The interest in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) during the Great War was recently encouraged by the screening of ANZAC Girls and the publication that inspired it, The Other ANZACS: Nurses at War, 1914-1918 by Peter Rees. Both of these focus on nursing services off the Gallipoli Peninsula and on Lemnos and the Western Front in its various guises: hospital ships, field hospitals and casualty clearing stations. We see our girls working alongside the British Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and as Bluebirds in French military hospitals, courageously responding to the challenges and privations in which they were immersed. However, one must not forget the outposts of India and Salonika where nurses were confronted and challenged in all faculties. Such experiences have not been as widely commemorated and indeed, even the three volumes of the official history of the Australian Army Medical Services during the First World War contain little about them. This blog article attempts to present something of the Women’s experiences.
The Indian Army Nursing Service, known subsequently as Queens Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service in India (QAMNSI) was established in 1888. With the outbreak of war in Mesopotamia in 1916, many QAMNSI were sent to nurse the wounded there. Unable to cope with the casualties, the Indian hospitals hurriedly dispatched for help. AANS Nurses were dispatched to small hospitals all over India and were employed on the British Hospital Ships working from India westwards to the Persian Gulf and eastwards through to Hong Kong and Vladivostock. Although their experiences varied widely, they took it all in their stride.
By late 1918 there were a total of approximately 520 trained nurses in India, consisting of 80 Indian Nursing Service, 120 QAIMNS, and 320 AANS. From July 1916 to 1919, some 560 members of the AANS served in India. They found themselves challenged by cultural differences with the local staff and the English Sisters, nursing exotic diseases in primitive medical conditions and coping with a vastly different climate.