Nurses are an integral part of any war, and World War One is no exception. They would treat the sick and/or wounded soldiers.

Red Cross propaganda poster from WW1, promoting the job of nursing.

Over 3 000 Australian civilian nurses volunteered for service during the Great War. Most of them joined the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), however, more women volunteered than there were spots available in the AANS, so some went overseas to work with people from other organisations, such as Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), the Red Cross, and many other privately owned organisations.

These women worked in various locations, most of them not ideal, some of them dangerous. They worked in hospitals, on hospital ships and trains, and in casualty clearing stations, which are much closer to the front lines. During WW1, Australian nurses served in 192 different locations, and on 39 ships. These locations were in places such as Egypt, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Iraq and India. Hundreds of nurses were also back home in Australia tending to any wounded returning soldiers.

A casualty clearing station in WW1

Over 100 000 people, mostly women volunteered to help out the soldiers at war, mostly through nursing duties. Over 90 000 of these came from the Red Cross, many of them untrained. They worked in Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) units.

Being a nurse was a dangerous job. While nurses were not intentionally killed in war, there are many other ways that it could be a fatal job. During the battle of Messines, two Australian casualty clearing stations admitted over 2 800 men in 48 hours, over 2 500 of these men were cleared. They managed to do their job, and do it quite well, all while being constantly showered by shattered glass.

Sometimes, nurses were captured and kept as prisoners of war (POW). Sometimes these prisoners would be brought on board enemy ships, which the allies would sink, not knowing that their own nurses were on there. The central powers would also bomb the allies’ ships and military targets, unknowing of the non-combatants within. This is the way most nurses died in WW1. For Example, 10 of the 16 New Zealand nurses that died in WW1, died because the British troopship, the SS Marquette, was sunk in the Aegean Sea when hit with a torpedo to the starboard side.

Approximately 1 500 nurses lost their lives in WW1; just 29 of them were Australian. All of the Australian nurses, except one, died of diseases, which were probably contracted from sick soldiers. The other one died of blood loss.

Sources:

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