Ballarat nurse inspires author

Author Katrina Hedditch.
Author Katrina Hedditch.

BALLARAT World War I nurse Sister Alice Kitchen has been immortalised as a hero who fought for better conditions for the hospitalised soldiers of Gallipoli in author Katrina Hedditch’s latest book.Ms Hedditch’s new book Lemnos 1915: A Nursing Odyssey to Gallipoli tells the story of the 130 nurses stationed on the small island of Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign, with nearly a third hailing from western Victoria.Ms Hedditch said she was inspired to write the book after discovering the “forgotten history” of the heroic WWI nurses while researching her previous book Remember Them: A Generation of Victorians at the Great War.Ms Hedditch said Sister Kitchen was one of the most prominent nurses to serve with Ballarat’s 8th Battalion and was a popular figure in the army hospitals, remaining forthright and outgoing during the war.“One time she had to attend to a boy who used to deliver bread to her back in Ballarat, so nursing was quite personal for her,” she said.“She made friends with the commanding officer of the 8th Battalion and he had little pins made up for her and the other nurses which were in the shape of an eight, which was to say they were a part of the battalion.“Most of the nurses were quite reticent but her diary is an open and honest account of what happened in the hospitals there and it was an absolute joy to read.”Ms Hedditch said the nurses encountered horrific conditions on the island, and were often left without adequate supplies.“They had no supplies, no food, no equipment and more shockingly, no water,” she said. “The men they treated were often maggoty and gangrenous, but somehow they just got the job done.”Ms Hedditch said the nurses of Gallipoli fought hard to improve conditions for those hospitalised in the battle, often butting heads with senior officers.“One of the biggest forgotten histories of the war is the debacle of the hospitals,” she said. “The nurses often came into conflict with commanding officers whose conditions were much better than the troops. The arguments became quite hostile sometimes and the nurses did suffer under some of the officers but they stood their ground.”Ms Hedditch said the actions of the nurses during the Gallipoli campaign were instrumental in them being recognised as ANZACs along with the soldiers at the conclusion of the war in 1918.She said she planned to write more books which followed the lives of the nurses more closely, including what happened to them after they arrived back in Australia.“I want to follow the individuals,” she said. “They’re not just statistics to me, they’re real people ... their legacy is important for us to address.”Lemnos 1915: A Nursing Odyssey to Gallipoli is on sale now at Collins Booksellers in Sturt Street.