In April, the Contemporary Histories Research Group and the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Local Grants sponsored a public seminar held at Deakin University’s Geelong Waterfront campus: Geelong Women and the First World War. Dr Janet Butler and Dr Ruth Lee presented at this seminar and have kindly allowed us to share this with our audience; you can now listen to the entire seminar on our YouTube channel. Dr Bart Ziino has written a reflection of this event:
Geelong Women Face the First World War
The list of men from Geelong who served in the First World War is long and impressive. Interspersed but not often noted in the honour rolls are also the names of numerous women from Geelong and district, who played a remarkable part in that war. On 22 April, Dr Janet Butler and Dr Ruth Lee returned the lives of two of those women to the spotlight in the public seminar ‘Geelong Women and the First World War’.
In a deeply personal investigation of private diaries, Dr Butler followed the journey of Australian Army Nursing Sister Kit McNaughton from McNaughton’s home in Little River to Lemnos Island, near Gallipoli, and onto the Western Front. ‘Nursing in the First World War was professionally challenging,’ said Dr Butler, author of Kitty’s War. ‘It also took an enormous physical and emotional toll on the women’.
Kit McNaughton was nursing Australian soldiers from Gallipoli and tending to them on the Western Front for almost four years. Dr Mary De Garis, however, saw few of her countrymen during the war. Having paid her own way to London to join the Scottish Women’s Hospitals as a surgeon, De Garis eventually ran a two-hundred-bed tent hospital in northern Macedonia for the Serbian Army for nearly two years.
In her moving account of De Garis’ war experiences, Dr Ruth Lee observed that ‘She showed enormous skill and persistence in her capacity to organise and manage the care of hundreds of men in a theatre of battle as brutal as any other in this war’.
These two striking and intimate accounts of the private war of 1914-18 reveal that for women, no less than men, the war’s legacies were mixed and played out over entire lifetimes.