Identity Restored to Forgotten WWI Nurse
A FORGOTTEN Ballarat nurse from the First World War has had a plaque installed on her previously unmarked grave in a special commemorative service at the Ballarat Old Cemetery on Saturday.
Annie Maynard Westcott was 24 years of age when she commenced her training at the Ballarat Base Hospital on January 16th 1899. Conditions at the Ballarat & District Base Hospital at this time were extremely harsh. Wards and nurses quarters were damp, unhygienic and appallingly dilapidatedwith ceilings coming down, floors wearing out and with a threat of closure due to the absence of toilets and appropriate sanitation.
But the Ballarat community has a long history of support for its hospital, and Annie perhaps felt hope for the future as she watched the construction of the Queen Victoria Women’s Ward. Financed largely by the fundraising efforts of the women of Ballarat, and commissioned as a tribute to
Queen Victoria on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, this fine building still stands today, facing south on Sturt Street, Ballarat. The Nurses worked very long shifts, 7.30am to 9.30pm; and they were often exhausted.
In addition to mining injuries, they were nursing patients with Typhoid Fever, Diphtheria, Influenza, and many nurses fell seriously ill, whilst performing their nursing duties.
The Nursing Register shows that, in each of the 4 to 5 years, prior to the commencement of Annie’s nursing training, up to 25% of trainees did not finish their 3 years.
Nurses were taught by the Matron, Senior Nurses and Doctors and Annie successfully graduated in 1902. In addition to her nursing in Ballarat, she worked as a sister at Maryborough and as matron at Maldon and Inglewood.
Working conditions for nurses were challenging, but the long shifts and dilapidated nurses’ quarters were preparing her, and many of her nursing friends, for greater challenges that awaited them near the battlefields of Gallipoli and France. She was 40 years of age, with 16 years of nursing and administration experience, when she joined the Australian Army Nursing Service in October 1915. A month later she embarked from Melbourne on the Orsova and sailed to Egypt just in time for the influx of sick and wounded soldiers being evacuated from Gallipoli.
She joined the staff at the 1st Australian General Hospital based in the Grand Heliopolis Palace Hotel in Cairo but the growing number of patients forced the hospital to expand into the neighbouring Luna Park where the ticket office became an operating theatre. To join the AANS women had to be unmarried and between the ages of 21 and 40, consequently due to her age Annie’s overseas service was cut short.
On January 21st 1916 she left from Suez aboard the Commonwealth, nursing soldiers who were being returned home.
She then served with the AANS until February 1917. She married Frederick Smith in 1917 and moved to Gippsland but later returned to Ballarat (Leigh Creek) where she died in 1951, aged 76.
She was buried with other family members whose names are recorded on adjacent headstones but for some reason Annie’s name is not there.
On discovering that one of their former members was lying anonymously in a grave in the Ballarat Old Cemetery, the Ballarat Base Hospital Trained Nurses League immediately set about raising the funds to give Annie her identity and recognition. Nurses League spokesperson, Trina Jones, said “Our membership was unanimously of the view that we should do something to ensure her last resting place carries her name and acknowledges her service to her country.”
Ballarat General Cemeteries’ CEO Annie De Jong said she was very pleased to be able to assist the Nurses’ League with arrangements for the commemorative service and unveiling.
“Nurse Westcott’s story came to light during the preparation of our book ‘They Answered Their Country’s Call’, so we are delighted to partner with the Nurses League in commemorating Annie and all nurses of WWI”, she said. “The Cemeteries purpose is “Remembering the Past, Caring for the Present and Planning for the future”.