Sneak peek: A Nominal Roll of Australian Nurses who served in the First World War (pp. 10-17)
You are here:

General Information and Key to Symbols


A nurse whose name appears on the Nominal Roll was a qualified civilian nurse who had completed her nurse training in a hospital which was approved by ATNA.

The duration of the hospital training course may have varied depending on the bed numbers of the hospital, which was considered an indicator of the range of health ailments suffered by their patients. The courses ranged from a minimum of three years to a maximum of four years in the time leading up to the commencement of the First World War.

On completion of the three to four years of course work, hospital examinations and ward experience the nurse was required to pass the ATNA examination. Once passed, the nurse was considered to be a civilian qualified nurse who was ATNA registered (presently equivalent to being registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency).

Once qualified the nurse wore a veil and was referred to as ‘Sister’ in most cases (see Veiled Lives for a detailed account of the Nightingale system of nurse training and subsequent customs).

To be ATNA qualified was a prerequisite to entry into the AANS. Once accepted to join the AANS the qualified nurse was referred to as a ‘Staff Nurse’. Usually, but not always, the AANS ‘staff nurse’ was promoted to ‘sister’ after 12 months of war service (see Narromine to the Nile for further details).

In this Nominal Roll, the full name of the nurse has been used as the baseline identification whenever possible. If a nurse is known to commonly use her second name she is identified as: Katherine (Vida) Kirkcaldie. If a nurse uses a name which is a variation on her name it is identified in brackets as: Joan Olive Isabel (Joi) Chapman.  The alternative name of a nurse (aka) is included when, usually following marriage, the nurse has more than one official data entry. I have endeavoured to clarify those who have multiple official entries.

No Symbol/s

If the name of a nurse appears on the Nominal Roll without any symbol it can be assumed her name was on the original AWM nominal roll and is a member of the AANS. Furthermore, subsequent research has not identified the nurse as needing further verification.

Mention on the Australian War Memorial nominal roll –  [awm]

This symbol indicates that the name of the nurse appears on the AWM nominal roll, which suggests she was a member of the AANS. This is more often than not the case. She may not have a service record so the AWM would be the first point of call for further information. The symbol usually indicates the author needed further verification of service or to differentiate nurses, especially those with common surnames such as Smith or Jones.

National Archives of Australia service record – [naa]

This symbol indicates that the nurse has a digital copy of her service record available online with the NAA. To ensure the accurate identification of a nurse, especially those with a common surname, their service record has been read to verify some aspect of the nurse’s service.

The spelling of the first and subsequent names of the nurse is often confirmed by sighting the signature of the nurse on her enlistment form. In the case of the many variations on names such as McDonald, Macdonald, McDonald, MacDonald, Mcdonald the author has aimed for total accuracy by reading the signatures of the nurses.

Served in the South African (Boer) War and the First World War – [bw]

This symbol indicates that the nurse served in the South African (Boer) War of 1899-1902 as well as the First World War.

Australian nurses who were loaned to the QAIMNSR – [qaimnsr]

During the war it was not unknown for a nurse to volunteer for service with the AANS to be told there were no vacancies but she could join the QAIMNSR. Given a choice between not serving overseas or becoming a QA it has been estimated that 129 nurses accepted the offer (see Veiled Lives for details). In so doing, their service as Australian nurses has been largely unrecorded. However, they were ATNA qualified nurses who attempted to join the AANS but found themselves as members of the QAIMNSR due to a purely administrative decision. This decision had an enormous impact on their future service, recognition and entitlements. Like their colleagues who served in India, their names deserve inclusion on the Nominal Roll.

Naval and Military Expedition Force, served on troopship Grantala[granalta]

The earliest nurses to serve in the First World War were part of a naval unit. They left Australia as the nursing contingent on the troopship Grantala. Once Rabaul, the administrative centre of German New Guinea, capitulated the nurses returned to Australia. A number tried to enlist in the AANS to find that their naval service was not considered valid. Some nurses only served on the Grantala while others, like Rose Kirkcaldie, had extensive war service after she went to England and joined the QAIMNSR (see Scarlet Poppies for details).

Tropical Force Detail, served in Rabaul – [rabaul]

This symbols indicates nurses who served with the Tropical Force Detail, which maintained a presence in Rabaul throughout the war (see Veiled Lives for details).

Nursed overseas privately and not on AWM nominal roll – [private]

This symbol indicates the nurse travelled overseas and nursed during the First World War but does not have any official record. Often the name will appear as a NAA service record but will consist of one page which states the nurse was given return passage home in return for previous war service. Nurses often paid their own passage to England with a view of enlisting in any of the numerous nursing units (see Veiled Lives for details) but after the war they found they were stranded. Australian authorities appear to have been sympathetic to claims for return passage to Australia. Nurses would often work their way home on troopships.

Name not included on any official source – [no]

The inclusion of a name with no official reference source may be considered a contradiction to sound historical method. However, the official historian A. Graham Butler, when discussing Australian nurses in Salonica, makes a written reference to ‘Sister Gunton’ at the 60th (hospital). This is the only mention of her from any source but her surname has been included on the Nominal Roll.

When reading May Tilton’s detailed account of Sister Oldendorff’s altercation with a camel in Egypt, the decision to include her name was difficult. The author accepts that the name may have been incorrectly spelt by Tilton but the service record of May Oglethorpe (closest spelling) indicates she was not in Egypt at this time. Furthermore, Sister Oldendorff may have belonged to another nursing service and not have even been Australian. I am willing to risk being wrong if there is any chance that she deserves a place on the Nominal Roll nearly 100 years after her service and further research may uncover her personal and professional identity. The lack of official recognition of a nurse is clearly indicated in the legend but it can be assumed that the name has originated from a primary source.

If a name only appears on an obelisk or a community memorial but cannot be verified through other sources the name is not included. The differentiation between a VAD, masseuse, home service nurse or Red Cross nurse is often difficult at a local level by community members.

A record of death which is included on the AWM Roll of Honour – [honour]

A record of death which is not included on the AWM Roll of Honour  –  [no-honour]

I have identified 41 nurses who died during the First World War. The AWM has a time guideline for inclusion (4th August 1914 – 31st March 1921) and each of the 41 nurses died within this period.

The AWM Roll of Honour  includes the names of 23 female nurses plus one male nurse, Arthur Thomas Sprague (AAMC).

The author has included in the Nominal Roll the 24 names from the AWM Roll of Honour plus the names of 10 nurses who died while loaned to the QAIMNSR, attached to other overseas nursing units or AANS nurses who died on their return but have not been included on the Roll of Honour. Those whose names do not appear on the AWM Roll of Honour have the  (date/place) of their deaths included in brackets after their names.

The remaining seven nurses are from the ranks of the 65 Australians who served with ancillary nursing services (see Table 2) and died during the course of their duty. Some of these nurses have been recorded on the commemorative roll under ‘other services’ and, where possible, the author has referred to an AWM Red Cross file for further information.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to record all deaths. For instance, the Britannic was the sister ship to the Titanic and was refitted as a hospital ship. Sarah Furnifull (AANS and loaned to QAIMNSR) served on the Britannic but was not required to immediately re-embark. Tragically, on the ‘trip to Naples the Britannic was sunk, and two of my nursing friends were lost’. On Tuesday 21st November 1916 the Britannic sunk in shallow water in the Kea Channel off the Aegean Sea at 9.07am. The shallow water caused the bow to hit the bottom before the rest of the ship. Unfortunately, two lifeboats were launched far too early, causing them to be sucked into the still-turning propellers and resulting in the only deaths. Of the 1,100 people on board only 30 died. It is not possible to know if the two ‘nursing friends’ where Australian or from another service. The traumatic manner of their death only adds to the wretchedness of not knowing their names nor their nationality (Veiled Lives).

India service – [india]

The historian Rupert Goodman alerted me to the unrecorded Australian nurses who served in India during this period and to the excellent account by Eric Keast Burke who included in his book With Horse and Morse in Mesopotamia a list of Australian nurses. A British colony at the time, service in India was considered ‘home service’ for Australian nurses. Therefore, those who only served in India are not included on any official database.

I have identified those who saw service in India but it does not infer that they did not see service on other fronts. It can be assumed but it is not always the case, that a nurse whose name does not appear on the AWM nominal roll only saw service in India. However, many but not all, have an NAA service record. It should not be inferred that the Indian Service symbol means the nurse does or does not have a NAA service record or is not on the AWM nominal roll, as the author may not have had cause to clarify further.

Known to have served in Australia during influenza pandemic – [flu]

This symbol indicates the nurse also volunteered for home service in Quarantine Stations during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. It does to infer they only saw home service but a few did not serve overseas. For more details see the Service Records of the individual nurses (online National Archives of Australia).

Entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography – [ndb]

This symbol indicates that more detailed biographical information about the nurse can be found in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Family relationship with other nurses – [family]

While I have not deliberately cross-referenced all entries against their next-of-kin I have identified approximately 75 families who had more than one daughter serving overseas during the First World War. The symbol (  ) indicates that one of the other surnames is related.

Qualified nurse with massage certificate – [massage]

Australian nurses were cognisant of the importance of massage during the First World War. A nurse who had a massage certificate meant the soldiers who had serious orthopaedic injuries, particularly amputations, would benefit from around the clock passive and active physiotherapy.

Attained Honours/Medals – [medal]

The following Nominal Roll and Table 1 includes the names of nine Australians who received the highest award given to a nurse during the First World War – the Military Medal (MM). Seven were members of the AANS, one served with the QAIMNSR and another as a member of the Red Cross.

The AWM has listed 54 names who were awarded the Royal Red Cross (1st class) including one nurse who served with the QAIMNSR. A list of 147 nurses who were awarded the Royal Red Cross (2nd class) includes seven who served with the QAIMNSR and one masseuse, Letitia Reeves. It must be remembered that one nurse may have been the recipient of a number of different awards.


Want more? Buy the Trilogy here.