While Australian women were not permitted to serve in battle on the frontline during World War I, many of them volunteered to serve in the Australian Army as nurses, medical workers and ambulance drivers. Their contribution to the war effort was enormously significant, with their support proving essential to military medical service.
The Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), formed in 1903, was made up of volunteer nurses who were willing to serve in the event of a national emergency. The AANS sent 2,139 of its members overseas during World War I and a further 423 served in military hospitals at home in Australia.
They endured extremely trying circumstances on hospital ships anchored off Gallipoli or in field hospitals that consisted of tents close to the front line in France. With little sanitation, and a lack of fresh water and medical supplies, nurses also had to contend with the often extreme weather conditions. The tents offered little to no protection from the freezing European winter or the hot, mosquito-infested summer. The medical ships also presented great challenges, as supplies and water were limited, and the motion of the ship made performing even the more simple tasks extremely difficult.
Constantly understaffed and in danger of contracting the illnesses and infections of those they cared for, nurses worked tirelessly around the clock, dedicated to making the lives of their patients as comfortable as possible. Eight Australian nurses received the Military Medal for their bravery.
Group of Tasmanian nurses including Clare Deacon, who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 29 November 1914 as a staff nurse. Clare served at Mena throughout the Gallipoli campaign and was promoted to nursing sister in December 1915 when she left for France. On the night of 22 July 1917, she was one of four Australian nurses to rescue patients from burning buildings of the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station near Armentières, which had been bombed. For “coolness and devotion to duty” she and her nursing colleagues were awarded the Military Medal. [Australian War Memorial J00721]
On home soil, Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) were formed following an appeal “to the women of Australia” by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, founder of Red Cross in Australia. Not formally qualified as nurses, these volunteers received instruction in first aid and performed the duties of nursing orderlies and other supports in Australian hospitals, convalescent homes, and on troop trains.
VADs were restricted from traveling overseas by the Australian Defence Council. As a result, many chose to travel on their own initiative and join British detachments, often in Australian hospitals. The policy was changed in 1916 after a request from Great Britain, and the first detachment of 30 official Australian VADs to serve overseas left Australia in September 1916.
Australian Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment members, washing up outdoors after a public function, Sydney, c. 1918. [Australian War Memorial P01102.020]
During the course of the war, campaigns ran throughout Australia encouraging women to join Red Cross or to volunteer their services on the home front. Posters were an integral part of these campaigns, and artists were often commissioned to produce works that would inspire women to support Australian troops through fundraising efforts, quasi-nursing duties, organising comfort packages to send to soldiers, and volunteering to work in Red Cross’s Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureaux.
One such artist was Scottish-born David Henry Souter, who settled in New South Wales in 1887 where he worked as a journalist and illustrator for books and magazines, including the Bulletin, and was one of the first artists to start designing Australian posters. One of these was the ‘Help’ poster designed by Souter during the First World War to inspire Australian women to support the war effort.
Australian Posters of World War I – Australian Red Cross
2015 1oz Silver Proof Rectangle Coin
The second release from Australian Posters of World War I depicts a superb coloured representation of David Henry Souter’s Australian Red Cross ‘Help’ poster. It features a nurse in a stylised Red Cross uniform standing with her arms outstretched, as if appealing for help, in front of a red cross. In the background is a ship, an ambulance and a field hospital displaying the Red Cross emblem.
Issued as Australian legal tender, no more that 5,000 of these outstanding 2015 coins will be released.
The coin is housed in a upright display case with a latex centre that displays the coin’s reverse and obverse. It is presented in a illustrated shipper which comes with a numbered Certificate of Authenticity.
Produced in association with the Australian War Memorial.
The red cross emblem is an internationally recognised symbol used to identify those providing impartial humanitarian assistance and protect them from harm in times of armed conflict. The use of the emblem is restricted under both international and Australian law in order to ensure that this meaning continues to be understood. In Australia, the use of the emblem without the authorisation of the Minister of Defence is a criminal offence.
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