Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > Women to the Front: Australian Women Doctors of the First World War

Women to the Front by Heather Sheard
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bookshelves: australian-author, australian-womens-writers-challenge, librarybooks

‘The War Office regrets that it cannot use the services of women doctors.’

In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, there were 129 women registered as medical practitioners in Australia. Many of those women wanted to contribute their skills and expertise to the war effort. For the military establishment, this was unthinkable. Despite this, at least twenty-six Australian women doctors were known to have served in World War I. The women were aged between 27 and 56, and all but five of them were single.

In this book, Ms Sheard and Ms Lee explore the stories of the Australian women who served as anaesthetists, medical officers, pathologists and surgeons between 1914 and 1919. These women saved hundreds of lives, but the official military records are largely silent about their experiences and achievements.

Because women doctors were officially prevented from enlisting and denied gazetted commissions, they were further disadvantaged post-war:

‘With no official enlistment they could not benefit from government legislation that gave employment preference to returned serviceman and neither could they seek a pension for any ill health resulting from their war work.’

Until I read this book, I was unaware of the Australian women doctors who served during World War I. I knew quite a bit about the nurses who had served, and about the battles fought. I knew, in other words, what the official records tell us about who served and where. Meticulous research by Ms Sheard and Ms Lee provides information about some of the women known to have served.

Details from personal diaries enable us to appreciate, over one hundred years later, the conditions experienced, and the injuries treated. And these women served at both the Eastern and Western Fronts, in Malta and in London. Their courage and skill should be recognised.
And after World War I?

‘Despite their war service, which demonstrated that women doctors could exercise the same professional skills as their male colleagues, the post-war period saw a return to the exclusion of women from what Dr Flora Murray called ‘the professional prizes’ in medicine.’

I finished this book wanting to know more about these Australian women doctors. I felt both inspired and humbled by their service.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Reading Progress

May 11, 2019 – Started Reading
May 11, 2019 – Shelved
May 11, 2019 – Shelved as: australian-author
May 11, 2019 – Shelved as: australian-womens-writers-challenge
May 11, 2019 – Shelved as: librarybooks
May 13, 2019 –
page 62
May 13, 2019 –
page 93
May 15, 2019 –
page 126
May 16, 2019 –
page 144
May 19, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Debbie (new) - added it

Debbie Robson Just wondering how prominently the Scottish Women's Hospitals featured because of course several of the Australian women doctors worked with them. I am about to record a 40 minute talk soon on the SWH.

Jennifer (JC-S) Quite prominent, Debbie

message 3: by Kim (new) - added it

Kim That sounds interesting! I just read a fictional account, The Land Girls by Victoria Purman, released in April 2019. A sister of one of the main characters is a doctor at the front.

Jennifer (JC-S) Kim wrote: "That sounds interesting! I just read a fictional account, The Land Girls by Victoria Purman, released in April 2019. A sister of one of the main characters is a doctor at the front."

I read 'The Land Girls' as well, Kim, and really enjoyed it.

message 5: by Debbie (new) - added it

Debbie Robson Jennifer (JC-S) wrote: "Quite prominent, Debbie"

That's good to hear! I'll have to read the book. Thanks so much for reviewing it.

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