Lake Macquarie History

Lake Macquarie Nurses in WWI

Much has been written about men in the Great War, their hardships and suffering, while up until recent years the role women played in World War I has escaped notice of researchers. Nurses played a key role in attending to the sick and injured, working long hours in adverse and often appalling conditions. A memorial to honour the role these women played was unveiled in Canberra in October 1999, some ninety years after the war ended.

A reserve unit to the Australian Imperial Force, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), was formed in 1902. It was the only avenue through which the Australian Military would accept women during WWI, although some made their own way overseas and enlisted through other services, for example Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) in Britain. To enlist nurses had to be between the ages of 21 and 40, unmarried and completed a minimum of three years approved hospital training. Resignation was mandatory on marriage, though in the early days of the war it seems that was not strictly adhered to. Recent research determines around two and half thousand nurses served through AANS and over seven hundred nurses and masseuses through other allied units. Of those, twenty five are known to have died and close to four hundred were decorated.

The first draft of nursing staff left Australian shores aboard troopships on November 1 1914 alongside Australian and New Zealand servicemen. A second party left a month later. On departure they believed they were heading to England and then France, to assist in establishing hospitals. However a diversion to Egypt was commanded by British military leaders. Gallipoli provided their introduction to the volume of casualties, which was to seldom lighten for the next four years in several fields of battle.

Just two nurses from Lake Macquarie are known to have served overseas. They are Mary Ann May Martin from Martinsville and Kathleen Byrne from Swansea.

Mary Ann May Martin

Mary Ann May Martin was born in June, 1886, the tenth child of Patrick and Mary Ann (Graves) Martin of Martinsville. May followed in her mother's footsteps by joining the nursing profession, enlisting with the AANS on 11 September 1917 at age 31. According to her service records, hazel eyed May was petite, with a crowning glory of red hair. Distinctively she had small hands and short fingers. As a staff nurse she embarked at Sydney on October 14, 1918 aboard the SS Wyreema, bound for Salonika, Greece. As a result of the cessation of hostilies, the ship was recalled. She was discharged from the Australia Medical Corps on 8/1/1919. May was awarded the Star and Victory Medals as well as a British War Medal.

After her return, May continued nursing. It appears from voting records that she moved around New South Wales, working in various hospitals. Mary Ann May Martin died in 1945, at the age of 59 in Sydney and is buried alongside her parents in St Patrick's and St Brigid's Cemetery, Cooranbong. Her service record can be viewed here

Kathleen Byrne

photo: group portrait of nurses wwi

Kathleen Byrne was born in Parramatta in 1883, the second child of school teacher James Benedict Byrne and wife Margaret Mary née Crennan. The family moved to Lake Macquarie in 1915 for James to take up his post as teacher of Swansea Public School; his final posting before retiring in 1920.

At age 32, Kathleen enlisted in June 1915 as a Staff Nurse, serving in England, aboard hospital ships and on the field in France. She was promoted to Sister on 10 December 1918. Kathleen is pictured left with her nursing colleagues of the No. 2 Australian General Hospital in France. She is 7th from the left, back row.

Kathleen returned to Australia in April 1919 and resigned shortly thereafter to marry Angus J. McKenzie. A birth notice appears in the Sydney Morning Herald announcing the arrival of a son on 30 May, 1920, at Iluka private hospital in Newcastle, for "the wife of Angus J. McKenzie, Launceston, Tasmania".

Electoral Rolls reveal the family living in Launceston, Tasmania in 1922. There both Kathleen and Angus lived a very full life. Many newspaper articles reflect the couple's involvement in the Retired Servicemen's League (RSL) Club in Launceston. Angus became president in 1933 and received an OBE in 1944 for "great services which Mr McKenzie had rendered in a varied lifetime, during which service to others seemed to been the predominant motive of his existence" (Launceston Examiner, 27 March 1944). Angus and Kathleen were active in their involvement with the RSL well into the 1950s. Angus died 16 February 1960 and Kathleen on 6 January 1964, aged 75 and 81 respectively.

Kathleen's service record can be viewed here.

AANS Pledge of Service

photo:  group portrait of nurses wwi

I pledge myself loyally to serve my King and Country and to maintain the honour and efficiency of the Australian Army Nursing Service. I will do all in my power to alleviate the suffering of the sick and wounded, sparing no effort to bring them comfort of body and peace of mind. I will work in unity and comradeship with my fellow nurses. I will be ready to give assistance to those in need of my help, and will abstain from any action which may bring sorrow and suffering to others. At all times I will endeavour to uphold the highest traditions of Womanhood and of the Profession of which I am Part.

Further Reading

Rees, Peter(2008) The Other ANZACS: Nurses at war, 1914-1918, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, New South Wales.

Deacon, L.A. (2000) Beyond the call: an account of dedication and bravery by Australian nurses in the First World War, Regal Press, Launceston, Tasmania.

Bramble, Christine (2011) Sisters of the Valley: First World War nurses from Newcastle and the Hunter Region, Royal Newcastle Hospital Graduate Nurses' Association Inc, The Junction, New South Wales.