Australian Military Nurses and Ways of Representation During the Second World War

Australian Military Nurses and Ways of Representation During the Second World War

Health care and the military

Matron Sage’s Poster Girls: Representing Australian Military Nursing during the
Second World War

Drawing on a range of primary sources including print and broadcast media, memoirs, short stories, novels, recruitment posters and advertising campaigns, I explore the ways in which Australian military nurses were depicted both during the Second World War and in the immediate postwar era. Between January 9, 1940, when the first group of Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) Sisters left Australia for overseas service in the Middle East, and the cessation of hostilities, 3,477 nurses served on the home front and in combat regions around the world. Analyzing material from this period I demonstrate the ways in which popular representations of military nurses differed from those of their civilian counterparts. Particular attention is paid to the complex role of nurses in combat zones and the ways in which nurses who became POWs, or were victims of violence, were represented in the mainstream media. Frequently celebrated as examples of an indomitable fighting spirit that was quintessentially ‘Australian’, I argue that nurses, both civilian and military, were incorporated into the mass of ideas and images and became crucial inforging in a postcolonial national identity in Australia.

Angharad Fletcher

University of Hong Kong

Soldiers Become Citizens: Perceptions of United States Army Health Care

From 1917 through 1924, policy makers, soldiers, and veterans laid the groundwork for the extension of medical welfare to thousands of United States army personnel and former service members. Their actions and decisions shaped military and veterans' health care for the greater part of the twentieth century, and underpinned the 1921 creation of the Veterans’ Bureau, one of the nation’s first and most enduring direct assistance government agencies. Ultimately, a crisis situation and vigorous political lobbying, both arising when standards and expectations of public health and professional medicine were in flux, underlay the establishment of a federal hospital system for veterans. In 1924, all ex-soldiers – not just those harmed in the line of duty – gained legal access to hospitals overseen by the newfound Veterans’ Bureau. Established as various state legislatures rejected calls for government-sponsored health insurance for all, the guarantee of medical care for veterans provided allowances for some of those who made extreme personal sacrifices, but it also helped set the precedent that, in the U.S., state-sponsored privileges could be earned by virtue of membership in a definable group, not citizenship.

Part of a dissertation exploring health policy during the World War One era, this paper illuminates differences in expectations held by state bureaucrats and individual citizens regarding government obligations to U.S. soldiers. It examines allegations from American Expeditionary Forces troops that care and conditions at Walter Reed Army General Hospital – a premier military medical institution in the nation’s capitol – were sub-par. Among other things, the soldiers expressed dissatisfaction with being discharged before they deemed themselves wholly self-sufficient, and faulted an army health system that they claimed was negligent. Meanwhile, Army doctors, nurses, and welfare workers fiercely defended the care being provided. As they grappled with vague discharge policies, they argued that their medical facilities were over-extended; ex-soldiers, they noted, could turn to civilian entities in order to obtain health services. By examining citizens’ experiences and perceptions of army health care, this paper traces how and why the U.S. government eventually did away with a patchwork system of cash benefits, vocational training, and hospitals, and, in 1921, approved funding for the Veterans’ Bureau. Confronted with the realities of enacted policies, bureaucrats and army officials were forced to adapt. They gradually realized that although extended medical treatment was the antithesis of pre-war rehabilitation ideals focused on recovery, cure, and self-reliance, it was, in many cases, unavoidable.

Jessica L. Adler, PhD Candidate, Columbia University, Department of History