Staff Nurse Lydia ABELL ARRC, 1872 – 1959

Staff Nurse Lydia Abell ARRC in uniform as a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. Photo courtesy Newcastle Museum

Connection with the Hunter Valley – Perhaps the Newcastle region’s best known WW1 nurse, Staff Nurse Abell’s family was from Wallsend. She trained at Newcastle Hospital.  She was presented with the Royal Red Cross by George V at Buckingham Palace in May 1919.  The decoration was awarded for bravery during the evacuation of a field hospital that was under enemy bombardment.

Training and experience – Lydia graduated from Newcastle Hospital in 1898 and subsequently nursed there.  She also worked as a private nurse for Thomas Cook of Turanville (Scone) before the War and at Sydney Women’s Hospital.

Service  – French Flag Nursing Corps, Australian Voluntary Hospital and Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR)

Service location – Staff Nurse Abell served at a French hospital in Bordeaux, the Australian Voluntary Hospital in Wimereux, as well as British Hospitals – No 10 and No 32 Stationary Hospitals, No 14 General Hospital, No 2, 11 & 15 Casualty Clearing Stations in France and No 3 & 4 Ambulance Flotillas –  barges used to evacuate patients by canal or river.

Medals, awards and mentions – British War Medal, Victory Medal and Associate Royal Red Cross

        More detail and references…

Enlisted – Late 1915, age 43. Formally enlisted in QAIMNSR 1 July 1916 when the Australian Voluntary Hospital was absorbed into the British Army as No 32 Stationary Hospital.

Residence before embarkation – Newcastle

Port of embarkation, vessel and date –   Sydney / Arabia  – Lydia disembarked at Tilbury, London, on 1 November 1915 having made her own way to Europe

Return to Australia- Embarked for return to Australia on 7 August 1919 on the Katoomba

Next-of-kin as indicated in service record – Sister, Elizabeth Lockley, Ridge Street, Gordon, NSW

Leave – Staff Nurse Abell and a companion, Sister E Lowe, described a trip to south west France, probably in the [northern] summer of 1916 in a letter printed in the Australasian Nurses’ Journal.  They visited Bordeaux, Bayonne, Pau and Biaritz.  The ocean and beach at Biarritz gave them “a taste of home”.   See references.

Medals, awards and mentions – British War Medal, Victory Medal and Royal Red Cross 2nd Class

Discharged – April 1919

Relative in AIF – Nephew William Bower 20th Battalion did not return. Herbert Abell 34th Battalion was a cousin’s son.   Information provided by a relative.  See comment below.

Honour roll – Wallsend Citizens’ Memorial

Detail of Wallsend Citizens’ Memorial
Photo: A John Bramble 2010

Marital status / married surname – Single

Parents / where born or birth registered – Elijah and Margaret Abell / Newcastle. Elijah Abell was was a well-known community leader in Wallsend.  On her application to join the QAIMNSR she states his occupation as mining overseer.  He was an alderman for over twenty years and four times mayor as well as holding other honorary positions.

Staff Nurse Abell returned to nursing after the war.  She retired as a senior member of the staff of Lady Davidson Convalescent Home for returned men in 1933 and died in July 1959 aged c.87.

Do you know more?


National Archives UK, WO/372/23 (medal card), WO/399/8 (service record), WO 399/3290 includes Lydia Abell in a list of former AVH nurses recommended for acceptance into the QAIMNSR in July 1916 when the Australian Voluntary Hospital was transferred to the British service.

Supplement to London Gazette, 3 June 1918

Newcastle Hospital Report, December 1902

Newcastle Sun, 27 July 1959, (in Newcastle‘s Hospital by the Beach.  Some photographic memories, Royal Newcastle Hospital, Noel Carter (ed), c1991, clippings, in Newcastle Region Library, Local Studies LH362/PAM BOX STA)

Newcastle Morning Herald , 6 October 1894, 24 May 1912

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 August 1898, 18 September 1915, 8 August 1918, 11 July 1919, 14 June 1933, 13 January 1934

Sydney Mail, 14 August 1918

Australasian Nurses’ Journal, Vol XIV No 2 February 1916, No 3 March 1916, No 9 September 1916

British Journal of Nursing Vol 55, 20th November 1915

Audrey Armitage, A Golden Age of Nursing, Royal Newcastle Hospital Graduates’ Association Book Committee, Newcastle, 1991

Susan Marsden, The Royal : a castle grand, a purpose noble, The Royal Newcastle Hospital 1817-2005,  New Lambton, 2005

Nancy Gray, Thomas Cook of Turanville, Scone & Upper Hunter Historical Society, 1977

© Christine Bramble 2013


2 thoughts on “Staff Nurse Lydia ABELL ARRC, 1872 – 1959

  1. Jane Ison

    Lydia was my great-grandfather’s sister. I am the family researcher. While Herbert Abell was related – he was Lydia’s cousin’s son – her closest relative who didn’t return was her nephew, William Bower, the son of her sister, Susan, who died in 1917.

  2. Great War Nurses from Newcastle & the Hunter Region Post author

    Thanks for that additional information, Jane! Cheers, Christine


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s