In 1915 and 1916 a feisty teenager from the coalfields area of the Hunter Valley wanted so desperately to serve as a nurse in Egypt that she tried twice to stow away on a troop ship. On the first occasion she climbed hand over hand up a rope to board the vessel and was not discovered until at sea – she had managed to get hold of a uniform but her women’s boots were the giveaway. She was transferred to a coastal steamer and put ashore at Melbourne. On the second occasion she attached herself, suitably disguised once again and this time in more convincing footwear, to a party of drunken soldiers returning from shore leave to their ship in Sydney harbour. She even made a fake ‘dog tag’ to make her disguise more convincing. She was discovered the next day, before the troop ship had left port. On each occasion Maud Butler – this was her name – made headlines throughout the nation.[i]
The intelligence report written following the first attempt noted that “the Captain of the ship ventured the opinion that the girl was of good moral character but was venturesome and had a very strong will.”[ii] The story of Maud Butler of Kurri Kurri is compelling and she displayed a determination and resourcefulness that are an inspiration for any young woman. But unfortunately for Maud she was too young and lacked the professional training and hospital experience required by the authorities to take up the only military role available to Australian women.
Although she undertook to henceforth be of good behaviour she was discovered wearing a soldier’s uniform again several months after her second attempt to stow away – her reason for wearing the uniform was that she had been involved in fundraising for the Anzac memorial in Sydney. A descendant has told the author that Maud remained a free spirit throughout her life.
[i] Newcastle Morning Herald 9 March 1916, p.5; SMH, 9 March 1916
Adelaide Advertiser, 9 March 1916, p.7 & The Argus Melbourne 27 April 1916, retrieved from Trove 5 August 2010
Northern Territory Times and Gazette, 16 March 1916, retrieved from Trove 13 February 2013
[ii] National Archives of Australia, MP16/1 1915/3/1785
© Christine Bramble 2013