Wednesday 14 May 2014 by Ashleigh Wadman. 9 comments
Collection, Military Heraldry and Technology, First World War uniforms

  • This is the first in a series of blogs that covers the basic aspects of Australian uniforms during the First World War. There is a great diversity between nursing uniforms of the First World War. This variety is due to the fact that nursing uniforms were not centrally manufactured or issued in this war. Instead, nurses were given a uniform allowance to equip themselves and were allowed to make their own uniforms if they chose. This, and tailoring variations within Australia and overseas, led to considerable variety in the uniforms as can be seen in contemporary photographs. Styles of collars, blousons, skirts, footwear and headwear show the greatest variety. An example is the bonnet worn by nurses arriving in Egypt in 1914 and 1915, which proved totally impractical and was quickly replaced, without official sanction, with straw hats and grey veils.

    Nurses prior to boarding HMAT Orsova. Note the rather useless bonnet of the 1914 outdoor dress and the variations in collars and fabric colour. Nurses prior to boarding HMAT Orsova. Note the rather useless bonnet of the 1914 outdoor dress and the variations in collars and fabric colour. PB0345

    Nurses were often allowed considerable freedom over the wearing of uniforms to help combat local conditions. This is demonstrated by the use of hats instead of bonnets in Egypt in 1915.

    More nurses tried to enlist than there were positions so some Australian nurses who were unsuccessful in their attempts to enlist in the AANS went to England to join Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR), which provided nursing sisters for British Army hospitals, or joined privately funded groups such as the ‘Bluebirds’, who provided nurses to French hospitals. These women wore entirely different uniforms, with their own range of modifications. However such uniforms are not the focus of this blog article.

    Two unidentified nurses prior to embarkation on the transport HMAT Wiltshire and demonstrating the difference in uniform. Two unidentified nurses prior to embarkation on the transport HMAT Wiltshire and demonstrating the difference in uniform. PB1201

    In 1914 the AANS set out for war service wearing a uniform which was little changed from that worn by Australian nurses during the South African War (1989-1902). According to AIF Order 635 of 1915, each nurse received an allowance of ₤19.10.00 with which to provide herself with the following:

    • 1 grey skirt and blouson
    • 1 rainproof overcoat (grey mackintosh)
    • 1 grey cape
    • 1 grey cloak
    • 2 red shoulder capes
    • 1 pair grey gloves
    • 1 bonnet
    • 2 sets Australian Military forces buttons
    • 2 embroidered AANS sleeve badges
    • 1 silver Rising Sun badge
    • 2 brassards
    • 6 starched collars
    • 6 pairs starched cuffs
    • 4 linen squares (veils – size 1 yard square)
    • 3 grey zephyr dresses (ward dress)
    • 4 grey aprons
    • 8 white linen aprons
    • 3 grey belts
    • 3 white belts
    • 1 hold-all
    • 1 pair black boots
    • 3 Red Cross armbands (although there is photographic evidence of nurses wearing the armbands in Australia, they were not worn during overseas service)
    • Trimmings

    Bonnet for 1914 -15 outdoor dress. REL/10639.

    The 1914-15 outdoor dress incorporated:

    • A five gore skirt
    • A blouse, which was a blouson with a waistband that was attached to the skirt with tapes, hooks or press studs. It did not tuck in. Sometimes the blouson and skirt were combined as a single dress
    • A stand collar and cuffs which were edged with narrow, white linen liners.
    • A raised, embroidered AANS badge worn on the right sleeve, just above or below the elbow. A silver General Service ‘Rising Sun’ badge worn at the throat of the dress. The Australian Military Forces buttons were also originally silver, but both these and the ‘Rising Sun’ badge were quickly changed to oxidised copper in line with the rest of the army. Despite this many nurses retained their silver badges throughout the war.
    • A grey serge cloak, which was a loose fitting overcoat with concealed buttons beneath the placket front. It was beltless and had long sleeves, and was similar in appearance to the motorist’s dustcoat of the period.
    • A grey serge, hip length cape with a variation of collars was worn over the cloak, or over the dress if the cloak was not worn. The cloak and cape were lined with grey cotton.
    • A close-fitting princess bonnet which had a brown silk velvet turn-back brim, a flat grey silk bow behind the brim and a grey silk veil extending from the bow to the small of the back. It was tied under the chin with grey silk ribbons.

    Pair of nurses black stockings. RELAWM04504.004.

    The 1914 -15 pattern outdoor dress could be converted to a mess dress by wearing a scarlet silk shoulder cape fastened with a silver ‘Rising Sun’ badge over the dress, and a white silk raised cap and veil. Mess dress was optional and provided at the wearer’s expense.

     the nurses wear hats instead of bonnets. Members of the AANS circa 1915. This photograph demonstrates how the uniform varied according to conditions: the nurses wear hats instead of bonnets. P00411.001

    Nurses did not have military rank in 1914 and nursing proficiency was indicated by dark chocolate coloured stripes on the cuff of the dress. A staff nurse had a plain grey cuff, a sister had two brown stripes, and a matron had a solid brown cuff and stand collar.

    Studio portrait of five sisters of the AANS stationed at No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital and wearing the 1914 working dress. Seated in the front row on the left is Matron Ethel Gray, whose rank is shown by her thick brown cuffs and stand collar. Studio portrait of five sisters of the AANS stationed at No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital and wearing the 1914 working dress. Seated in the front row on the left is Matron Ethel Gray, whose rank is shown by her thick brown cuffs and stand collar. P02402.026

    For further information about nurses during the First Word War, please see Our war nurses: the history of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps 1902-1988 by Rupert Goodman and Guns and brooches: Australian Army nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War by Jan Bassett.

    By Assistant Curator Ashleigh Wadman, Military Heraldry & Technology.

     

Comments

Christine Bramble

  • Some other resources that I have found very useful in my own study of the nurses: Harris, Kirsty – More than Bombs and Bandages – Australian Army nurses at work in World War I, Big Sky Publishing, Newport, 2011 Rae, Ruth - Scarlet Poppies - the army experiences of Australian Nurses during World War One, The College of Nursing, Burwood NSW, 2004 - Veiled Lives: threading Australian nursing history into the fabric of the First World War, The College of Nursing, Burwood NSW, 2009 Rees, Peter - The Other ANZACs: nurses at war 1914-1918, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2008 Royal Newcastle Hospital Graduate Nurses' Assoc Inc has published my study "Sisters of the Valley - First World War Nurses from Newcastle and the Hunter Region", 2011. I would be interested to hear from anyone else who has done a similar regional study.

Janet Scarfe

  • Thanks Christine for this. I know of three regional studies: WW1 Nurses from North East Victoria and the Upper Murray by Anne Hanson (just google keywords) - ongoing research Anne Hanson of 50+ nurses WW1 Nurses with an East Melbourne connection, part of a larger project by the East Melbourne Historical Society. About 20 biographical essays have been completed to date and are available at emhs.org.au, covering their lives before during and after the war. Just go to the website, WW1 project, and search by female; or search "Scarfe" on the society's website. There is also the St Arnaud (Victoria) project - details at http://anzaccentenary.vic.gov.au/st-arnaud-district-ww1-war-diary-project/ Delighted to hear of more. It is great to be able to build on the pioneering work of people like Ruth, Peter and especially Kirsty. Janet

cathy

  • As I am looking for more information on my great aunt Evelyn Conyers who served as an army nursing, She was awarded many medals , including the Florence Nightinggale medal. These brave women, went beyond and above. Watching ANZAC Girls on the ABC I was hoping my relatives name would pop up , as she had no children so much of her history has been lost. would love to hear from any person who has heard her name in any articles. thanks

John Loutit

  • I am looking for information on my great- aunt Sister Gertrude Mckern who served in the AANS at Egypt, France, Belgium, and England between 1915 and 1918. Some time after her return to Australia she was deputy matron at Newington State Hospital. She died in 1937 aged sixty years.Unfortunately her personal effects,letters,gifts, etc.,were lost in the Blue Mountains bush fires of 1957.

K Harris

  • If you are looking for information about your nursing relative, please contact me at kjharris@unimelb DOT edu DOT au

Shirley Learner- Education Officer

  • Hello, I'm trying to locate pattern for the apron that our WWI nurses wore so I can make one for the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum's educational section. Thank you.

Michelle McGlinn

  • Hi, My mother would like to make an authentic Australian nurses WW1 uniform for a doll to be included in an exhibition at her doll club. Two things she can't find are how does the grey dress do up - i.e. on the side or at the back and what kind of undergarments would have been worn. Thanks for your help.

Sharon Johnson

  • I would like to make some nurses uniforms from World War 1 to mark the centenary of the ANZACS for ANZAC Day 2015. 20 nurses will march in periodic costumes. Do you have any ideas where I can get the information from about their uniforms.

Ashleigh Wadman says:

  • Thank you for your comments. Images of the AANS uniform can illustrate how they were constructed and can be found on the Memorial's website, http://www.awm.gov.au/search/all/. These two blog articles may also provide helpful information: http://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2014/09/26/preserving-sister-lummer-s-ward-dress-part-1-history/ and http://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2014/10/21/reproducing-sister-lummer-s-ward-dress-part-2/ Unfortunately I cannot provide advice as to reproduction uniforms, however I suggest contacting a First World War re-enactment group. You should be able to find details of such a group online.

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