Australian women in World War I

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The role of Australian women in World War I was focused mainly upon their involvement in the provision of nursing services.[1] Australian women also played a significant role on the homefront, where they undertook fundraising and recruiting activities as well as organising comfort packages for soldiers serving overseas. Around the issue of conscription, women were involved in campaigning on both sides of the debate,[2] while they were also equally involved in the New South Wales strike in 1917. Nevertheless despite this involvement, women have never occupied a central position in the Australian version of the ANZAC myth, although since the 1970s their role has been examined in more detail as a result of the emergence of feminist historiography, and specialist histories such as the history of nursing.


One of the primary roles for Australian women during the war was nursing. The Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) comprised more than 3000 nurses during the war, over 2,200 of whom served outside Australia. 21 AANS nurses died during their war service and a number shortly thereafter. Nurses were present on the Western Front, and in Greece, England, India, Egypt, and Italy. The AANS comprised trained nurses, trained masseuses, 14 ward assistants and 1 bacteriologist. They served not just in Australian military hospitals but also in British hospitals and in ships at sea.[3]

Hundreds of other Australian trained nurses served overseas with organisations including the British nursing services, Red Cross, St John Ambulance and the Australian Voluntary Hospital. Australia also sent a number of female VADs to work in military hospitals. An example of these groups is the 20 nurses and a masseuse who were recruited to work in French hospitals by the Australian Red Cross Society and were dubbed the "Bluebirds" in reference to the colour of their uniforms.[4]

Other volunteer work[edit]

The following women's voluntary organisations were involved in support work:[5]


The following women received medals or other awards for their war work:


A number of Australian women opposed the war, or certain aspects of it. Australian pacifists and anti-conscription activists during this period included Bella Guerin and Doris Blackburn.

See also: World War I conscription in Australia


  1. ^ "1918: Australians in France – Nurses – "The roses of No Man's Land"". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  2. ^ "Forging the Nation: Australian Women". Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 25 December 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  3. ^ Kirsty Harris, More than Bombs and Bandages: Australian Army nurses at work in World War I, BigSky Publishing, 2011
  4. ^ Hetherington, Les (January 2009). "The Bluebirds in France". Wartime 45: pp. 58–60. 
  5. ^ "Women in wartime". Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  6. ^ "Women in action – nurses and serving women". Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  7. ^ "Faith, Hope, Charity". Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  8. ^ "Australian Dictionary of Biography". Retrieved 10 February 2011.