Ballina nurse served in the early wars

IT IS sometimes difficult to find information about the nurses serving in the early wars.

However, like Florence Nightingale, they were there as soon as they could get permission to go - and sometimes before this was given!

From 1898 the nursing service was to be known as the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps. Initially it consisted of a Lady Superintendent and 24 nurses and the Corps worked throughout the Boer War, 1898-1903.

When the First World War started the Nursing Corps was in recess.

All Reserve Nurses were quickly brought back into service and other nurses were recruited from the hospitals.

However, although the authorities apparently supported female nurses being recruited, many of the male army authorities, especially the doctors, were less supportive.

Sister Henrietta Williams, A.A.N.S.
Sister Henrietta Williams, A.A.N.S.

They believed that male nurses and orderlies were more appropriate in times of conflict. By the end of the War, however, nearly 3000 female nursing staff had enlisted, most of whom served overseas. Quite a number received bravery and other awards.

One of these nurses was our own Sister Henrietta Williams, the third of 14 children to Charles and Jane Williams (nee Skennar) of Upper North Creek, Ballina.

Her family had been pioneers in that part of the Richmond River District.

She was born in 1882 and dedicated most of her life to the nursing profession.

She had trained at the Coast Hospital (Little Bay) in Sydney where most of the nurses from this area trained in those days, and in June 1915 offered her services to the Red Cross as a nurse.

She sailed soon afterwards for Egypt and later was sent to France.

She was very ill with pleurisy in 1917 and was sent to England.

After recovering she returned to France.

She was still not completely well, however, and was appointed to duty on a troop transport going to Australia in mid-1917. She was discharged on 5 December 1917 but apparently continued working at Victoria Barracks.

Her youngest brother David, 14 years her junior, had enlisted in October 1916 and on 18 September 1918 he died of wounds on the Somme in France.

Possibly this had a tremendous effect on Henrietta as she soon afterwards tried to re-enlist for overseas service. It is not clear what happened exactly but she changed her name to Henrietta Taylor-Williams.

Taylor was the maiden name of her paternal grandmother and possibly Henrietta thought that a slight name change might get her back into the overseas service.

Apparently it did as she embarked from Sydney for Malta on 16th October 1918 and found herself in Suez the following month.

Little is known about Henrietta after she returned to Australia in 1919 except that she was discharged from the services on 8 December 1919. Apparently, however, she did marry but so far no details have been found. She died at Ballina in 1959 as Henrietta Tompkins and is buried in the Ballina Cemetery under that name.

The series televised earlier this year concerning the Australian nurses serving overseas gave a good insight into the conditions they had to endure and the dangers they faced.

Twenty-five Australian nurses are said to have died overseas in the First World War.