Although many people are still surprised to learn that there were women doctors who served during World War I, this was something I’d always known from an early age, due to the fact that my late aunt had been a nursing VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) and she told me that she had worked with female doctors in hospitals on the island of Malta and on the Eastern Front at Salonika in 1917-1918. [See Note below.]
This book focusses on just twenty-four Australian women doctors who defied the prejudices and policies of the military establishment and made their own invaluable contribution to the war effort. Between them, they displayed extraordinary grit, determination and courage and saved untold numbers of lives yet their achievements remain shadowy at best. And when they returned home many had their experiences negated due to the attitudes of the time.
As the authors Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee state, neither the British nor the Australian National Archives carry any official service records for these women. They have had to rely on small collections of letters, diaries and other materials and it is impossible to know for sure how many Australian women doctors went to war. “The paucity of official records for the women … and the lack of sources generally, has meant that while some women’s experiences are relatively well documented, of others there are very few traces.”
The book is eminently readable as it weaves the experiences of these women within the timeline of the War at both the Western and Eastern Fronts, in the Mediterranean and Middle East as well as England and Scotland. Its last third contains more detailed biographical details of each doctor listed. With the aid of the index, this will be an invaluable resource for anyone researching a woman in particular to find out where and when she served.
This is a most important and worthy addition to the history of women in World War I and is highly recommended.
Note: Follow this link for extracts of letters written by Sgt. R.A. Hennel in which he mentions the “Lady Doctors” of Malta.