Augusta Enberg

Embroidered badge worn by members of the Australian Army Nursing Service, c. 1918. AWM REL39044

During the First World War over 1,000 people of Russian ancestry served in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Of these, there was only one known woman: Augusta Emelia Enberg, from Lovisa, Finland.

Augusta Enberg arrived in Australia with her brother, Adolf, and sister, Ellen, on board the Danish ocean liner SS Zieten in 1913. Augusta was 39 years old; her sister 37. They were living in Sydney when the First World War began in August 1914. At this time Finland was a part of the Russian Empire, which, like Britain and her allies, had declared war on Germany. It is unknown whether Augusta felt an allegiance to Russia or Australia, or whether any such allegiance influenced her decision to enlist. As a trained nurse, however, her skills could be used to help others, and so she enlisted in July 1916.

Australian forces were suffering large numbers of casualties in overseas campaigns, and medical services were stretched to the limit. The many thousands of wounded soldiers coming off the battlefields received treatment in a range of medical facilities, and if they were unable to return to duty were placed on transport ships for repatriation to Australia. Many of these men were in need of intensive care on the voyage home, and it was nurses who carried the responsibility of looking after them.

On her service records, Augusta declared that she was a “Finn”, and not a naturalised British subject. Regardless, she was accepted with the Australian Army Nursing Service. In December 1916, having been appointed to the 14th Australian General Hospital, Augusta Enberg embarked on her first voyage to care for wounded Australians.

Augusta arrived in Suez, Egypt, after a four-week journey. Less than two weeks later, she embarked on the return trip to Australia aboard the transport ship Euripides, caring for the many wounded on board.

A group of Australian nursing staff aboard HMAT Euripides, c. 1914 – 1919. Denver Wood Wansey, AWM P08286.041

In May 1917, Augusta once again sailed overseas, heading to England aboard the transport ship Ulysses. Over two months later she arrived in Plymouth, and was detailed to the Croydon War Hospital in London. Augusta’s time there was brief, and she soon returned to Australia on board HMAT Benalla. Her patients included several men of Russian heritage.

Upon reaching Australia in late 1917 Augusta’s circumstances changed dramatically. At some point she had come under suspicion of being an enemy national, and a short time after her arrival in Australia her appointment as an army nurse was terminated. A letter from Augusta’s commanding officer to the Secretary of Defence stated:

“ … the War Office, London, would not accept her services. There is every reason to believe that she is of enemy nationality and it is considered advisable that she should not be further employed by the Department”.

Augusta was discharged on 10 November 1917, two weeks after her arrival back in Australia.

 

References

Elena Govor, “Russian roots are hidden in Anzac history”, 2015, https://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/russian-roots-are-hidden-in-anzac-history <accessed 13 February 2020>.
Elena Govor, “Russian Anzacs”, 2014, https://russiananzacs.net/Enberg <accessed 13 February 2020>.
Elena Govor, “Russian Anzacs in Australian history”, University of New South Wales Press, 2005, p.165.
National Archives of Australia, service records, “Augusta Emelia Enberg”, B2455 https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=321350 <accessed 13 February 2020>.