Remembering Our Remarkable Wartime Nurses


Published: 23 April 2015

Nurses who take on the care-giving role at the front line do so at great personal and emotional risk. The horrors of war are distressing when reported in the media, read in an article or book, or seen in a documentary. However, this is nothing compared to what military nurses must confront and work through when providing care, treatment and support to the wounded. In times of great need and tragedy we see the true capacity and strength of the human spirit.

“Among the deeds of carnage, a soldier often finds another pair of hands, protecting and comforting, not only in spite of this soiled world, but right in the middle of it. Those hands belong to a nurse.” – Robert Manley, Why the World Needs Nurses, Ausmed Publications 2010

Today, we remember some of the remarkable acts of care, sacrifice and advocacy that nurses and midwives have made.


Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, surviving the Banka Island Massacre at the hands of the Japanese in 1942, went on to testify at tribunals for war crimes and advocate as a civilian nursing leader and humanitarian nurse.

Hester MacLean

Hester MacLean, image courtesy of the Auckland War Memorial Museum

A dedicated New Zealander, Hester Maclean nursed ANZAC troops throughout World War One and subsequently returned home to act as Matron-in-Chief of the Army Nursing Service of New Zealand.

Florence in the crimean.

Florence Nightingale, nursing during the Crimean War.

Florence Nightingale, nursing during the Crimean War, emphasised the importance of sanitation and quality of care for wounded soldiers.

Dorothy Dix

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix, previously a mental health nurse, was a staunch advocate of soldiers’ welfare both during and after the American Civil War.

Clara Barton

See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Clara Barton, resigning from a coveted Government job to assist in medical supply deliveries during the American Civil War, subsequently founded the American Red Cross.

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell, see page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Nurse Edith Cavell, for hiding two British soldiers in 1915, was killed by the Germans for her treason and violation of the Red Cross pledge of neutrality.

Olive Stewardson and Julie Kerr, nurses aboard the 1942 warship Strathallan, single-handedly nursed those wounded by a torpedo attack on this Mediterranean-based vessel.

Violetta Thurstan, nursing in World War One’s Western Front, was captured by the Germans and sent to Denmark. Her escape to Russia to join the Russian Red Cross saw her nurse countless wounded Russian soldiers, showing nationality does not define the boundaries of care.

These recollections are but a small reminder of the remarkable contributions made by nurses during war time—there are many, many more. Military nurses embody the human strength to make sacrifices and take risks to care for others. They reiterate the importance of nurses and why nurses make the world a better place. Military nurses everywhere, thank you for your selflessness and courage. On the 100 year anniversary of Gallipoli, we remember you. Lest we forget.