Page 6 - Luce 2015
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          JCH & ANZAC

         Having reached the centenary of the Gallipoli landings in 2015, it
         is timely to consider our own College’s role in the ‘Anzac legend’.
         At Janet Clarke Hall, as throughout Australia, Australia’s wartime
         sacrifice has engendered deep national pride. Yet it also brought
         deep sadness to the students, staff, and families associated with
         Janet Clarke Hall. For many of JCH’s pioneering women, patriotic
         duty, and ambition for equality were equally powerful forces
         during their wartime service.

          It is fair to think of the ‘Anzac’ legend, first celebrated at the
          anniversary of the Gallipoli landings on 25 April 1915, as a
          powerful, masculine myth of a knockabout, courageous bloke
          holding a bayonet and joking in adversity. Yet we should
          always remember that women and men pay the price of war
          together. Despite two bruising debates on conscription, the
          First AIF (Australian Imperial Force) remained to the end a
          voluntary and civilian rather than a conscript army, drawn
          from the families of Australia.   Everyone in those families –   their services, including some remarkable alumnae – women
          mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters,   for whom neither tacit nor open discrimination would dampen
          carried the legacy of the First AIF in some way. It was no   their patriotism or contribution. The demands of wartime
          different for the women of Janet Clarke Hall between 1914    medicine were to prove life-changing for those JCH doctors
          and 1918, and again between 1939 and 1945.        who served abroad or at home.

          In the Great War, strong barriers stood in the way of women   Before the outbreak of the Great War, Dr Helen Sexton
          who wanted to play their part in the war effort beyond socially   (1887), the third woman to graduate in Medicine from the
          prescribed, patriarchal ideas of ‘womanly support’. For those   University of Melbourne, had already acquired a considerable
          women who were able to serve, nursing and medicine offered   reputation as a surgeon. Travelling to England at her own
          one way to help the war effort. As for our soldiers, wartime   expense, she offered her services to the Royal Army Medical
          nursing exposed these women to the full horrors of modern,   Corps – but was refused. Helen had helped to found the
          industrial warfare. As Michelle Moo has observed, the Great   Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne in the face of
          War presented ‘an extraordinary test of                       discrimination against women doctors, and
          the limits of the profession:  and would                      she ignored resistance at home and in Britain
          elicit vast advances in medicine: plastic                     to establish her own hospital (the ‘Hopital
          surgery, psychiatry, and innovations in the                   Australien de Paris’) for wounded French
          treatment of wounds, broken bones and                         soldiers. It opened by July 1915, quickly
          disease were all to emerge from the ruins’.                   developing innovative medical techniques
          As the sheer scale of death, disease and                      to cope with the horrific battlefield injuries
          injury soon broke down, to some extent,                       and diseases sustained on the Western Front.
          the barriers (if not male prejudice) against                  Among the notes from a surviving casebook
          their service, the war allowed some women                     for 1915 is the record of one soldier, for
          to contest contemporary notions of female                     example, requiring wound incisions to remove
          ‘domesticity’.                                                embedded shreds of uniform and half a bomb
                                                                        screw from his leg. Along with massive trauma
          Neither Australia nor Great Britain allowed                   injuries to bone and flesh, Dr Sexton cared for
          women to join the Australian Army Medical                     soldiers suffering from gangrene, pneumonia,
          Corps or the Royal Medical Corps as doctors                   typhoid and syphilis.  Thereafter Dr Sexton
          during the Great War. Indeed, Dr Margaret                     worked as an assistant surgeon at the ‘Val
          Henderson (1934) was among the first                          de Grace’, a hospital specialising in facial
          women allowed formal Army rank when                           reconstruction surgery.  Her efforts were later
          Australia finally lifted the restriction in 1943.             recognised by the French government with
          Yet a desperate need for trained medical                      receipt of the ‘Medaille de la Reconnaissance
          staff meant that many women did join                          Française’, presented to civilians who had
          military hospitals. In all, sixteen Australian   Dr Vera Scantlebury in her   shown exceptional acts in the presence of
          women doctors travelled to Britain to offer   wartime uniform  an enemy.

        6   LUCE  Number 14  2015
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