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A passion for nursing

Jean Miles Walker was born in Tasmania in 1878. She was privately educated until she was 15, when she enrolled at the Collegiate School in Hobart. When she was 25, she began training as a nurse at Hobart General Hospital in 1903 until 1906.

She stayed on at Hobart General until 1908, by which time she was Sister, and then went into private nursing. Jean was dedicated to her career and constantly learning new things – in 1913 she completed six months training in obstetrical nursing.

 

Sailing to Egypt

When the First World War broke out, Jean had been a member of the Australian Army Nursing Service for 8 years. After several years as a matron at various private hospitals, Jean sailed to Egypt in November 1914 with the Australian Imperial Force. She was one of only 25 nurses who made that initial trip. Her experiences during the war would be a world away from her years nursing in Hobart.

Jean worked in several hospitals during her time in Egypt. When Britain and France attempted to secure Gallipoli for their Russian allies in February 1915, Jean was acting matron at the Mena Hospital in Cairo when the first casualties arrived.

She later served on Gascon, a British hospital ship and at the Australian Stationary Hospital. In October 1916, she travelled to Dartford in England, where she became a matron at the Australian Auxiliary Hospital.

 

Awards

In January 1917, after three years caring for the wounded of the First World War, Jean was awarded the Royal Red Cross (1st Class). But Jean still felt compelled to be working in the thick of battle and travelled to Dieppe in northern France, to become the matron of the British Stationary Hospital in July 1917.

She returned once more to England in October 1918, to Sutton Veny in Wiltshire, to work at the military hospital. Just a couple of weeks before the Armistice was signed, Jean died in the flu pandemic.

Jean was buried with full military honours. She received several posthumous honours – the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, all of which were sent to her mother.

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