Ida O’Dwyer

A page from Ida O'Dwyer's WWI photo album held by her family.
A page from Ida O’Dwyer’s WWI photo album held by her family.

Ida O’Dwyer left her home in Bendigo to commence her nursing training at St Vincent’s Hospital and graduated in 1902.

She nursed in the First World War as part of the AIF delivering care in Egypt, England and France, achieving a Royal Red Cross for her devotion to duty.

Already a very experienced nurse at the outbreak of the war , Ida enlisted in 1914 and travelled overseas on the hospital ship Kyarra with other senior members of the nursing profession.

She wrote a detailed report of her experiences, in the words of one historian the “classic statement of nursing life in a Casualty Clearing Station” providing much detail of the difficult conditions (volume of patients, long hours, sometimes physical danger) nurses faced close to the front line.

In her own words:

“This is nearest nurses get to the actual fighting…

…the first thing to be noticed is the rows of duckboard everywhere connecting all the wards and the quarters right out to the road…..

Wards are prepared in a great hurry, not the comfortable bed ward of the base but mostly stretchers on the ground…

… the Sisters must be prepared in a few hours to receive and nurse hundreds of wounded admitted in numbers that can be hardly realized.

They have not only to be admitted but are to be classified, dressed, fed and evacuated, with the same speed and still keep her ward in a state that she can pass through hundreds more.

There is one continuous rush between cases… during a battle everyone working a period of 16 hours a day…

…The Resuscitation Ward which hold the patients who are too bad for immediate operation … is really the biggest to the Sister as she has never experienced anything like it before in her career. Everyone requires immediate attention and some of them die before they can be fully attended to.

Every man is just as he is carried out of the trenches in his wet khaki and stone cold…

You can see death written in most of their faces…yet … he waits his turn and never asks – that’s when a wounded soldier commands the respect and admiration of anyone in this world.

The biggest per cent of this ward die and through the incoming of patients is so constant no one is missed or neglected … Every patient’s next of kin is taken with a message that the Sister will write home. Some of which are full of pathos…”.

In December 1917 Ida O’Dwyer was awarded the decoration of Royal Red Cross 1st class “in recognition of her valuable service within the armies in the field”. After the war she continued to care for sick and wounded soldiers as Matron of Caulfield Military Hospital.

She was the inaugural President of the St Vincent’s Hospital Graduate Nurses Association.

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