Australian women in World War I
The role of Australian women in World War I was focused mainly upon their involvement in the provision of nursing services. 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, 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.
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.
Other volunteer work
The following women's voluntary organisations were involved in support work:
- Australian Red Cross
- Women's Christian Temperance Union
- Australian Women's National League
- Voluntary Aid Detachment
- Australian Comforts Fund
- The Cheer-Up Society
The following women received medals or other awards for their war work:
- Sister Clare Deacon, Sister Dorothy Cawood, Sister Alice Ross-King, Staff Nurse Mary Derrer – Military Medal for bravery rescuing patients from a burning building
- Sister Pearl Corkhill – Military Medal
- Sister Rachel Pratt – Military Medal
- Sister Alicia Mary Kelly – Military Medal
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