On this day seventy years ago – 22 April 1946 – Sister Blanche Cresswick, graduate of Newcastle Hospital, member of the Australian Army Nursing Service and recipient of the Royal Red Cross 2nd class died age 70. This now rather unkempt memorial to her was unveiled on 9 October 1948 in the grounds of what is now Newcastle Private Hospital, in earlier times the New Lambton convalescent home. In 1926 Sister Cresswick had been appointed the head sister of the newly-opened convalescent home, an off-shoot of Newcastle Hospital.
One hundred years ago in April 1916 Sister Cresswick and other Australian nursing and medical staff were arriving in France from Egypt. As a nurse with No 1 Australian General Hospital she was sent to Rouen on the Seine where the city’s racecourse had been taken over as the site for Allied base hospitals. By 29 April the unit was open to receive patients evacuated from the Western Front. In May 1916 the hospital admitted 751 patients, a relatively small number in comparison with the figures for July when there were 4914 admissions largely as a result of the Battle of the Somme, with 546 men admitted on 2 July alone.
In 1917 Blanche was moved to a casualty clearing station (CCS), a field hospital much closer to the conflict and well within the danger zone. Not everyone was able to endure the stress of working in a CCS and there are recorded instances of nurses being evacuated to base on account of shell-shock – a condition usually associated with the troops. It was for her service at CCSs that Blanche was awarded the Royal Red Cross.