Remembering the bravery of military nurses

Remembering the bravery of military nurses

09 May 2022

Each year on the 12 May, we celebrate International Nurses Day, which includes recognising the women and men who have served Australia and made invaluable contributions as military nurses.

For more than 100 years, nurses have played a critical role in Australia’s military history, with highly skilled Australian nurses (and medics) bravely accompanying every Australian military combat or peacekeeping deployment.

On International Nurses Day, Mates4Mates encourages all Australians to pause and reflect on the service and sacrifice of Australia’s military nurses throughout our nation’s history.

“Where there are men fighting, there are always nurses.”
Sister Florence Syer

Australia was not yet a nation when the Boer War broke out in 1899, however, Australia’s first women’s military nursing body was formed, the New South Wales Army Nursing Service Reserve. Over the next three years, around 60 Australian nursing sisters worked in British military hospitals scattered throughout South Africa.

In 1903, the Reserve was replaced by the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) which formed as part of the Australian Army Medical Corps.

During the First World War, more than 3,000 Australian nurses enlisted for service, caring not only for Australian troops, but also civilians and enemy prisoners. When the Second World War broke out, nurses again volunteered and around 5,000 Australian nurses served in a variety of locations, including at home in Australia as well as Britain, India, France, Belgium, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.

By war's end, nurses became essential to military service having faced the dangers and demands of wartime nursing. Since then, the Australian Defence Force has relied on the work done by military nurses.

Today, both men and women serve as Australia’s military nurses working in remote and dangerous places, as well as peacekeeping missions, providing essential medical treatment to those ravaged by war or natural disasters. In more recent times, military nurses have supported domestic healthcare efforts to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Military nurses are also now employed as members of the Australian Defence Force with a high level of specialist training and improved technology at their disposal.

While military nursing has changed dramatically since the last century, one aspect that remains is their commitment and bravery to provide essential medical treatment to those injured in war.

Find out more about Australia’s military nurses

The Australian War Memorial has published a range of “Nursing Stories” in recognition of International Nurses Day. Read them online here.

The “Nurses Narratives” are a collection of 142 first-hand accounts of the experiences of nurses during the First World War. They detail the individual experiences of nurses in their own words, as collected and used by historian Arthur Butler to write the official history of the Australian Army Medical Services. Read them online here.

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Remembering the bravery of military nurses

Each year on the 12 May, we celebrate International Nurses Day, which includes recognising the women and men who have served Australia and made invaluable contributions as military nurses.