“No damned female M.O.s in the A.I.F. My responsibilities are quite big enough with 1200 nurses” responded General Neville Howse to the suggestion that female doctors should be allowed to serve with the AIF. With this attitude, it is no wonder Dr Kirsty Harris believes the important role nurses played was often overlooked.

Dr Harris, author of More Than Bombs and Bandages : Australian Army nurses at work in World War I was one of this year’s Family History Feast speakers.  Her talk “No damned females”, not only explored some of the work done by military nurses but also gave some fantastic tips for researching your World War 1 nurse.

If you’re researching an Australian WW1 nurse, here are a list of resources you can check:

–    Service records at the National Archives. Search for the nurse’s name in Record Search.
–    Embarkation rolls (available through the AWM website)
–    Commemorative roll
–    Diaries and papers of nurses (many are available at the Australian War memorial and at various State Libraries – including Victoria!)
–    Honour boards in churches and hospitals
–    Trove’s digitised newspapers website (search for the name of a nurse)
–    Nursing association journals for registration details.
–    Photographs (For example the Library’s Kathleen Gawler collection includes many photographs of Australian nurses during WW1. You can also search Trove for pictures held in repositories across Australia.

Accession number: H2011.36/63
[Three nurses, Egypt]

A question you may wish to ask yourself is where did your nurse train? Records of registration can often be found in nursing association journals. For Victoria, the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses’ Association’s Una publication may be worth a look. Exam results were often reported in the newspapers, so a search of Trove for your nurse in question, may deliver you some answers. Also think laterally about your nurse’s name. Often a woman’s ‘nursing’ name instead of her proper name was used. For example Bessie Smith instead of Elizabeth Smith.

Australian nurses also served with overseas military services such as the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). Or even organisations like the Red Cross. If your nurse can’t be found in the Australia records, you may need to look at records of overseas services. Records of QAIMNS can be found on the National Archives UK’s Discovery service. You can download these records for free with a State Library card.

Dr Harris also recommended the following sources to provide some context for the working conditions and experiences of nurses.
–   The official history of the Australian Army Medical Service in the war of 1914-18
–   Guns and brooches : Australian Army nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War
–   And of course,  her own book More than bombs and bandages : Australian army nurses at work in world war I

Dr Kirsty Harris’ talk is now available to view on the State Library’s website

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