These are the unsung female heroes of the First World War. They are the names we should never forget.
The ANZAC legend largely focuses on the bravery of the soldiers on the front line, the men who risked life and limb, and the thousands that died at Gallipoli in 1915. But there were also many women who made enormous contributions to our battle in the First World War.
Here are just some of the remarkable, courageous and inspirational women who should be remembered for that contribution today, and every day.
(11 March 1887 – 4 December 1985)
Australian nurse Pearl Elizabeth Corkhill earned a prestigious Military Medal for her bravery as she tended to injured patients during a heavy air raid by German forces. She was serving at a casualty clearing station not far from the front line in Abbeville, France when it came under attack on 23 August, 1918.
During the bombing, Corkhill remained calm and continued to tend to her wounded patients, despite the danger. When she heard that she was going to be awarded for her bravery, the humble Corkhill was more concerned about having to buy a new dress to wear while meeting the King than winning the award.
She wrote in a letter to her mother: “I can’t see what I’ve done to deserve it but the part I don’t like is having to face old George and Mary to get the medal. It will cost me a new mess dress, but I suppose I should not grumble at that—I’m still wearing the one I left Australia in.” She worked at various public hospitals after returning to Australia.
Award: Military Medal for Bravery
(10 October 1870 – 23 November 1935)
Marie Louise Hamilton Mack was an Australian poet, journalist and novelist. During the First World War, she reported from the frontline for London’s Daily Mail and Evening News. She later wrote an autobiography titled A Woman’s Experiences in the Great War and was the author of 16 novels and a book of poetry.
(25 February 1878 – 8 March 1957)
Myra Juliet Farrell was an Australian inventor and artist, regarded as both eccentric and a genius. She held more than two dozen patents, ranging from a military barricade to a press stud that could be applied without stitching.
During World War I, Myra invented a barricade that could repel ammunition and lessen the impact of shells and a light that could be projected a great distance. The Australian Department of Defence took both plans, as well as her prototype light. She was also a talented painter.
Her ideas for practical inventions often came while she was asleep. She said she would see identify a need and the solution would come to her in her dream. She would write the details down backwards whilst asleep and then have to copy them out with the aid of a mirror the next morning. Her inventions included practical household devices, physical aids, agricultural tools, medications and military aids.
(20 September 1880 – 30 November 1952)
Elizabeth Kenny was an unaccredited Australian nurse, who developed a controversial new approach to polio treatment while caring for ill soldiers during the First World War. Her revolutionary method focused on exercising muscles affected by the infectious disease, rather than immobilising them. Her muscle rehabilitation principles became the foundation of physiotherapy.
Working in Australia as an unaccredited bush nurse, Kenny assumed the role of a qualified nurse after paying a tailor to make her a nurse’s uniform. She was later accepted to serve during WWI, despite her lack of qualifications, due to the dire need for nurses.
She was assigned to dangerous missions on “dark ships”, transport that ran with all lights off between Australia and England. She made 16 round trips and one around the world and was officially promoted to the rank of Sister. Upon her return, she developed and sold stretchers, treated polio patients and promoted her methods worldwide.
Katie Louisa Ardill
(3 August 1886 – 3 January 1955)
Katie Louisa Ardill was among the first female doctors to join the British Expeditionary Forces in 1915 after her application to serve with the Australian Expeditionary Forces was rejected because she was a woman. At that time, the Australian government prohibited women from service, compelling them to join overseas units instead.
She served as a doctor, treating wounded soldiers for four years in Britain, France and Egypt during the First World War and was promoted to the rank of Captain. After returning home in 1919, Ardill established a gynaecological practice in Sydney and a free clinic for wives and children of servicemen.
Awards: Order of the British Empire, Dame of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem
Matron Grace Wilson
(25 June 1879 – 12 January 1957)
Between 1915 and 1919, Grace Margaret Wilson was the principal matron – or chief nurse – at the 3rd Australian General Hospital at the Greek island of Lemnos, where she treated casualties of the Gallipoli campaign. It was on the voyage there that she learnt one of her brothers had died at Gallipoli.
She served as the temporary matron-in-chief in the Australian Imperial Force headquarters in London and, upon her return to Australia in 1920, served as matron in civilian hospitals.
When the Second World War broke out, she returned to the Army and served as its matron-in-chief, as well as in the Middle East. She returned home in 1941 due to ill health and dedicated her life to improving the standard of nursing care in Australia. She married at age 75 and died a few years later.
Awards: Companionship of the British Empire, Royal Red Cross, Florence Nightingale Medal
Major Alice Ross-King
(5 August 1887 – 17 August 1968)
Alice Ross-King was one of four nurses awarded a Military Medal for their selfless actions at a casualty clearing station close to the trenches during an air raid in France on 22 July 1917.
Ross-King rescued patients in tents shattered by bombs, either carrying them to safety or putting tables over their beds to protect them. She and three other nurses, Dorothy Cawood, Mary Jane Derrer, and Clare Deacon, were recognised for their courageous actions.
When the war ended, Alice returned to Australia, married and had four children. When WWII broke out, Alice re-enlisted with the Australian Army Women’s Medical Services and was heavily involved in raising funds for the Red Cross.
Awards: Military Medal for bravery, Florence Nightingale Medal
Lest we forget.
We will remember them.