Myrtle Elizabeth Wilson: Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service

Grave of Sister Myrtle Elizabeth Wilson at Wimereux Communal Cemetery, outside Boulogne, France. Source of Image: Flickr, woodenwonder 7.

Grave of Sister Myrtle Elizabeth Wilson at Wimereux Communal Cemetery, outside Boulogne, France. Source of Image: Flickr, woodenwonder 7.

Guest Blogger:  Ian Lang, researcher, Sherwood Shire War Memorial

It has been difficult to find many details of Myrtle Wilson. The Australian War Memorial has no details on file, save for a few scant details of her death in December 1915 from pneumonia. Myrtle Wilson is not listed on the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour but rather the Commemorative Roll. Myrtle had joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, which was a British Organisation. Her file in the British national archives provides little information apart from records of correspondence between Myrtle’s sister, Lillian and the British authorities regarding her pay after her death. Myrtle Wilson was probably born around 1877 in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Her parents Andrew and Catherine Wilson moved to Queensland and established their family at “The Roses”, Victoria Avenue, Chelmer.

By the time Myrtle departed for overseas, her father was deceased but her mother continued to live in the family home at Chelmer. Myrtle had trained as a nurse at the Royal Brisbane Hospital but by 1915, it would appear that both she and her sister Lillian were working at the hospital in Bundaberg. There is some documentary evidence to suggest that Lillian eventually became the Matron at Bundaberg.

Bundaberg Hospital, 1924. The hospital was opened in 1914, replacing a small cottage hospital which was previously on the site. John Oxley Library, Image No. APA-063-0001-0010.

Bundaberg Hospital, 1924. The hospital was opened in 1914, replacing a small cottage hospital which was previously on the site. John Oxley Library, Image No. APA-063-0001-0010.

Myrtle departed for England sometime in April 1915 on the “Orontes” and joined the QAIMNS (Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service) in June 1915.  She probably paid her own passage for the trip to England.  It is likely that Myrtle had the rank of Sister when nursing in Australia but the QAIMNS documents record her as a Staff Nurse. Correspondence from Lillian Wilson refers to Myrtle as “Sister” and her gravestone gives her that title.

Australian nurses of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service Reserve outside No. 7 General Hospital, France, July 1915. Australian War Memorial photograph, ID number P09900.002

Australian nurses of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service Reserve outside No. 7 General Hospital, France, July 1915. Australian War Memorial photograph, ID number P09900.002

She was posted to the 7th British General Hospital near Boulogne on the Channel Coast where she worked until early December 1915.

World War I hospital at Wimereux or Boulogne. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/112308584429373987/

World War I hospital at Wimereux or Boulogne. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/112308584429373987/

The Matron in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Maud McCarthy recorded in her diary: 9th Dec-Miss Wilson very ill, 19th Dec- Miss Wilson dangerously Ill- Family informed; 23rd December – Miss Wilson critically ill; later died.  On the 24th December 1915 Maud McCarthy writes the following about Myrtle's funeral:

Rang up early to find out when Miss Wilson’s funeral was to take place. 2pm today, so arranged to go, and asked 14 General to procure flowers for me if they had not already done so. Left at 11am. Raining incessantly. Arrived 1.30, had lunch, drove straight to 14 General, where I found the Matron Miss Fox had neglected to tell anyone in either the Boulogne or Wimereux area of the early date of the funeral, or the Australian Hospital, not even the Assistant Principal Matron, so that she could have informed all Hospitals so that everyone might have an opportunity of paying a last respect to one who had come so far and who was among strangers. I was extremely annoyed. The rain was continuous. There were a great many officers, and not a dozen Nursing Sisters from the whole area. On return to 14 General the Assistant Principal Matron had arrived with flowers from some of the Hospitals, but did not know anything about the funeral. Went into 13 General, where Christmas trees were being decorated.

The official war diaries of Maud McCarthy are held by the British National Archives (WO95/3989) Transcriptions are available at http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/25.html

At the time of her death Myrtle was 38 and one of six nursing staff from QAIMNS to die from illness during the course of the war.

Myrtle had died of pneumonia, no doubt caused in part by a lack of suitable drugs at the time and a punishing workload. She was buried at the Wimereux Communal Cemetery outside Boulogne and her sister Lillian chose the inscription “Behold I come quickly” from the Book of Revelations. Wimereux Cemetery is located on sandy soil and consequently all the headstones in the cemetery lay flat on the ground.

Myrtle had made a will in Brisbane in 1913 in which she had nominated bequests to her mother, sister, and brothers James, Andrew and Godfrey.

Guest Blogger: Ian Lang, researcher, Sherwood Shire War Memorial

 

 

 

 

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