Remembrance Day this year marked the centenary of the end of the First World War, the guns falling silent at 11:00am, 11 November 1918. As the world took the opportunity on this significant occasion here is one more of many stories that acknowledges the legacy of our medical services nursing community.
“This Remembrance Day marks the end of four years of sacrifice, suffering and death after Australia joined the First World War on 4 August 1914,” Southern NSW Local Health District Chief Executive Andrew Newton said.
In tented hospitals in World War I, as part of the 2,139 Australian contingent, 90 nurses could be in charge of as many as 1,200 beds containing our mortally wounded soldiers. Another 130 nurses were sent to India with the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service; but there were hundreds more, who have not been documented.
“They were in horrible conditions, and remembering the facilities and lack of supplies and modern day medications and drugs, particularly on the Western Front, where hospitals were tents in the middle of the battlefield, the nurses played a significant role.”
There are a number of incredible stories of our Australian nurses.
One of our own local nurse’s contribution to the war effort was recognised by the then British Empire. Sister Pearl Corkhill MM, born in Tilba Tilba in the Bega Valley, was one of seven Australian nurses portrayed in the ABC series ANZAC Girls, to win Military Medals for ‘courage and devotion’ during the First World War – an honour for the seven, as Military Medals had previously been awarded only to soldiers.
In July 1918, Pearl was attached to the 38th British Casualty Clearing Station, where she continued to attend to the wounded during an air raid, with no regard for her own safety. She received the medal from King George V. After the war, she became senior sister at Bega District Hospital. She died in Dalmeny in 1985 and is buried at Narooma cemetery.
It is also worth noting, the red poppy worn on Remembrance Day was inspired by a Canadian Doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae who, after seeing the red poppies growing in battle-scared fields, wrote the famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. In Flanders Fields BY JOHN MCCRAE In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.