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Women In Service

 Australian nurses who received the first bravery awards in 1917

The first bravery awards for Australian women were given to four nurses. Sisters Clare Deacon, Dorothy Cawood, Alice Ross-King and Staff Nurse, Mary Derrer. 

Each received the Military Medal for risking their lives to rescue patients trapped in burning buildings after a German raid on the Western Front in France in 1917.

Although female nurses were able to enlist for service overseas, female doctors were not, despite many applications. Australia’s progressive record of civil rights for women at the turn of the last century, which included achieving the right to vote nationally in 1902 following South Australia’s lead in 1895, did not translate to the Australian Army, which was slow to accept female doctors. They preferred to follow the British lead during the Great War, prohibiting women doctors from enlisting. The British, however, later relaxed their prohibition, while the Australians did not.

Doctor Phoebbe Chapple

Doctor Phoebbe Chapple

South Australian Doctor Phoebbe Chapple who was awarded the Military Medal, the British War Medal 1914 – 1920 and the Victory Medal for her World War 1 Service.

Doctor Phoebbe Chapple’s story of service stands out as an example of a women who refused to accept the status quo of her time. For her service on the Western Front in World War 1 she was awarded the Military Medal, the British War Medal 1914-1920 and the Victory Medal.

Other Australian women doctors such as Agnes Bennett, also took matters into her own hands. Bennett and her female colleagues, who included Australian surgeon Lilian Cooper and her companion Josephine Bedford, worked alongside several Australians in a field hospital situated behind the Greek Macedonian front line, where French and Serbian troops were fighting against German-backed Austrians.

Agnes Bennett Lillian Cooper Josephine Bedford

 The Serbian government subsequently recognised the contribution made by Bennett and her colleagues, awarding each the Order of St Sava for humanitarian service. And despite significant foreign awards being presented from the governments of Britain, France, Serbia and Greece since, their service has remained largely unnoticed in Australia.