Keeping spirits up

Sisters Rush [left & Young [right] with two patients from Lemnos, now in Egypt.  February 1916”.  Anne Donnell, National Library of Australia MS 3962

Sisters Rush [left] & Young [right] with two patients from Lemnos, now in Egypt. February 1916. Anne Donnell, National Library of Australia MS 3962. Click on image to enlarge.

Edith Rush was a nurse with connections to the Port Stephens area. She sailed with No 3 Australian General Hospital (AGH) in May 1915.   Leaving Sydney, the Mooltan berthed in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth to pick up additional passengers before heading across the Indian Ocean.  Sister Anne Donnell joined the Mooltan in Adelaide and published an account of her wartime experiences in 1920 as Letters of an Australian Army Sister, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.  In her published letters she mentions Edith Rush several times and helps us to build a picture of the kind of person she was.  The photos of Edith in the Anne Donnell collection indicate a cheerful, outgoing personality.

 No 3 AGH was posted to the island of Lemnos in August 1915 to care for the casualties from that month’s Allied offensive at Gallipoli.  The conditions on the island were appalling, with nurses sleeping under canvas on bare earth at first, and very poor quality provisions. Luxuries such as cake were hard to come by but Edith Rush helped to make Anne Donnell’s birthday on 31 October a very happy day. Anne recorded that “in the afternoon Sister Rush brought us some lovely cake.  It is the first and only cake I have tasted here (it came from the Navy men in the Harbour).”[i]  Edith Rush is singled out for mention on a number of occasions, an indication that they were friends and that she was a popular member of the staff.  Her service record indicates that she had some outstanding qualities as she was mentioned in dispatches and later awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd class. [ii]  William Rush of Nelson Bay received a letter from the Officer-in-Charge of AIF Base Records dated 3 July 1917 stating that his daughter Edith Danson Rush had been “awarded the decoration of the Royal Red Cross in recognition of her valuable services with the Armies in the Field.”[iii]

In early 1917 Edith and Anne were part of a group of nurses that visited Ireland and Scotland whilst on several weeks leave.  In Ireland they marvelled at “the donkeys bringing in the low basket carts and the women wrapped in shawls” and laughed when they were jeered at by urchins who mistook them for suffragettes because of their uniforms.  In Scotland they visited places made famous in literature and legend – Rob Roy’s cave, Loch Lomond and an “indescribably beautiful” drive to see Stirling Castle.  Anne Donnell bemoaned the fact that “on the 23rd [of March] Sister Rush and I have to leave this restful spot.”[iv]  The beauty and tranquility of the surroundings would have been the more keenly felt in contrast to the life to which they would soon return.

In May 1917 Edith was sent to France where her time was divided between No 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station and No 2 AGH.  In January 1919 the Matron of No 2 AGH described the breaking up of the unit, commenting that “though very pleased at the thought of seeing their home and friends in Australia, there was, I think, a genuine feeling of sadness in the thought that the happy relation which existed amongst the nurses was being to a certain extent severed”.  Amongst the first nurses to depart from No 2 AGH at this time was Louisa Stobo who was leaving with the other Head Sisters and those women who like herself had been with the AANS since 1914.[v]

Edith, now promoted to Sister and an Associate of the Royal Red Cross, the nurse who had managed somehow to find a birthday cake for her friend Anne Donnell during the privations on Lemnos and who was now with No 2 AGH had remained a good team member throughout.  As the last of the nurses prepared to leave the unit they held a meeting to decide how to dispose of the little extras that had been accumulated to make the Sisters’ Mess more comfortable.   At the meeting a vote of thanks was given to five nurses including Edith for “their admirable help in conducting special work in the Sisters’ Home and Mess.”[vi] How many other birthday cakes had she provided for her colleagues in her four years of service?

[i]      Anne Donnell, Letters of an Australian Army Sister, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1920

[ii]     Supplement to LG, 1 December 1916 and 1 January 1917

[iii]    NA-Aust B2455 RUSH EDITH DANSON

[iv]   Anne Donnell, Letters of an Australian Army Sister, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1920

[v]    AWM4-26/66/33, No 2 AGH January 1919

[vi]   AWM4- 26/66/34, No 2 AGH February 1919

© Christine Bramble 2013

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