Your Excellency, the Governor General of Australia, Dr Brendan Nelson, distinguished guests, nurses and midwives. It is once again, with great humility that I draw this afternoon’s commemorative service to a close.
Each year we have tried to draw on the relevance of such an important occasion to present something that we always hope has been meaningful to those who have taken the time to come to the War Memorial in Canberra to pay homage to those nurses and midwives who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country. This year is no different and I thank Captain Van Ash for a most inspiring address.
As you know, this year bears particular relevance to Canberra’s history as we celebrate 100 years since the foundation stone for our city was put in place. In 1913 nursing was of course very different to the way we now deliver care and in fact, in that year, 100 years ago, nurses in the Armed Services were still remembering the heroic stories told by 60 of their colleagues who served overseas during the Boer War. Little did they realise that a year later, in 1914, many more nurses would be sent to the western front where World War One was whirling as a maddening affray, in places such as Burma, India, the Persian Gulf, Egypt, Greece, Italy and France. These are places where some of us now consider ourselves fortunate to go on holidays and yet these were the battlefields where soldiers and nurses lost their lives. The irony of this is quite remarkable and cannot be forgotten.
In 1913, or thereabouts, Elizabeth Kenny, a young woman from Warialda in NSW, perhaps better known for developing a treatment for infantile poliomyelitis, served as a nurse in the Australian Army Nursing Service during WW1. There is no known record of formal training or registration as a nurse but nursing Elizabeth Kenny did, serving on troop ships bringing wounded home from Australia. In 1917 she was promoted to Sister, a title she used for the rest of her life. Sister Kenny said this: “It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life”.
Many have attempted to interpret the meaning of Sister Kenny’s famous words and of course they are quoted throughout the world in various contexts. But I think Sister Kenny meant these words to be truly a statement of courage, and in this sense, nursing really hasn’t changed in the past 100 years, the nurses who served in the Armed Forces then have the same courage as those who serve now and no doubt of those who will serve in the future.
This courage that so typifies our nursing defence forces then and now, our serving nurses and midwives, many whom died during active service is today, about remembering them.
Thank you to Her Excellency and Dr Brendan Nelson for your attendance here today, both of you I know have a special relationship and fondness for nursing and midwifery, thank you to the staff of the War Memorial and to the staff of the Nursing and Midwifery Office. Thank you too, to Captain Van Ash and other members of Defence Force Nursing present today, and to all of you for taking the time to remember.
For the next few minutes however, rather than be the lions about which Sister Kenny spoke, I would like you to be sheep, as I invite you to follow the Official Party for afternoon tea in the area just behind me.
(Ronnie Croome, ACT Chief Nurse)