Sister Rosalie Agnes Lummer was a distinguished nurse of the First World War. Born at Riverton, South Australia, she enlisted with the AIF on 27 July 1915, aged 29, and embarked for Bombay, India, in August 1916. A year later, she transferred to Salonika, Greece, and worked as Temporary Sister at the 42nd British General Hospital. In early 1919 she was promoted to Sister and served with the Australian 3rd Auxiliary Hopsital at Darford, England. She saw over five years of service with the Australian Army Nursing Service until late 1919.
This uniform was one of several grey cotton zephyr ward dresses that Sister Lummer wore as a nurse. For four years she labored in this dress, and the signs of heavy use and wear are preserved in the fabric and fibres.
A close study of her dress provides insight into the fascinating life of a nurse, and of Lummer’s own experience. For instance, the machined top stitching along the waist band is in a contrasting white cotton and hem is not straight or carefully finished off. A study of the sleeves revealed that the right sleeve is four centremetres wider that the left. One major repair had occurred, which reduced the width of the sleeve from the cuff with a long inset seam. The fabric is thinned from wear and boiling, especially at the elbows and cuffs. The sleeves are attached to the bodice with cotton thread roughly hand stitched into place. Why some parts of the dress are hand stitched, where others are machined stitched is not clear. It is likely hand repairs were made to prolong the life of the dress.
These clues, and many more, illustrate that it is not a fine example of sewing, nor was it a fine garment. As the name suggests, the ward dress was worn during periods of heavy work; in the wards tending to patients and the casualty operating theatres. Nurses were supplied with a small allowance to purchase the necessary ‘3 zephyr dresses, grey’, as instructed in the army order of 1915. It was an entirely pragmatic item of clothing; the equivalent of the soldier’s service dress tunic and breeches worn in the field.