Sister Louisa Stobo RRC from Maitland was one of just 44* members of the Australian Army Nursing Service in WW1 to be awarded the Royal Red Cross 1st Class, a decoration introduced by Queen Victoria to recognise outstanding service in military nursing. The following tells the circumstances that led to Louisa receiving the award.
For the doctors and nurses of No 2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station (ACCS) at Trois Arbres, just inside France and close to the Ypres and Messines sector of the front, the month of July 1917 was a relative lull. However, during this quieter period the Allies were building up their forces ready for an attempt to break through to the Belgian coast. The month was characterised by fine summer weather and an exchange of bombs and lethal poison gas across the trench lines.[i] No 2 ACCS was uncomfortably close to other military infrastructure and at approximately 10.25pm on 22 July 1917 the hospital took a direct hit from two bombs. One marquee was completely destroyed and three others were rendered unusable. Four men were killed and fifteen wounded. Four nurses who had gone to the aid of patients were subsequently awarded the Military Medal for their bravery.[ii] The OC attributed the bombing to the fact that No 2 ACCS was located close to a Kite Balloon Section of the Royal Flying Corps, believed to be the real target of the bombs. Henceforth the nurses would have to go about night duty in darkness apart perhaps from a field lantern with a candle, as Webb ordered that after this incident the hospital lights not be lit.[iii]
The Sister-in-Charge of No 2 ACCS at the time was Louisa Stobo from Maitland. Louisa had been amongst the nurses who had enlisted in 1914. Louisa had the job of supervising the nursing staff of the unit, of maintaining calm and order and ensuring the continuing care of the sick and wounded in all circumstances. Her work did not go unrecognised. Louisa was subsequently recommended for the Royal Red Cross 1st Class, the citation stating that she had
proved an excellent administrator and sound disciplinarian as sister in charge of No 2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station. During the frequent bombardments in the Area, her good example and unfailing cheerfulness have been of the utmost value.[iv]
The award was formally gazetted on 1 January 1918.[v] Later in January Louisa received the ribbon for this award from the hands of General Birdwood, the Commander of I ANZAC Corps, when he made an inspection of No 2 ACCS.[vi]
[i] Martin Marix Evans, Battles of World War I, The Crowood Press Ltd, Marlborough, 2004
[ii] Peter Rees, The Other ANZACs, nurses at war 1914-1918, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest 2008
[iii] Australian War Memorial collection – AWM4-26/63/13, No 2 ACCS July 1917
[iv] Australian War Memorial website – http://www.awm.gov.au/research/people/honours_and_awards/
[v] Supplement to the London Gazette, 1 January 1918
[vi] Australian War Memorial collection – AWM4, 26/63/18, No 2 ACCS January 1918
* At time of writing the Australian War Memorial website notes only 43. However, their list omits Matron Nora Fletcher, a woman from Sydney who was the Principal Matron of British Red Cross personnel in France.
© Christine Bramble 2014