Nurses, Our Unsung Heroes of War

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BY Kyla Nicol

For Australians, the image usually associated with 25 April, 1915 is that of Australian soldiers charging bravely up the steep and barren slopes of Gallipoli. Less appreciated is the picture of an Australian nurse on that same day attending to hundreds of battered and bleeding men on the decks and in the confined wards of a hospital ship. Wounded men were shipped out to the HMAS Gascoyne lying off Anzac Cove. Amongst the nurses, doctors and orderlies who attended them was Sister Ella Tucker, a very helpful nurse who wrote in her diary about the wounded men and her experiences. Ella Tucker was born in Scotsdale, Tasmania, and was the daughter of William Thomas Tucker of Northholme, Derby, Tasmania. She was aged 28 when she enlisted as a nurse in the Australian Army in April 1915. Prior to enlisting in April 1915 she also served in Cairo, Egypt in November 1914. She served in Egypt, on hospital ship ‘Gason’ from Gallipoli as well as serving in conflict areas of France and England. She returned to Australia on 10 April 1919 and eventually got married and changed her last name to Murray. Here are some of the diary entries Ella wrote down about how she felt and what happen while she was attending the wounded soldiers:

“The wounded from the landing commenced to come on board at 9am and poured into the ship’s wards from barges and boats. The majority still had on their field dressing and a number of these were soaked through. Two orderlies cut off the patient’s clothes and I started immediately with dressings. There were 76 patients in my ward and I did not finish until 2 am.”

An entry in her diary for a voyage in May reflects the stressed and at times, almost surreal nature of her work:

“Every night there are two or three deaths, sometimes five or six; its just awful flying from one ward into another … each night is a nightmare, the patients’ faces all look so pale with the flickering ship’s lights.”

By the evening of 25 April, 557 wounded men had been taken on board the Gascoyne. Ella Tucker stayed with the ship for the next nine months as it ferried over 8,000 wounded and sick soldiers between the Gallipoli Peninsula and the hospitals on Imbros, Lemnos, Salonika, Alexandria, Malta and in England.

 

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