Hunter Nurses of the Great War

Portrait of members of Australian Voluntary Hospital before leaving to serve at St Nazaire, France (Matron Greaves seated in centre)

More than 80 Nurses from Newcastle and the Hunter served with medical units during the First World War. Waging a war on death and suffering, they cared for thousands of soldiers across the battlefields of the Great War.

To be eligible to serve it was required that women be between 20 and 40 years of age and have completed 3 years of approved hospital training. Most Novocastrian nurses served with the Australian Army Nursing Service, but others signed up with a variety of Allied units.

Newcastle Hospital trained Ida Greaves was in London the day Britain declared war on Germany.  Within weeks, Greaves was serving in France as matron of the Australian Voluntary Hospital, which was raised from Australian doctors and nurses working in London. Her unit was later absorbed into the British Army. Ida served from August 1914 to March 1919, making her one of the longest serving Novocastrians of the First World War.

The Lowery family from near Stroud had four sisters serve as nurses during the war. Bessie and Olivia served in Europe, Hazel was stationed in India and Joyce enlisted but was not called upon for overseas service. Whilst her sisters were with the AANS, Olivia worked as part of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. A variety of mementos from the Lowery’s careers have been preserved in the collection of Newcastle Museum.

Nursing was the only military role available to women in Australia’s armed forces during the First World War. Nurses like the Lowery sisters and Ida Greaves witnessed the horrors of war and risked their own lives to care for the sick and wounded, proving the necessity of nurses to military medical units. The legacy of their service is still felt over a century later, with women performing a variety of roles across the spectrum of Australian military service.

Australian Voluntary Hospital, St. Nazaire September 1914

Discover more

Discover more about the Great War from our past exhibition Shadows of Sacrifice or search the collection to find out more about Nurses from the Great War.