Angels of War: Remembering Australian Army Nurses

Gladys Boon

Gladys Boon was trained as a nurse at Orange Hospital, having graduated with her nursing certificate in 1915. However, she soon resigned from her position here to work as a nurse at a military hospital in Sydney in December 1916, and eventually enrolled with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) in mid-1917.

Header image: Allied Nurses and Soldiers shifting luggage, WWI. Courtesy of State Library Victoria

Requested by the British military, Gladys was one of the nurses sent to Salonika, Greece, to support the hospitals that had been established here to treat soldiers. Unlike most nurses serving from Australia, those at Salonika were not treating Australian soldiers, and would not do so for the length of their time there.

The conditions were harsh, with cold winters and hot summers, and the basic accomodation not faring well against the swamp-like environment it had been established in. Gladys and other nurses working here faced heightened risks of diseases like malaria due to these conditions.
A large spread of tents are laid out across a field, going into the horizon line. Outside the tents, nurses and soldiers are lined up.
Medical and nursing sisters of 3rd Australian General Hospital (3AGH) in the tent lines with patients, 1915. Courtesy of The Australian War Memorial
Portrait of Gladys Boon. Credit: Hall School Museum and Heritage Centre.
Portrait of Gladys Boon. Courtesy of Hall School Museum and Heritage Centre
Nurses recall blankets in the winter being coated in frost in the morning due to a lack of fuel for heating, and having to deal with an onslaught of mosquitoes in the summertime. By August 1918, 46 nurses had been sent home due to disease and poor health, and 2 had passed away. Gladys herself faced her own health battles, being hospitalised for debility in August and again in September for influenza. Yet, despite this, each time Gladys returned to continue her nursing work in Salonika- determined to provide aid where she could, and wearing protective gear against the mosquitoes whenever it was practical to do so.
In 1919, Gladys Boon was summoned to work in England at the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital. She worked here until April, at which time she was offered paid leave to attend a course to assist with returning to civilian life after the war. This course was cut short, however, as Gladys returned to Australia and was discharged. Gladys continued on to work first at the Bathurst District Hospital, then later at the Wallsend Hospital up until her death in 1948.

Gladys' story, and the stories of those that served at Salonika have at times been overlooked, but their work in the face of horrible conditions saved many lives throughout World War I.