The Australian Army Nursing Service was formed in 1903 as part of the Australian Army Medical Corps. Over 2,000 registered nurses served in Britain, India, France, Belgium, the Middle East and the Mediterranean during World War I. They worked wherever they were needed; in hospitals, ships, trains and even close to the frontline.
Mabel Galwey was 36 when she enlisted for service in April 1915. She was the daughter of John Edward Galwey who owned a printing and stationers company in Millers Point.
In August 1915 Mabel’s unit arrived at Lemnos Island near Gallipoli where they set up a make-shift hospital. Two days later, more than 200 wounded and sick soldiers had been admitted. Lacking the stores required they had to improvise; with soldiers lying on ground sheets, blankets and straw mattresses, overcrowding the few flimsy tents available.
Mabel also became a casualty when she contracted typhoid; she needed over six months to recover.
In April 1917, Mabel was sent to serve in a casualty clearing station right behind the front line in Belgium. It was so close to the front that the hospital had to cope with frequent German bombings, one incident causing the death of two staff and wounding 27 patients. During the next six months there were over 27,000 admissions.
Mabel’s next posting was in France, to a hospital which dealt with serious operations and limb amputations. The Australian nurses cared for the men so well, that the soldiers often mentioned the nurses’ kindness and outstanding work in letters they sent home.
“...I would never have got across here if it hadn’t been for one of the nurses in our ward, who was an Australian….There seems to be a great difference between our nurses and the British nurses. Of course they are all very kind, but I would rather be in an Australian hospital at any time...”
Mabel was discharged and travelled back home on 1 July 1919. For her service she received the 1914 and 1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.