The Unsung Hero

By Henri Collyer

Year 6, Balmain Public School (Age 11)

Mary-Anne Taylor, her mother and her brother and sisters were standing in the hot sun watching the parade go past. It was the spring of 1914 and war had broken out three months ago. Her father came to Australia to work in the goldfields but unfortunately made no money to go home. After years’ worth of savings, he finally got enough money to take a trip to England. When the war started Mary-Anne’s father was in England visiting his sick mother, so he joined up to fight for the British Empire. He was fighting on the Western Front against the Germans. That parade brought back memories of him and made her start thinking about when she was going to see him again. Little did she know that she was never going to see her father again.

Mary-Anne was born in July 1892 in Carlton, Melbourne and was brought up in a small cottage with her six siblings. She was the oldest of the five girls in her family so she was forever looking after her sisters, whether they had cuts or needed help with their homework. She started her nurse training in December 1911 and joined the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) soon after.

The spark that lit the fuse at the start of World War I, was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The war was raging in Europe with the Allied Forces (Britain, France and Russia) up against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria Hungary). Australia’s Prime Minister Andrew Fisher pledged full support for Britain. Australians were fully supportive of the war because they wanted to prove themselves to the British Empire. Aboriginals went as well also wanting to prove themselves as Australians.  At the start of the war there were many volunteers and some of those who were accepted were sent to Egypt to fight the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).

A month after the parade the Taylors received a letter from the British army saying that her father was dead. The whole family mourned that day for the loss of him and that same day Mary-Anne and her brother Jim Taylor decided that they would go to war. The reasons why Mary-Anne wanted to go to war was partially the loss of her father and the desire to help, and partially to support her brother.

In late-1914 she and her friend Julia went on a boat and headed for Egypt. On the long voyage Mary-Anne and the other nurses were busy assisting with vaccinations and operations. She was posted at the 1st Australian General Hospital (1AGH) while Julia was posted at to the 2nd Australian General Hospital (2AGH).

While she was there the Australian troops were training near Cairo, ready for the time when the British Empire needed them. By the end of 1914 Mary-Anne was one of about 300 nurses that had come to Egypt. Mary-Anne remembered the terrible events 25th of April 1915 well, with the wounded coming in fast and with injuries ranging from blown off arms or legs to bullet holes right through thighs and hips.

At 4:30 that morning the Anzac troops had landed on the Gallipoli Peninsular but the Turkish were ready for them. They rained bullets on them and that day there were 2000 Anzacs wounded or dead and Mary-Anne nursed many of them.

 It was not all work. Once she was allowed to have some time off where she went to see the famous pyramids and the sphinx. She also went to the markets with her friends and bought artefacts to send home. She even got to ride a camel.

Mary-Anne was worried about her brother, she had not heard anything about him and the day he came into her ward she wept to see him in the state he was. His left leg had been blown off by a Turkish shell and the bleeding could not be stopped. Mary-Anne was so close to her brother and while she was bandaging up the wound she remembered the time when they went to the Melbourne Beach with her whole family. There they went and picked up the prettiest shells they could see.

When Jim came to he started to talk to Mary-Anne about what the war on the front line was like. He told her that when he landed it was quite hot and pleasant but eventually it got freezing. Jim and the other soldiers had no proper clothes due to the fact that all their clothes were entirely worn out. Jim told Mary-Anne about the small amount of water that he was rationed. He said he even shaved with tea so not to waste water. He said he was really looking forward to mum’s roast when he was on leave because the food was inedible. Some of the things he had were bully beef (a type of canned beef), biscuits made by his mum, bread, bacon, cheese, Julienne canned vegetables and corned beef. Jim said the worst thing about the trenches were the rats and the flies. They spread disease and fed on the open wounds of the injured. “When there was a truce I had a friendly chat with the enemy. They’re not half as bad as we all think they are Mary-Anne.” He went on, “but the next day we were enemies again, it was strange. I went to war for the adventure but not this, this horrible life”.

A week later a ship came to take Jim home. It was a sad goodbye for Mary-Anne but she was happy that he could go home to mum and help look after the family. Jim went onto writing letters back to Mary-Anne telling her that all was well in the family.

Life remained busy for Mary-Anne with the numbers of injured and sick growing so high the nurses had to take over a local amusement park, turning the ticket office into an operating theatre and the skating rink, the scenic railway and the skeleton house all into wards. There were up to five deaths a day and sometimes over 250 patients to look after.

It seemed like an eternity, but after four long years, in 1917 Mary-Anne finally returned home. She had seen death, sorrow and pain, but when she came home she wanted to continue her career as a nurse where she worked in the Alfred Hospital for many years.


Australian Government, Department of Veterans Affairs

Australian War Memorial The nurses' experience of Gallipoli from their letters

Australian War Memorial Gallipoli

Australian Government Women in action - nurses and serving women

Australian War Memorial Great War Nurses

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