real life

The remarkable life of Olive Haynes: The Gallipoli war story we never heard.

“There’s a ghastly smell like decomposing mummies,” Olive Haynes wrote in a letter to her sister.

Haynes was writing from Alexandria, Egypt, where casualties from the Gallipoli landings were being ferried in by the thousands.

Some no longer had recognisable faces, their jaws or noses blown off by grenades, and others wore multiple bullets, shot several times by machine guns.

Australia had barely become a nation and already we were fighting for it. Or so we thought.

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We know the story of the men who arrived on the shores of Gallipoli, on the 25th of April 1915, knowing nothing of the trap they’d stumbled into.

We know the story of the 15-year-old boys, so eager for an adventure they lied about their age.

We know the story of the nonsensical British orders, the cost of which was 8709 Australian lives, and 2701 New Zealander lives. In total, the Gallipoli campaign took the lives of 44000.

That, as they say, is history.

But what about herstory?

Born in 1888 in Adelaide, Haynes loved reading, painting, music and had great interest in social issues as well as the welfare of others. It seemed a natural fit that in 1909 she began training as a nurse – despite her parents’ attempts to dissuade her. In August 1914, at 26, Haynes enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service.


Haynes departed Adelaide on the 26th of November 1914, set for Alexandria, Egypt. The journey took her more than six weeks.

When she arrived, the Allied nurses in charge of the hospital had no interest in their assistance. As Margaret Young, the daughter of Haynes says, they had “nothing ready for them, no accommodation or anything, they had to stay on the ship.”

Image via National Anzac Centre.

When they were reluctantly housed, Haynes busied herself treating cases of smallpox, measles, and pneumonia. But in late April, everything changed.


Following the battle of Gallipoli, Alexandria became a living nightmare.

"Over 2,000 landed at Alexandria," Haynes chronicled in her diary on the 29th of April. Each day thousands would pour in, bearing injuries you or I could not imagine. Missing limbs. Ears blown off, or eyes shot out. Open wounds, preyed on by flies. As time went on, dysentery - an infection of the intestines that results in severe diarrhoea, made up of blood and mucus - took more men from the front line than anything else.

Haynes would finish her shift at 2:30am, and be back at work at 7am. She wrote in a letter home, "I've never felt so tired in my life."

The men, she added, "can't sleep for the heat and wander about and smoke and scratch; the sandflies are beyond anything."

Enormous blowflies would feast on human faeces, before making their way into food supplies. Infections were rife, and not just among soldiers.

Nurses Haynes worked alongside died from infections such as septicaemia.

Image via Australian War Memorial.

They were also confronted with poisonous rodents and insects, as Haynes wrote in her diary, "snakes, moles, scorpions and centipedes are rife here. I search my bed every night and generally manage to catch something..."

Haynes was not paid for at least the first seven months. As she changed beds, treated wounds, calmed soldiers suffering PTSD, took off boots to find horrific cases of trench foot, processed thousands of men yelling in unimaginable pain, and risked her own life, Haynes was not paid a cent.

She was made to provide her own linen, table wear and put up with the abysmal treatment from the Allied nurses she worked alongside.

Haynes was moved to Lemnos, where sick and wounded troops from Gallipoli were also sent. Her description of the hospital detailed in her diary painted a bleak picture; "On duty. Plenty to do - poor chaps lying everywhere... convoys of wounded coming in all the time and, poor dears, they are so badly wounded … Both legs, an arm, head and back [wounds] all on one man is quite common, and such a lot dying."


She felt loss deeply, as she grew close to many of her patients; "It is so sad to see them die," she reflected. "You’d give anything or do anything to save them."

A picture of a patient that Olive Haynes sent home. Image via National Anzac Centre.

Haynes even wrote of a special 'Jaw Ward', where, "they have all the smashed-up faces, and really they do wonders. They have a special French sculptor – most frighteningly clever – who makes new jaws and noses and faces."

But Haynes was not just treating men who were at war - she was, herself, in the midst of it.

She wrote often about dropping bombs, of the Germans opening fire, and watching windows smash as everything shakes.


Every moment Haynes spent in the Australian Army Nursing Service, her life was at grave risk.

"Ever so many Sisters have been wounded and some killed," Haynes wrote in a letter home. "There were a few brought up the other day and one has lost an eye and the other eye has almost gone."

In 1916 she sent the message home, "I am sending my will home, as we are supposed to make one."

But in December 1916, Haynes enjoyed a welcome distraction in the form of an Australian soldier named Pat Dooley. She quickly fell in love.
Image via National Anzac Centre.

A year on, Dooley and Haynes married, meaning she was made to return home to Australia. Women who married during service were forced to resign.

For the next 60 years, Dooley and Haynes had seven children, followed by 17 grandchildren. Their home was always known for its open doors, offering food, shelter, money or medical assistance to anyone who needed it.

Haynes' legacy did not stop there.

Her second daughter, Phyll, was born with Down Syndrome, and rather than shut her away as was customary in those days, Haynes established a school for people with intellectual disabilities in Ivanhoe, Melbourne.

Her daughter, Margaret Young, put together a memoir following her mother's death, titled "We are Here, Too: The Diaries and Letters of Olive C. Haynes."

"They were so wonderful to the boys," Young says of her mother.

"I believe truly that there were so many boys that were so downhearted and broken about the terrible wounds that they had and it was those nurses that gave them the courage to you know, buck up and realise that they were heroes and that they would be welcomed back; which of course the boys were but the girls weren't."

Anzac Day is not, nor should it ever have been, just about soldiers. It is about the men and women who served our country. Those who routinely put others before themselves. Those who exemplified enormous bravery at a time when our nation needed them.

It is women like Olive Haynes that make me proud to be an Australian.