ready for my breakfast. True American what not. That was funny that night. I’ve never forgotten that. This fish just came up
and .... Anyway, I didn’t have that much interaction at all. They used to come up in the evening to our recreation room, as it were, or dirndl room or whatever you like to call it. We had dances there and some of the girls would invite them there and we used to go for picnics out to the islands and some of them would go with Americans but I was never with them. I was always with our own boys. I don’t, oh I think the powers that be were interactive, they had to know what was going on, but the ordinary people, we didn’t have them as patients or anything like that so we didn’t get to know them pretty well.
You said you were in charge of a ward, is that how it would work.
No, there’d be a senior one to me. I was a lieut., you’d have a captain in charge of a ward. I didn’t come down to a ward for quite some time, till I think they were sick of me up in the kitchen. I must tell you this. We had Lady Louis Mountbatten call in and our boys cooked and they had these stoves which go back to Florence Nightingale’s day, fairly primitive cooking. So I got almost down on my bended knees asking them to turn something on extra special. I ran around getting things and doing things and
when she came she was highly nervous and the first thing she did was take out the lipstick and this went on and on. Anyhow we put the luncheon on and she didn’t eat and our matron in chief was up there on leave and word came through, they’d found these sisters I was telling you about earlier and she turned around to Matron and she said, “You come with me and we’ll go and rescue them.” “Oh no, I can’t. I have to go back to ....” “No, you’ll come with me,” and she took her and the girls were so excited when they saw their matron in chief had arrived to rescue them. If it hadn’t been for her
she never would have gotten there but I would have hated to be her cook. But Gracie Fields came, lovely time with Gracie. Gracie would eat anything, do anything you could imagine.
Tell us about that. Where did you have entertainment? Where did Gracie perform?
Well Gracie took up half the island, everyone turned up to hear Gracie. And you either took your boys, you got them out of bed, you put them on anything at all to get them down the paddock a bit so that they could hear. Others, you had tins and things to sit on but Gracie used to put on a great act and it was much appreciated. By the same token we had movies. Once again you sat on your tin, you took it with you, but if the tide came in, you copped it. If you weren’t aware, the tide would come in and wash the tin from under you. There were some very exciting evenings when things like that
happened but we eventually got a little more sense and knew where to go. They moved the picture theatre, as it were, up to a higher piece of ground and we could go to the pictures there. As I say, something special, and you’d get them out of bed, dress them best you could in something.
That was a Japanese prisoner of war?
Yes. They came in and there were, trying to work out a menu to suit them and not knowing what to give them used to be fun. One delightful day there was a phone call, this used to happen around the ward, the phone would ring, “Are you busy up there? Well come down to such and such a ward. We need you.” And this day they’d had a group come in and it was getting on in the afternoon, heading for four o’clock, and they got them all showered and, they thought, and into bed. But, as I say, they didn’t have an interpreter and here was this little man, he got up out of bed and walked past them all so
they all got out of bed and headed to the showers again because they weren’t clean, he’d walked past them. So we all had to get past there and change the beds and get them all back into bed and tell him not to get out and so on and so forth. It was an hilarious afternoon, I don’t mind telling you, but that was the sort of thing that went on.
children there. I remember being on night duty and about three of the littlies had croup or something and I couldn’t get them to stop coughing all night, you know but they must have come from the islands nearby but things were coming to an end and it was wonderful to be able to help them. I went out one night with the matron, up to the matron in chief, I was taking some food up there. She was having a function and I was on night duty but somebody else was put on until I came back and when we came back in the
car with a superior officer and we came back and there was my ward lit up like I don’t know what. I nearly died. And Hope Croll said, “Prisoners of war’s last night on the island, Sir.” You know, it was beautiful and I thought, “God bless you matron.” Anyway I got out and I said, “What’s the light doing on?” “Oh we couldn’t put the light out until you came home, Sis. You wouldn’t have found your way.” Oh honestly and truly how, how they can all, and most of them can be so relaxed and happy and naughty, you know.
One little boy that was in that group, he said to me, they got mail, and he said, “Sis, would you read this and explain it?” I said “I’ll try dear.” It moved [me?], Dad had died, Mum had moved house, his sister had had a baby to an American, his pet dog had died ... and what was he going to do when he got home. I was ready to cry with him, it’d be an awful thing to get when you’re looking forward to going home and so on. Home wasn’t there where it ought to be and um was married to someone else. I know, they were like your own sons or brothers. You just felt that way about them.
Just tell me a little bit about how the wards were set up. What did it look like?
Should show you a picture. Well we had a great big tent and then you had another one going across ways and you had another one there. So the centre, the one going sideways, was your office, your sterilising facilities and all that sort of thing took place in that one. Now you had beds down one side and up the other side in the other two but we all had this office. I’m just trying to think, something happened, and I can’t. They were very easy to cope with. You rolled the sides up so the breeze went right through all day. If you wanted it down, it came down. You had a sand floor. When you think of Concord, it had parquet floors and if you had a drop of water on the floor it was sacrilege, and there you could wash a patient and ‘whoosh’, a bucket of water or a dish of water straight on the sand and it would disappear. It was lovely fun but that’s how you get the sand down, we watered it, and we thought it was wonderful.
Was it different, do you think, from your experience as a civilian nurse?
Oh yes. You came down to earth when you went to the Pacific. In civilian life they wore their white coats and they were very prim and proper, as it were, but we were all one, working for the King you were, and we were all very good friends. I can’t think of any that we didn’t like or that, you know, somebody might say to you, “Oh I can’t stand so and so, he ….”
Can you describe, I get the understanding that the atmosphere was different, you were in a very different environment. How did that express itself in relation to your work and the way you’d approach the work?
I think it was all part of it. You weren’t confined to a hospital. You weren’t confined to four walls. You were in a tent as such and it was a different thing. Looking after the troops was altogether different than looking after the civilian population. It shouldn’t have been but it was. And you got convoys in and you worked with convoys and a lot of them would come in plastered or, see a lot of our casualties came from Borneo but they’d be picked up on the hospital ship and by the time they came to us they were plastered or they
had all sorts of things done to them so when they came in we were very fortunate that we didn’t have to do this, that or the other thing, that they’d already been done, which made our work much easier but it was great.
of excuse myself from higher up and away we went down the road to the air force mess which wasn’t that far from our mess. And I knew they had ice cream but you went in, you’d have thought you were in the largest sort of milk bar set up. You’d have the seats and the little tables, like a milk bar, you know what I mean? And they had this great big room and they were all in there. So Smithy got in and I was on the end. And he of course started talking to the boys outside and this big Negro came up to me and said, “Do you want two ladies’ drinks or do you want to knock your boyfriend cold?” His
nibs had told me to order the drinks, that’s right, and, “Did I want two ladies’ drinks or did I want to knock the boyfriend cold?” And I then put it on him for the rum and I got the rum for my cake, that was my one experience of bartering with the Yanks. And of all people, I’d have never have that but Smithy’s brother led me astray.
So you do come back and you marry Ray and you have a child and tragically Ray dies very soon after that and you go on to become involved in the War Widows’ Guild.
Not straight away, I went into a little business in Five Dock which sold toys and all sorts of things and books, you name it, school stationery and other stationery and so on and my elder brother came with me. So his nibs was so big. I started to have this from a girl who was treasurer, I think, of the Returned Navy, Army and Air Force Sisters sub-branch and I showed you that book and, “Come in to the meeting.” So I decided one night I’d better go.
It was not one of the things I wanted to do but I went in and I came home and my brother just looked at me and said, “What job did you get?” I said, “I’m the president,” and I was the president for 40 years or something. It was like going to the ... “Sir said, that the parents and citizens are having a meeting tonight and he wants the mothers and fathers to come.” So I went home that night and George said, “What job have you got?” and I said, “Treasurer,” and so life has gone on from one thing to the other. I then became ... I don’t know if the War Widows’ came in then but I became President of the War Widows’ Guild, I was on the board of the War Veterans’ Homes at Narrabeen, I was on the council for RSL, what else? What else did I do? I must have had some spare time for something.
I want to know what gets you motivated for these things?
I just get pulled in. You know, the pitiful story about, “Sir said nobody’s doing anything, parents come,” and what do you do, you go and then you get landed with it. It’s like the Museum out here. We’re going to call it, “We’re putting that room aside for a museum and we’re going to call it after you,” so you end up two days’ solid work a week and sometimes three or four. This week has been every day in the week and the weekend. But this is how it goes on. But I have, I gave up the War Widows’ and I ... something else ... oh we had the GG [Governor General] over the other day. I’m on committees for Concord Hospital that go back donkeys’ years when they first started. And, ‘Oh yes, she’s one of the old girls,’ and I get roped in. I got off one the other day.
And, [reason] B, I had a lot of women who I was fighting for pensions for and things like that and I felt that was worthwhile. That’s B. [Reason] C, the War Widows’ was much the same. They were in need and nobody, well Una Boyce was pretty good, and between the pair of us we used to drive them mad so that was that one. A, B, C. And then you’d know the fellow who was going to be the president of something out here and he’d say, “Hey Stalky, would you come out and, you know, be on this committee,” or, “Can you do this?” And you’d think, why not? Why not? Then try and get off them and you can’t. But I’m off a few now.
And what do you see as their role, these various societies that you’ve been involved with?
Most of them are looking after the veteran and we must still do that. I have a friend, she didn’t leave Australia, she went up to Australia [Darwin] after the bombing. She’s having trouble now with hearing and sight and a few other things and she can’t, and I’ve tried for her but, she’s not eligible for any, she doesn’t want a pension, she’d just like to be covered for medical expenses and I’ll get it for her before I’ve finished and I think it’s so wrong, just because I went a few miles further on and I’m covered. A war widow can marry twice and still retain her pension. She married her first husband and gets a pension, then he dies and she marries again and gets her pension. You’ve got to fight sometimes, never mind, I won’t be around much longer. They’ll get rid of me.
Just backtracking a little Stalky, wondering, on Morotai, you talked about how great it was but there must have also been hard times. What were those times?
Well, hard times were when you lost a patient because everybody put everything they had into keeping them alive. Especially, I shouldn’t say especially, they were all treated the same, but you just felt that the prisoners of war, you had to make every effort for them to come home to their families and that was very stressful if you lost someone like that. But I think when you look back, we were in tents and if you were in strife, you were worried about someone, you could always ring the next tent and someone would come down. It was so different to being in a hospital. I don’t know. To me it made it so much easier to care for the patients but compared to today’s standards I suppose we didn’t have that much.
And was it there for you when you lost someone as well? Obviously you would have experienced death when you were a civilian nurse, which I’m sure was also very hard but was there a greater sense of support in the army?
Well, yes. We were all, anyone round about was involved, if you know what I mean, and you’d go off and talk it over and, you know, it’s the only way to get over things, is to talk it over to other people and to go through it and it makes it easier then.
that we could go off to the nurses’ home when we got off. We had friends there, we consoled one another, you were never left to grieve on your own or anything like that and you would get over to the home thinking that the end of the world had come. You had lost this patient and you would find somebody else over there in much the same state, so it came together like that and
the scrub typhus boys, you would think, oh I have got him, it is really going to get better and yes, he would have a tiny piece of steak, you would go and get something as big as a match, not a match, a stamp to take to him, you would get back and he would be gone. No one knew what that did to you, it was …. but then you got over to the home and you would find somebody else almost in tears because one of hers had done the
same thing, so they didn’t treat us very kindly those boys.
that was great, we knew that we were eventually going to be commissioned you see and I think this was all part of it and every morning when you came off duty, you had to, so many days a week, you had to line up for a march and before you went on duty and you had your tin hat and your respirator and haversack and God knows what else and around the block we would
go. And the orderly would have a wind up gramophone either on a wheel barrow or on a trolley and he would be pushing and all the dogs in the neighbourhood and as the gramophone would wind down so would we. And the RSM [regimental sergeant major] used to get as mad as a hornet but the people of Concord thought it was the greatest show on earth and then they taught us to form four sixes and all this sort of nonsense
and then on the 23rd of the 3rd, ’43 we were all commissioned and I don’t think we ever marched again.
I know in the early days when we were there and it was a base hospital, we all wanted to get overseas or somewhere and you thought Concord was the last stop. You had to get out of there but then looking back you realise what a wonderful job it did and the boys that went through. I don’t know what their input and output would have been but they would be figures of many, well
worth seeing. I know overseas we sent them back in droves to Concord around about and I didn’t go there when I came home but I do know I eventually started to live in Concord, I wasn’t there very long before I was hauled back in, not as a…
on the staff but as a volunteer I suppose it is, I think that’s what I am, I am not sure. Somebody told me it was thirty-two years ago that I had been hoodwinked into coming back but … to see it and in my position I see lots of things that go on that possibly others don’t, but it’s a wonderful hospital
and the veterans are in and out and you meet them out there and it’s done so much for them. It’s done so much for their families and I think we have always had a wonderful medical staff and nursing staff. They started the school of nursing and they turned out some magnificent nurses
but it has just been, from the time it was built, it has been a wonderful hospital. I don’t know that it still has the same family atmosphere that we had, it did for quite a long time but the girls will tell you it still has the family atmosphere but the veterans still think they own it and why not and they’re in everything.
You meet them all around the place and we have so many services there and they are very well attended. We have, rehabilitation is still there, they’ve got physio, I’ve even been a patient myself. All the outpatients’ services are excellent.
you’ve become a war widow yourself, quite young, and that bought you into contact with the War Widows Association, which you in fact led for some time. Just tell us your own experience of sadly becoming a widow and than seeking out to find that support from the association?
My husband was a medico [doctor] and we were in Morotai up in Halmahera and just when the war ended he went over to Borneo and he had a native hospital of his own. And he wrote over and said he had a couple of attacks of appendicitis and
he had no sick parade to go on, he was stuck there and came home and he didn’t have any more problems. We’d been married a couple of years and he had another attack and he was pretty sick and he went into hospital and they took the appendix
out and he said, “I’ve got an abscess.” and they said, “Oh no, you couldn’t have, you’ve got malaria.” and he said, “I haven’t got malaria, I’ve got a…” He wasn’t a very nice person, he told them in plain language what he had and then he rang me up one day and he said, “You’d better come in.” because he said, “It burst this morning and I’ve told them.” so he was virtually in my mind, murdered by his own profession. So, I didn’t have
much to do with doctors and people for quite a while. We had a six months old baby and Sir Ivan Docherty rang me up one day at work and he said, “So and so, where was she?” And I said, “Sorry Sir, I haven’t a clue, I couldn’t tell you.” and he said, “Well, what are you doing next week?” and I said, “I will be at work.”
he said, “No you won’t, you will be coming up to New Guinea with me.” So we went up for the return of Wewak and whilst I was away, the minister was there and his wife was there and all the rest of them, and we were talking and we girls were talking and I told them because they asked me and I told them what happened. So the next thing I get word to say ‘front up or else’ and so virtually that is how I became a war widow.
So, I sort of felt a little bit obliged to help them a little bit later on but that is how I became a war widow and I can’t tell that story other than to say that is how it happened.
It means a lot; it has done ever since we were children because when you go back to when I was a child at school, we were taught by World War I soldiers. I can remember my mother saying to me, “You will be very good in Mr so and so’s class because he is a returned soldier and he is not very well and he has a
plate, a metal plate in his head.” I spent most of my lessons looking for that plate, I thought it would be sitting there on top of his head but it wasn’t. He was an excellent teacher but this is what we were taught in those days, you behaved yourself and we respected the returned soldiers, we just loved to get out and see them march on Anzac Day and then
of course to be able to march yourself on Anzac Day was just something special.
and what I should have said when we were talking about nursing. I should have said that we were trained in hospital by World War I sisters, the same as we were taught at school by World War I veterans and those women were magnificent.
They came up the hard way and what they did in World War I was unbelievable and maybe a little of it rubbed off on us. I think it must of because otherwise I don’t think the girls that were prisoner of war would have survived but I think some of that must have rubbed off on them too and that allowed them
to carry on and some of them did their nursing. They looked after one and other, survived what happened, others didn’t but I think we should give the old World War oneies just a little bit of credit for turning us out anyway. Whether, if there is another war or may have been, whether we have had any
influence on those other girls, I don’t know because nursing is entirely different now.