The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Staff Nurse May Hennessy, Australian Army Nursing Service, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2016.2.361
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 27 December 2016
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on Staff Nurse May Hennessy, Australian Army Nursing Service, First World War.

Film order form
Speech transcript

Staff Nurse May Hennessy, Australian Army Nursing Service
DOD 9 April 1919
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 27 December 2016

Today we remember and pay tribute to Nurse May Hennessy.

Born in Castlemaine in Victoria in 1893, May was the eldest daughter of James and Helen Hennessy. She was educated in nearby Bendigo, attending the Longlea State School. After deciding to become a nurse, she undertook three years of nursing training at the Gippsland General Hospital in Sale.

When war was declared in August 1914, civilian nurses were sought by the Australian Imperial Force to join the Australian Army Nursing Service, or AANS. More than 3,000 women volunteered for active service during the First World War. They were posted to Britain, France, Belgium, the Mediterranean, India, and the Middle East, working in hospitals, on hospital ships and trains, or in casualty clearing stations closer to the front line.

Hennessy joined the AANS in May 1917, at the age of 23. She embarked for overseas service within weeks of enlisting and was posted to Salonica in Greece. The hospitals there were mainly tent hospitals, and most of the patients were suffering from malaria, dysentery, and other diseases. The conditions were difficult: the nurses toiled through hot, mosquito-infested summers, and then had to endure freezing winters.

In late October 1918 Nurse Hennessy was herself admitted to hospital, seriously ill with malaria. By February 1919 her condition had improved slightly, and she was sent home to Australia. But her health deteriorated again while on board the transport ship Novgorod, and upon arrival at the end of March she was immediately admitted to hospital in Geelong. Her condition had been complicated by dysentery and jaundice.

Nurse Hennessy died on 9 April 1919 of acute nephritis, or inflammation of the kidneys. She was 25 years old.

Hennessy was given a military funeral, which was reported by The Argus newspaper as “one of the largest seen in Bendigo”:

A firing party of returned soldiers and a band playing “The Dead March” preceded the salvage wagon of the Bendigo Fire Brigade, on which was the coffin. This was followed by over 200 returned soldiers.

The Bendigo Advertiser reported:

Over one hundred wreaths were sent by organizations and sympathizing friends, and these were placed in a cab, which followed the mourning coaches.

The service concluded with a volley fired over the grave.

Staff Nurse May Hennessy is buried in the Bendigo Cemetery, in the same grave as her sister, Annie, and their mother, Helen, who both died in 1953. Her name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among more than 60,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Staff Nurse May Hennessy, who gave her life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Emma Campbell
Researcher, Military History Section