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Hunter nurse’s World War One letter still with soldier’s family

WAR SERVICE: Matron Ida Greaves (centre) pictured during her service in World War One. Picture: Greaves Family Archive, courtesy Trish Hayes.A lettera Hunter nurse wrote to a dead soldier’s wife during World War One near Poperinge in Belgium has found its way back to the region.
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Matron Ida Greaves wrote to Private Alfred Houldcroft’s wife Mary Anne Elizabeth on August 13, 1917 after he died from a spinal injury at No 4 Casualty Clearing Station –a large medial triage centre and field hospital.

He was an English man from Birmingham who was part of the sixth battalion Oxford and BucksLight Infantry Regiment with the British Expeditionary Force.

PrivateHouldcroft’s grandsonGuy Anstiss sent a copy of the letter to researcher Christine Bramble in 2015 after he came across her websiteGreat War nurses from the Hunter, which includes information about Ida’s service.

The letter read:

Ms Bramble said matrons generallysaid the soldier died peacefully, or was asleep when he died, to bring comfort to the family.In many cases this would not have happened, she said.

“Ida wasserving in a British unit near the Belgian town of Poperinge at the time.This was close to the 3rd Battle of Ypres,” she said.

“Nurses cared for whoever came through the door –it didn’t matter that she was Australian and he was British.”

Ida, who was born in Newcastle, was in England when war broke out. She was quick to sign up to helpand within a month she had been named Matron of the Australian Voluntary Hospital and was working in the field, historical documents show.

Read more: Maitland nurses near the front line

Ms Bramble, who also wrote the bookSisters of the Valley: First World War Nurses from Newcastle and the Hunter Region, has spent years piecing together the movements of more than 80 Hunter nurses who served in the war.

Her research offers ourbest insight into the experiences these women had as they worked tirelessly to care for wounded and ill soldiers in some very challenging conditions.

Ms Bramble has been able to obtain documents and photographs from Ida’s war experience from her great-great niece and is writing the matron’s biography.

Ida was one of two Hunter women to receive the Royal Red Cross (RRC), the other was Maitland’s Louisa Stobo.

Ms Bramble said the experiences nurses encountered depended upon where they served.

Seven nurses with a connection to Maitland served in Salonika in northern Greece and experienced rough conditions compared with those that served in France far behind the front line.

They were:

Minnie Mears and her sister Sarah Avaline Mears, who were born in West Maitland

Dorothy Mary Feneley, who was living in West Maitland when she signed up

Leila Godfrey, wholived in East Maitland

Ada Harvey, who trained at Maitland Hospital

Genevieve Nimmo ‘Vera’ Hocquard, who graduated from Maitland Hospital in 1916

Minnie Cowan, who trained at Maitland Hospital

At that time Salonika, the second-largest city in Greece, was very underdeveloped and had no roads. The hospitals also did not have electricity, which posed many challenges.

“They only had kerosene for heating and everything took longer todo. It meant that nurses serving here found it harder to spend as much time with their patients as the nurses did in France who had more modern conveniences,” she said.

“Even just boiling the kettle for a hot drink was time consuming.

“Nurses serving in Salonika had casualties brought into the hospital on stretchers that were pulled by donkeys.

“It was very rugged mountain country andit was freezing in winter andhot in summer. A lot of the casualties they were working with were suffering from the diseases that went with that kind of country, as well as wounds.”

Historical documents show many soldiers –and some nurses –contracted malaria. Nurses had to put mosquito nets over their patients at night and tuck it under them to try to stop insect bites.

Ms Bramble said. This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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