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Army August 1, 2013
Cpl Max Bree
MORE than 80 current and for-
mer military personnel attended
the 110th birthday of the Royal
Australian Army Medical Corps
and the Royal Australian Army
Nursing Corps at Government
House in Canberra on June 29.
The Governor-General and
Colonel in Chief of the Medical
Corps, Quentin Bryce, hosted the
event and also represented Her
Majesty The Queen, Colonel in
Chief of the Nursing Corps.
“When my sisters and I were
growing up in Western Queensland,
the matron and nurses at our little
hospital were our role models – they
were much loved leaders in rural
communities,” Ms Bryce said.
“Across the years I have
observed the development of the
nursing profession as it has moved
into specialisations, research, col-
laboration and greater opportunities
for advanced study.
“But nursing has never lost its
practical commitment, confidence
The Governor-General spoke of
the corps’ impressive work since
starting in the late 19th century.
“Members of the Nursing Corps
are able to look back at a fine his-
tory of service since the start of
Australian Military Nursing in
Sydney in 1898,” she said.
“In those days it was just one
Lady Superintendent and 24 nurses.
Today you are an impressive Corps
of 355 officers providing expert care
at home and overseas.”
The Governor-General also
talked about the heroism of corps
members over the years, including
WWII nurse Sister Ellen Savage.
“With broken bones and a perfo-
rated ear drum following the sinking
of the Hospital Ship Centaur, [she]
still managed to administer medical
care to those around her on a make-
shift raft,” Ms Bryce said.
“Sister Ellen stands as a shining
light, like the lamp of your badge,
revealing what is possible in seem-
ingly impossible conditions.”
Cpl Max Bree
CELEBRATING the Nursing Corps
birthday at Government House was
WWII veteran Meg Ewart, who joined
the Army as a nurse in 1941 and lived
through the bombing of Darwin, treated
soldiers during the Kokoda Campaign
and POWs in Borneo.
Her service career started in Bathurst
where 8 Div was assembling to go over-
“We were called into the matron’s
office thinking we were going overseas,”
she said. “But instead the matron told us
we were going to Darwin.
“We were so disappointed because
we had been teasing some of the boys ...
we were calling them ‘chocos’.”
But the war would soon catch up
with Ms Ewart, who was being treated
for dengue fever in a hospital outside
Darwin in February 1942 when the first
large Japanese air raid started.
She was returning from the shower
and noticed people staring up at planes
“I counted 128 and then my neck got
a bit stiff,” she said. “We thought they
were American Liberators or Fortresses.”
When white puffs appeared near
the planes and someone yelled “ack-
ack fire”, patients and staff rushed out
into the bush or to trenches outside the
Those that couldn’t move were put
under their beds with extra mattresses
around them and an orderly or nurse
stayed with them.
Ms Ewart put on her uniform and
a tin hat over dangling wet hair and
jumped into a nearby trench.
“Two fighter planes came down, there
were big red crosses up on the roof, but
the fighters went up and down machine-
gunning (the hospital),” she said. “And
that was the only time we felt frightened.
We could see the pilots because they
were so low.”
One hospital patient was killed,
believed to be from a ricochet.
Next Ms Ewart was sent to Sydney
and travelled around factories sharing
her war experiences alongside other ser-
The idea was to get workers to buy
war bonds, but Ms Ewart wasn’t able to
share everything she had seen in Darwin.
“We had to tell them about our expe-
riences in the Army,” she said. “But I
couldn’t tell them all of it because of the
“I had to go to the department to clear
my speech first; even then they took
Ms Ewart was posted to 2/9
Australian General Hospital in late 1942,
but she wasn’t going anywhere in a
“They were set to go to Moresby but
they said it wasn’t safe for the sisters to
go because there had been some bomb-
ing,” she said. “They went up in July ’42
and after a few months the doctors had
just about had it.
“There were a lot of things the doc-
tors and orderlies couldn’t do, so they
said most of the sisters could go.”
After arriving in December 1942, Ms
Ewart treated soldiers from the Kokoda
Campaign. At any time there were about
2000 patients crammed into the hospital,
many of them having to be treated on
stretchers under other patients’ beds.
The wards were busy attending to
surgical wounds, malaria, scrub typhus,
pneumonia and dysentery.
Ms Ewart spent the last months of
the war on Morotai Island looking after
soldiers from the Borneo Campaign
and received some of the first soldiers
released from POW camps. She knew
some of the men from her time in
“I couldn’t recognise the boys,” she
said. “Their transport officer was a ser-
geant, a big fella, a racing car driver,
very fit. They had to point him out to
me; I couldn’t believe you could get that
“But you know the first thing they
asked for? Bread, butter, jam and a cup
Ms Ewart was discharged from the
Army in July 1946, having reached the
rank of captain.
Veteran nurse shares
her WWII experiences
Governor-General hosts event at Government House
personnel on the
of the Royal
and the Royal
Inset, Ms Bryce
joins WWII nurse
Meg Ewart to cut
the birthday cake.
Photos by Cpl Max Bree
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