Cheryl Ward’s play Through These Lines tells the moving story of Australia’s WWI army nurses. The 2014 production, directed by Mary-Anne Gifford, has its Sydney season at the Museum, 25-28 September and 3-5 October.
As part of the research for the play, Cheryl travelled to Lemnos to walk in the nurses’ footsteps. Using period photographs and diaries crammed full of invaluable eyewitness accounts, Cheryl was able to turn back the clock 100 years.
No. 3 Australian General Hospital, Lemnos, then and now. Photo A. W. Savage, C. Ward & B. de Broglio.
For many years to come Australian women will be judged by you… Just as each soldier should fight as if the results of the battle depended upon his individual effort, so each one of you will do her work for something else besides the love of it, for the reputation of our great country.(24.08.1916)
With these words Lieutenant Colonel A. B. Brockway of the Army Medical Corps heralded the start of WW1 service for a group of exceptional Australian nurses.
They were known as the ‘Bluebirds’, so called because of their distinctive dark blue uniforms with pale blue piping and hat band. The Bluebirds were not members of the Australian Army Nursing Service, rather they were a small group of selected professionals funded by the Australian Red Cross Society as a ‘gift’ to the French Government for whom nurses were in short supply.
Australian Red Cross nurses and their French tutor Josephine Niau beside KANOWNA, Melbourne 1916. 00027608 ANMM Collection
The Bluebirds left Melbourne on the troopship KANOWNA on 4 July 1916, keen to fulfil Brockway’s expectations of them as representatives of Australian women in a role that allowed a level of female participation in war that others could not come close to. This vital service saw women serve close to the front lines, share in the harsh conditions and deal directly with the effects of war as they fulfilled their nursing duties. Continue reading →