Archive number: 663
Date interviewed: 12 April, 2002
Dubbo Camp Hospital
Goulburn Army Hospital
2/9th Australian General Hospital
You are listening to the interview audio
I’d like to begin by going back to the beginning and you were born in England and you came out here and spent your first few years in Lithgow. Could you just talk to us about growing up in Lithgow?
It was rather wonderful in a way. We went up there and my father was working in the steel works which from the front of our house you could see it, Hoskins Steelworks, and close enough for us to hear when something broke down and we’d, the kids, would yell to Dad, “Such and such a crane’s broken down, Dad!” He’d know that he’d be out before the night was over. And I think, as we said the other day, that’s where I decided I was going to be a nurse when I grew up.
Tell us about that moment when you think you made that decision.
Well I wasn’t very old. I don’t know if I’d [have] been five even, but we had the telephone on which was really a luxury. People didn’t have the telephone on
and there were a lot of miners’ huts and things about and some of them were corrugated iron and so on, they were really poor people. Someone would come and knock on the door at night and say, ‘Would mother ring the doctor and ask him to come out, that so and so was sick.’ And it used to be that the doctor would say, “I was out last night at a confinement and I’ve been busy
all day. Mother, would you duck around and put a poultice on so and so,” or whatever it was he wanted done. And being a nice, kind lady she used to get me out of bed and take me with her and I would be told to stand in the middle of the room and not to move and I thought it was wonderful. They
had wallpaper, we didn’t have wallpaper but they had wallpaper on their walls and it moved and I never found out for quite a long time why it moved but mother used to come out and grab me by the hand and away we’d go back home. And she was known to have stripped me off in the garden and
hosed me down. I still didn’t know what that was about for many years but I did find out at a later date. But anyhow, also we had another trick. The doctor’s car would come down the road, Model T Ford, and we used to be allowed to put a brick under the wheel and then when he was ready to leave we were allowed to pull the brick out so that, you know, we were constantly
aware of the medical profession and not so much the nursing profession. But I’d be coming home from school sometimes and if a doctor was round about he’d, “Come in till I weigh you and see how you’re getting on.” I used to think this was absolutely wonderful to think he’d take the time to do that, you know. And I think that’s when it started. I never thought of being anything else, never for one minute did I.
Why were the walls moving?
Well there were a sort of insects on them if you know what I mean. Probably six legged ones you know that would give you a nasty nip if they caught up with you.
So there was obviously, the workers’ conditions were quite severe.
Oh yes. In those days they were, definitely. And I can remember one family that we were friendly with, the kids - we all played together - and they had a little wind up gramophone and every now and then they’d break the spring, they’d wind it too hard and they’d come around and knock on the door and say, “Is your father home?” “Yes.” “Do you think he’d mend the spring on the gramophone?” And I can remember my father very plainly one day saying,
“Well they’ll have to keep winding it all the time soon,” because he’d taken so many inches off the spring that it wasn’t going to work. But we were all very happy. It was a wonderful atmosphere. It was a good place to grow up in.
You had a brother?
I had two brothers. We lived on the side of a mountain and spent a lot of time climbing that mountain and there was a lady much further away than us and she had a herd of goats and when the little ones were born we’d chase them around the mountain, that sort of thing. We played up there quite a lot.
And then you moved to Wollongong?
Well we moved out of that area in Lithgow and the steel works was moving to Wollongong and my uncle went over to Wales to send a heap of machinery to Wollongong and father went down to Wollongong to install the machinery. There was this mill and that mill and some other mill, you know. If ever there was a breakdown on weekends we’d often trot out with father and wander around and when we lived next to the steel works before we moved to Wollongong, in the middle of night you’d waken up and a certain noise was missing. “Hey Dad! The scrap train’s broken down.” He’d say, “Go to sleep!” Or, “Hey Dad, such and such a thing’s broken down.” It was just the fact that you wakened up because it wasn’t making the same noise. We used to get into trouble over that. You’d have thought we were telling them over there that he was ready to go over.
Talk about WW1.
To a certain extent. I had two uncles in England that had gone to the war. My father had come out here as a ship’s engineer and he wanted to enlist but they wouldn’t take him because he had a varicose vein in his leg, which he had when he died many years later. So, he was courting Mama at the time so he married Mama and said, “We’ll go back to England, I know I can make munitions.” So we went back over there and his mother and father were still there and he made munitions. My elder brother was born up in Whitehaven and I was born down in Galveston. And I think I was one and maybe a month or two when we came back out here.
So obviously the ties with England would be quite strong.
Yes, you talked about WWI. Down in the local park there was a beautiful cannon and a soldier and as kids, growing up, we spent a lot of time in that park with picnics and things and we shined the cannon with our pants. We were up and down on that the whole of the time. I think it was something that a lot of people didn’t talk about very much at that time. There were the lists of those that had been killed everywhere. You were very conscious of the fact there had been a war but I don’t know that - oh we used to get letters from England and - uncle so and so wasn’t doing so well and so on, like that, but I don’t remember too much about that.
And why do you think it was that those people didn’t talk about the war?
Well, a lot of people don’t talk about it now, or they didn’t. And there are a lot of - I was only talking to a man, don’t ask me where he came from but it was only a couple of days ago, and he said, “I can’t talk about it.”
Where had he fought?
Anyway all I know is what he told me - that was last Monday - and he told me that. I think if they can talk about it, it must help. Maybe if he caught up with some of his mates who were there where he was he’d talk, you know.
Okay, let’s continue with your growing up. You leave Wollongong, you go to Sydney and study at the school of business.
Business college, oh yes, well I wasn’t old enough to go nursing so I had to do something and my parents said I could go up to Sydney for business college, it was a very well-known one that I can’t think of the name of off hand, and I used to board over at Manly with a dear old lady and come over on the boat with Nancy Bird Walton and her sister. She was the most wonderful thing. There she was going out to learn to fly aeroplanes and we were going into an office and she said her trouble was getting home in the
evening because there were a couple of them out there, I should remember them, like Smithy and Allman and somebody like that, they were going to bring her home but, ‘Oh look, if you’ll just run and do this job for us,’ or something, ‘before we go,’ so she used to be caught up a little bit. She is a lovely person, she really is. Anyhow, I got a job at 2GB. I worked for Jack, George Edwards and his wife Nell and that was very interesting. And then I
became 18 - so I whizzed out to Prince Alfred, almost breathless, and I had a medical and they decided they would take me. It was wonderful. Didn’t realise what I was letting myself in for, but still.
Can you remember that day? Can you tell us a bit of detail about that day?
You were merely told you had to have medicals and so on. They told you they would take you on such and such a day and there might be an intake of so many. At the time we had what they call a preliminary training school where you did a couple of months learning how to do a lot of things that you would learn and that you would have to do in the ward. You know, the scrubbing mattresses and making the wheels on the bed all go the one way
and all this sort of thing. Then we went in one day, went into the wards on the one day, and stayed there for the next four years but that’s where you made your friends that I still have. It carried on when we went into the army, you still had the people that you’d trained with. Today it’s slightly different. I think they come in a car and go. We couldn’t have afforded the petrol in a car, let alone anything else, but they come in a car and they leave in a car and they don’t have that same affiliation. If you go over to the nurses’ home and
go up to your room and you live next door to someone and you would say, “That old so and so - what she made me do today [(UNCLEAR)]. You got it all out of your system, it was wonderful.
You spoke about Nancy Bird Walton training as a pilot. That was a remarkable thing. Were there many women doctors training at that time?
Yeah there were a few, oh yes, some on the wards that had completed their training and others that were training. Things were [(UNCLEAR)] coming easier for women to do these things and [(UNCLEAR)] I’m just trying to think, I think we had, a few women doctors definitely were there.
What was the relationship like between the nurses and the women doctors?
Oh well we did as they told us. They would tell you to do such a thing - they were quite friendly and the patients were gorgeous. We loved the patients and they used to keep the papers for us or they’d keep lollies for us and all this sort of thing and we had a very good relationship with them because they spent ever so much longer in the hospital. They used to have to pay, I think it was about threepence or something like that, they used to have to pay when
their visitors who came into the hospital to visit. And night duty was another thing. You had a kerosene lamp and if you were junior you had to clean the globe and put blue paper off the cotton wool in so that just a little beam of light came out and shone on the locker when they put it on the locker. You couldn’t have a light blazing out all over the place but we had to do all sorts of things. You had to cut the bread and butter for breakfast the next morning, boil bandages. Oh you learned all sorts of things. And then, I must have been - don’t know if I was in third year or fourth year – …
Before we move onto the war, because obviously that was a big moment, I want to just go back a little bit and talk about the Depression because you would have been very conscious of the Depression.
Oh that was, yes, hat was mainly after - while we were still in high school down at Wollongong. It had a very big effect on the town down there, especially with the steel works cutting down quite a few things, and it was nothing to come home and say to mother, “You should have seen Mr so and so today.” You’d be walking down and men would be digging trenches and you’d see neighbours or lawyers or solicitors and what not digging in the
trenches and they didn’t mind, they were getting their money. We used to have a queue coming to see my father at night. Mother used to say, “Let him have his evening meal before you come and bother him,” because it was a short train trip from Wollongong Station out to the steel works and she used to think he should sit down and relax before he was attacked, you know. It was amazing what happened. There were men who used to go up the mountains and come down with rabbits. You had people coming around with cakes and things. It was wonderful the ingenuity of some people and
what they did do to make ends meet and you used to feel embarrassed you were wearing shoes to school and other kids didn’t have shoes, you know. It was sad. I think they were dreadful times, absolutely dreadful. I don’t think I could tell you any more about it.
You just told that wonderful story of putting the blue paper around the light. Obviously you became a nurse and a sister at a particular time in history in the 20th century. Tell us more of the things you did to train as a nurse.
Well you started off doing very menial things you know, as I said, and you scrubbed mackintoshes and you scrubbed bed pans and you did all those things and, you know, sometimes when you went out and you were scrubbing bed pans, you got it off your chest and what Sister had said to you or what Head Nurse had said to you or something like that. You really, we had a wonderful time and we used to have to, when you made a bed all the wheels had to face the one way and if she found one facing the wrong way you got into trouble. All this sort of thing, you know, and we’d go out to the pan room, as it was known as, and you got it off your chest there by doing all the scrubbing and cleaning.
What would you be scrubbing and cleaning?
Oh bed pans and mackintoshes and all things like that.
What was a mackintosh?
A waterproof. It might have been under a patient so they didn’t wet the bed. Or they might have a messy dressing that might have leaked onto the mattress.
Were there any war veterans still in the hospital at that time?
WWIs? Not that I knew of. Could have been. I don’t know. But we finally made it. We had to study. You had to attend lectures and you had to if a surgeon or a doctor was giving a lecture in the middle of the day and you were on night duty, you got up and you got dressed in all your regalia and down you came to that lecture and then you went back to bed and tried to go to sleep again, you know. Times have changed. But we learned all the things we were supposed to learn, I suppose, until the wonderful day when you had to go and front up to the doctors and answer their questions and so on and so forth and have your fingers crossed and hope you were going to make it. That’s the way it went.
That’s the examination?
Yes. You went before the matrons or the matron of another hospital for nursing things but then you had to front up to the doctors for the other parts.
You were sent to the matron of another hospital.
Oh we went down to Sydney and we [(UNCLEAR)] she was a trimmer. We were shaking when we went down there. She wasn’t too keen on PA [Royal Prince Alfred Hospital]. She used to stuff the other in the lift and she’d say, “Up the stairs,” and we’d go up the stairs. I’ll get killed for telling you all this.
So the matron at Sydney - what was her name?
Oh I’m not telling you. Probably couldn’t remember. Yes.
She’d examine you on …
On nursing curriculum I suppose.
What sort of things were they?
Oh well the doctors would probably cover wound dressings and so, but they would come into it a little bit and whether you propped the patient up or whether you didn’t and how you did a dressing and so on and so forth. We were very [(UNCLEAR)] it was just finding out whether you really did the right thing by your patient as far as the nursing side of it went and diet would come into quite a bit too because they didn’t have dieticians. They were just coming into the world when we were there.
Okay. So let’s talk about now the moment when war was declared. Where were you?
Gee, I never thought I’d forget. I know where I was – over at Lane Cove. When we moved down to Wollongong the family that owned the newsagency in Lithgow moved down to Lane Cove and the kids were very good friends and I went over this Sunday and I took one of the other girls with me and we were having a sing-song around the piano and having a ball and all of a sudden it came to an end and we were scared motherless stiff what was going to happen and we almost ran back to the hospital then to join up but we couldn’t do so. That’s where I was.
Did you hear via the radio?
Radio. It wasn’t good. Don't ask me how we got to there but we had to get back to the hospital. Everybody was shocked and stunned and of course the boys had done training, the doctors had trained a little bit before. Everybody knew it was going to be inevitable I think. Then you’d just see them all disappearing. That white coat wasn’t there, ‘cause the senior boys wore white coats and they were disappearing, and then boys that had been wearing short white coats, it seemed no time before they were disappearing, and the medical staff at the hospital went down quite a bit and also the senior nurses were gone, so staffing must have been very difficult for the matron at that stage.
And did you immediately want to become a nurse in the army?
I don’t think I was quite through my training. I can’t remember that. But as soon as you were – oh and I’d had the measles or something when I was there and you had to make up time that you had off duty and this sort of thing, you know, so you couldn’t say, “Well I’ll be through on the first of the month,” because you might have time to make up and so on. But when I finally did get to Matron and announced that I wanted to join up, she said, “I’m sorry but you can’t.” I looked stunned and she said, “I’m keeping you for another 12 months,” so she put me down in that preliminary training school, teaching kids to make beds and turn the wheels the right way and scrub bed pans and mackintoshes. For 12 long months I supervised them doing that. And then we had another old sister who married and lived in – where PA is, can’t think of it – anyhow she had classes of young girls she was teaching first aid to in case it was necessary and she used to bring them down for me to lecture
them. It was a bit rough, I was spending my evenings lecturing to her little girls. She went to Matron and she said “Don’t you let her go” which I thought was very miserable. Matron let me go when she was ready, I must admit. She did keep me quite a while.
And one of your brothers joined the service didn’t he?
My elder brother, he was in the air force. He joined up very early on and he went over to the Middle-East, Number 3 Squadron. They were the first squadron over there. I’m not too sure when they went but he was there. They had spitfires. Did you watch the funeral the other night, the Queen Mother, and they came through. I thought, ‘I know a couple of the boys that are still around that were in his unit and they’d be thrilled to see that.’ But, he developed some, anyway his legs were not doing any good at all and they sent him to Melbourne. And he wrote to me and said, “I’ve got to have such and such an operation. Would you write and tell Mum?” I thought, ‘Not me, I’m not going to do that.’ But I had to do it in the end of course but he was not a well boy from there on in and he came and lived with me for many years, walking was a difficulty.
So when he was in the Middle-East, did you receive letters at home about what was going on, I’m interested to know, when you were in Sydney before you joined up and you were receiving the war information?
You heard about it from doctors, nurses, you know, all sorts of people would write home or write to the hospital if they were friends and they knew you and we were kept informed of what was happening by them.
And at that stage you were dreaming of going, where did you imagine you’d go?
I was going to be Winnie the War Winner. I wasn’t sure where I’d go but still. No I, everyone went to Concord to start with and I went out to Concord and I wasn’t kept there very long. I went up to Dubbo from Concord. Dubbo had a camp hospital because they had a big army camp there, so we didn’t have quarters at the camp, we had quarters behind the local hospital. Every morning we’d be driven out in an ambulance to spend the day there and brought back home at night. And they got the measles and the mumps and
the chicken pox. What happens when you put lots of people together, these wogs take over and we had quite a time with these various things but from there they closed the camp down, that’s right, because things were moving and they didn’t need it. They never told you what they were doing it for but you took it and one of the things we did, we knew we had to move and we had a little dog called Koko ‘cause he used to dance and he was a bit like – what’s the little Japanese story? Anyhow, I rang mother up and she already
had a pup and I said, “I’m sending down a puppy on such and such a train,” and so on and so forth and then she rang to say, “No.” The stationmaster in Sydney was most upset because another dog had eaten all the labels off the dogs, so he had these dogs there and no labels. Oh dear, oh dear. Anyway she finally got Koko and she loved that dog and the dog loved her and when she died we couldn’t get her to eat, we couldn’t get her to do anything, she wanted mother. I thought of all the time I’d spent with her and [(UNCLEAR)] no.
So where did you go from Dubbo?
Concord. You never went in a straight line anywhere in the army or we didn’t. You came down and you did so much night duty at Concord then you’d move on, you see. And where did I go from there? I think I went down to Goulburn and that was cold and wet too, then back to Concord and where did I go from there? Eventually went to Tamworth. What did I tell you before? The way you looked at me I thought, ‘I’ve missed this. I’ve slipped up.’
You can tell me whatever you like.
As far as I know we went to Tamworth. I didn’t tell you, up in Dubbo my fiancé came up from – he was down the country somewhere but he was posted to Dubbo so he was the doctor up at Dubbo.
We missed a big moment there, all of a sudden your fiancé is on the scene. When did you meet?
When did we meet. We met in Dubbo. That’s right. And from there we all ended up in Tamworth and we weren’t aware of it at the time but we used to have to march into the township, we used to have to do so many laps of the pool, and the cooks would bring the dinner in, such as it was, you’d have your meal and then march back to the camp. We weren’t aware at that stage but they were getting us ready. See they’d lost the girls from Singapore and some had drowned and some had been shot and a lot, they’d had to swim, and a lot couldn’t swim and they were really toughening us up. We didn’t realise that. We used to have a lovely time coming back from Tamworth. So we were in Tamworth and we used to have to play softball and what not. Have you ever heard of Reg Beddington? He was a famous batsman and he was on the medicos’ side, so when he’d hit a ball, we’d all go looking for it. It used to take a long time to find it, I’m telling you.
Okay, and your fiancé’s name is …?
Raymond Lane. I thought you’d know that. I shouldn’t have to tell you that.
We’re telling the archives. And he’s a doctor.
Yes he was a doctor. That’s right.
Did he specialise? Was he a physician or a surgeon?
He was general at that stage. He later went into practise at Balmain but prior to that I don’t know where he’d been to be perfectly truthful. I’ve forgotten.
Now it’s at Tamworth you learn you’re going to Morotai.
No, they didn’t tell you where you were going.
Sorry. You were going overseas. Let’s talk about that.
Interviewee: Ethel Lane Archive ID 0663 Tape 02
Okay, so we were in Tamworth and you learned you were going to be travelling to an overseas location.
Yes, we knew we were going overseas but we didn’t know where. We weren’t told where but we weren’t really aware of why we were doing all this exercise but we did it and I’m just trying to think, there was an outbreak of measles or some such thing, we had troops everywhere but that cleared up and I’ll tell you an interesting thing that happened up there. Wards were on
the road that went through the camp and many years later, or quite a few years later, my young son was in having his tonsils out. He was in the children’s hospital here and at that stage I worked in Macquarie Street in a doctor’s surgery so I finished up my work, raced down and grabbed a cab – “Children’s
Hospital!” – you know, desperately. “Okay Sis, we’ll get there.” I said, “Beg your pardon?” He said, “Don’t you know me?” I said, “No, I don’t think I do.” He said, “Don’t you remember the night I came back AWOL [Absent Without Leave] and I jumped out the back of a truck and broke my ankles?” And I hadn’t reported him as being out but he knew me and that was most unusual. Anyway that was a little story for you.
So you, what do you do? You learn you’re going to be travelling overseas and what preparation do you have?
As I said, we didn’t know what we were doing it for. To keep us fit doing the marching and the swimming and playing cricket and so on with the boys and pistol practise, we had a little of that, and altogether we had quite – well we
were getting ready to go overseas and all of a sudden out of the blue came the Manpower and we were all sent here, there and everywhere. And three of us were sent to Collarenebri and we said, “Where’s that?” “Head west.” So we headed west and it was New Year’s Day, we were on the train, most unhappy the three of us and we finally reached Collarenebri and then somebody picked us up and I know we got to the hospital and the matron came out and said, “Oh youse have arrived have youse?” (Don’t put that in) and we nearly
died. ‘What have we come to?’ Well we got to know a few people, a fellow who had the local store and he used to have a little afternoon drinking session with some of his friends and if we were off duty we were welcome to go down there and have a little beer or a whisky and then tootle back home. That was good fun but it was awful hot weather around Christmas time and the creek just about dried up so the water supply wasn’t too good. And there was a horse dead in the creek and so we spoke to the policeman and a few other people and said that we objected to drinking dead horse water. “Oh,” he said, “you want to go up a bit further and see what’s up further, you wouldn’t
be drinking it at all.” So you had to wonder a bit about Collarenebri. Then the laundress’s son developed an acute appendix and a little doctor had just come up from Sydney and I don’t think he’d done an operation on his own and he had to remove the appendix so it was rather funny with the three of us saying, “Do this, do that. Don’t do that,” and I was what we call ‘the dirty nurse’. I wasn’t scrubbed up, I wasn’t sterile, so I couldn’t touch the patient but I could get things for them or do things. We always had a ‘dirty nurse’. And there was something we wanted and I flew out the door or tried to fly out the door but I hit his mother, she was down on her knees praying to God and thanking him for sending us up there. He did remarkably well that boy. I’d forgotten about that.
So, when do you eventually head back to Sydney?
Well, I didn’t go back to Sydney but we used to ring one another up I think. Ray was further down the track and we’d ring back to the camp and say, because there was still a skeleton staff at camp, ring back and say, “We’ve only had about one patient,” or, “We’ve had this or that.” The girls were all doing the same thing and the Manpower had put us there and one day somebody was on the phone back at camp and I was speaking to one of the senior fellows and he said, ‘Where was I,’ and he said, “Put her on, I want to
speak to her. How many patients have you seen?” and blah, blah, blah. And so I told him and he said, “God Almighty, we can’t afford that.” The others wouldn’t pay them and so we got back from Collarenebri very smartly because they couldn’t afford to keep us there. It was an experience and a half I must admit, between the dead horse and the laundry lady, I’ll never forget that. But I did. You’re making me remember things I shouldn’t remember.
I’m interested to know when you learn the news that you’re going to be getting on a boat and heading overseas?
Well we knew that sort of thing but we didn’t know where we were going or when we were going. They don’t really tell you till the very last minute. You’re almost putting your foot over the side of the ship but we came, I suppose we were told to pack up and come down to Sydney and I think we might have spent the night at Concord, I’m not sure, and we went into Central Station and there wasn’t a train. But we finally got a train and we got up to
Newcastle with a meat pie and something that was handed to us to keep us going. There was something that wasn’t quite right about that but we finally got on, we were on a hospital ship, we finally got onto the ship and there were other units that had joined us there. It was a big ship and – there’s something I can’t remember, about our activity there between the train and being on the ship. But we eventually set sail for Morotai.
And we went up round the top of Queensland, Cape York, round that way and somebody pointed to New Guinea, I remember that. If you put this in I’ll clobber you. We pulled up at some place for water, it must have been ...
anyhow the Yanks were on the island, Rabaul’s that side and it was on this side. Anyway so the CO [Commanding Officer] said, “Any of you go ashore, I’ll cut your throat.” But Matron went ashore and went up and had a look at their premises but we weren’t allowed ashore and I would have to look it up on a map to see where it was. But they had a launch going round and round the ship all night so that nobody could land, protecting their little girls.
Where did we go from there? We finally went to our little island home and it had a lovely big harbour. But you know the Yanks were there too. And the hospital ship being a big ship had to pull up outside. It couldn’t go into the wharf and it was lovely. We watched our cabin trunks go over the side, mine’s still alive, somebody’s got it, it’s still got the dents in the side it got, and they went down and they were taken ashore and there were people on the
beach wondering what on earth was happening to us. But it took ages before we were landed and we had to get into tiny little things to go ashore and Ray said, “What the ... so and so ... was all the fuss about?” I said, “It wasn’t our fault.” But we had arrived, we arrived with gusto in Morotai, I don’t mind telling you. It was fun and games but the Yanks were getting ready to go somewhere, do something, round and round, really and truly. So we
were put in trucks, I think, and taken up the hill and we had to go through a gate and this huge wire fence, about 8 feet or more, and we went up there and there were rows of tents and things and I was called, you knew many are chosen and few are called or many are called and few are chosen, whatever it is, but I had been in the mess in Tamworth so it was automatic that the minute I put my feet to the ground on the island, I go to the dining room and start to get the lunch ready. Ah dear, it’s really beautiful the things that happened and then you’ve seen the picture of the girls sweeping up the papers and things? So then I said, “Oh, Matron, excuse me but which tent am I in?” because on the ship on the way up you’d had to say who you wanted to tent with. And I was only [(UNCLEAR)] that
the girl I wanted to move in with was a captain. Dear oh dear. Well that couldn’t be worked out but word came back to us later that the three of us could share a tent but we had to have another girl in with us. So the three of us shared the tent, plenty of room for three. We weren’t …. So my dearly beloved came down and dug a trench around the tent but he didn’t dig one deep enough, being a doctor he wouldn’t. And it rained that night and the water came in a bit but you accepted that. Told him the next morning what I
thought of him, just a few well chosen words. But I should have some lovely pictures of Morotai. But we were under the coconut palms which wasn’t good, and the guards were going round and round the outside of the thing. I remember one morning, the AAMWS [Australian Army Medical Women's Service] they used to come and tidy up the tents a bit and this little girl, she let out an almighty yell. My duties included the housework and the meals and housework as it were, seeing the tents were alright, so I went to see what was happening to this child. I thought anything could have happened and, a crab like this, chasing her.
I started running too, no way I was having the crab and the guard fired a shot and killed it. Well then, of course, all hell was let loose because a shot had been fired and we had to explain, how, when, where and why. But there was nothing else would have stopped it. It was an enormous crab, nightmares thinking about that. But we survived that and then eventually I, I used to have a whale of a time. Matron would say, “The CO’s coming up to do rounds.” This pernickety old WW1 feller and, before we left Sydney
we got a whole lot of hessian and it makes lovely curtain and things so we put the odd curtain around the toilets and the showers and so on, well he nearly had a fit. He came into the toilets with me and he’s going around and saying, “That’s where the mosquitoes are. That’s where you’re most likely to be bitten.” And then when he found we had curtains in the shower recess he nearly had a fit. But anyhow I went back to Matron and I said, “What you did to me, do you know where the mosquitoes get?” and she said, “No, and I don’t want to know.” But you had to do all these jobs, you had to go around and check on everything. Oh and then we got a hairdresser, we’d never had a hairdresser in our lives, we got a hairdresser. Little girl …
Let’s move on, there’s so much to talk about. Morotai, you’re there until VJ [Victory over Japan] Day, tell us a little about that.
Well I was telling you about that. I was going to tell you when I went back to the wards to do some nursing. You don’t want to hear about that. You only want to hear about me sweating it out in the kitchen.
We’ll talk about your nursing. We want to talk about the whole of your life and then we’ll come back and do the details. So you’re on Morotai and VJ Day happens.
I gotta think. Well I was on duty. Oh I have to tell you this. Outside our gates was a radar station which was run by the Americans. Now we weren’t supposed to know they were there, we were supposed to walk past, eyes right, and you didn’t see what was on the left so it got to the stage where you might say, “It’s going to rain this afternoon,” and they’d say something and they’d let us know what was going on. They got news quicker than we did and they knew that it was coming and they would, as we went past nobody
would say hello or goodbye or anything else, but they’d be talking to one another and that’s how we learned all the latest news. So I was on evening duty in the surgical ward and I went down and out of the blue came one of the little doctors that we were friendly with, a clever little boy too, from Victoria, and Bob came in and brought a friend with him, an American who was slightly the worse for wear and I said, they were hungry, they were starving, they’d just come in from somewhere, and I said, “I can’t get anything for you now but if you sit down there and wait until I’m off duty we
can go up to the mess and I can feed you.” And they sat there and it wasn’t a very long, might have been an hour and a half that they were there at the most, and we walked out the tent and all hell was let loose. The hospital ship was in the harbour, had Lady Blamey aboard and my future husband. He was going to Borneo and so was she and everybody said, “Well you’ll never see him again, write him off.” So they’re out in the harbour and every conceivable thing that could fire, a shell or a shot or anything else, did so.
The sky was ablaze. Here I had these two hungry Harrys wanting to be fed. And I’ll never forget it, the Yank that was really drunk said, “Cut that noise out! Stop that noise! Don’t fire that gun! I’m a taxpayer now. I’m paying for that.” He was. He was a taxpayer. He was paying for that. Fortunately I had two escorts. We went up to the mess but people were thrown in the harbour and what not. They all went berserk and the next morning someone came around from one of the Yankee places, be it from down the road or wherever it was, and said, “Anyone have any badges of rank?” because they couldn’t go on duty. They didn’t have any, they cut their badges of rank off, they wouldn’t need them. It was a night and a half, a night to be remembered.
And so, were there any Australians on the island?
Oh yes, we had quite a few. The back of the island, we never went anywhere near that, there were a lot of American Negroes who had turned yellow in the Pacific and also a lot of Jap prisoners, so that was an out of bounds area.
What’s ‘turned yellow’?
Coward. We had at this stage – and if you read more about the POWs [Prisoners of War], it’s very nicely written what she has said about them – but we had lots of POWs, Indians and all sorts, and we did have some women and children that came in. And the first thing they did when they came in was to volunteer to mount guard at the Jap compound, we lost a few Japs so we had to be very careful about who mounted guard at the compound. And also they put tents up in
our lines, as they were called, and the women went in there with the children so that they were locked in, the same as we were. And then – we were almost ready to come home and they opened a little club for the Australians. You know, you wanted an escort and a half, you couldn’t go there. But I’m trying to think what else happened.
Oh well, I suppose it would be about that, on a little bit when that big Red Cross ship was brought into harbour, we all left whatever we were doing and went like hairy goats down to the wharf to see it. We were absolutely fascinated and I’m not sure whether they took them off, they’d hang onto the ship I’m sure of that, but they just felt that there was something wrong with it, it wasn’t what it should have been and here they were, all these fellows lined up with bandages on and guns underneath them.
This was a Japanese Red Cross ship?
Yes. So, where do we go from there?
After VJ Day you must have made your way back to Australia?
Not for a while because then what our job was, was to pick up prisoners of war. And we had prisoners of war from all countries. And we specifically went up there to do that, so we had our own boys and our own troops and hospital boys. Went out around the islands looking to see if anyone had been, you know, caught up on an island and got free and we had a very busy period there, very busy. We really worked and it wasn’t, we had the medevac, you know medevac? Medevac is when you decide that a patient
would make it back to Australia on a plane if cared for and the air force then took responsibility for him and they were flown home. They were anxious, didn’t want a long trip on the ship, but we had quite a few medevac and that meant we had RAF coming up and coming back with them, lost me thread now, and we were sending troops on a ship every so often until it got down. I’ve got a book, it could tell you how much longer we were there but I was one of the last 14 nursing sisters to leave the island. But we didn’t come home until the March, I think it was.
You were looking after the prisoners, which I really want to talk to you about in more detail.
Especially when we got Indians or something, or Sikhs, they were naughty but they were lovely. The phone’d ring, “Are you busy?” “Oh, usual.” “Well come down to ward such and such,” and they either had an overflow or, and with the
Indians, they came in one night, a group of them, and they didn’t bring an interpreter. And you weren’t supposed to have a shower after four o’clock because of the mozzies. And they were showered and they got to bed and all seemed well. A little bloke got up and he wanted to go outside. Well they all had to get up and have another shower because an Untouchable had cast his shadow upon them, it was absolutely fascinating. Everybody was called for, as many people as possible to come down and see what we can do about it, and there was never a dull moment really that I am aware of.
Remember one day they had an accident down the road and Matron was looking for someone extra to go in the ute. She came down and couldn’t find anyone in the ward and she came out the back and there was I and she said, “What on earth are you doing?” And this little Pommy boy was hoping to get on the small ship home and he’d been in water up to his knees and accidentally trodden on one of those awful, spiky anemones and he was plucking … , and she said, “I’d better not move you. Stay there.” And then he was getting anxious with the time, gee it was awful, but at least I’d gotten the worst of it out. We only had him for such a short time.
And I’ll tell you another one. I’ve often told this story. We had in both wars, you always had an older man looking after a young one that shouldn’t have been there. And these two came in from Borneo, plaster from head to toe and at that stage the Japs were a little bit active. So all you get was, “If anything happens, Sis, you get under my bed. I’ve got more plaster on me than he has. You’ll be safer under my bed.” The other feller would say, “It serves you jolly well right. If you hadn’t been so damned stupid I wouldn’t be in here either.” Oh dear.
So you eventually, I take it the island was cleared.
But we left up there a very few number of men who were capable of doing any job, nursing or anything at all. They weren’t there for much longer than we were but they actually closed it down. We left with about one ward or two wards open, you know.
And what did you travel back on?
By ship, I’m sure. It wasn’t on aeroplane anyway. I came back and it was a holiday the day we arrived back in town. We had trouble getting our luggage.
So you landed in Sydney? And were there people there?
Oh well there were parents there that knew their daughters were coming home. Weren’t that many people there, pretty quiet sort of thing. We were taken out to Hearne Bay, 101, oh God! That was built for the Yanks and they wouldn’t go there, I don’t blame them.
That was your next post?
Well we were all just taken from the ship out there.
And these were Yanks who had been injured up in the Pacific?
Oh, out there? No, there weren’t any Yanks there. They built this hospital and then decided that … it was out the back of ... on the tip of my tongue ... but they never used it at all.
So what were you doing out there?
Our boys had to go there, didn’t they? So we were more or less lodged there and the girls that had leave put in for their leave and I had in a very short time, Ray was back, when I was called up and they’d had word from Wollongong that mother was in hospital and she was dying. And so I was released to go down there and she died and I had an elderly father and a brother that was not well and a younger brother, so I put in to get out and they finally released me which I thought was, I felt I should be doing more there than in the army so I didn’t have to stay out there.
And then what did you do? You looked after the family?
Yes, looked after the boys. Dad was retired of course. George couldn’t do much, he had a couple of operations and he was very restricted, and the other little bloke was going to work at the steel works and I sort of ran the house for a while.
And you were married to Ray then?
No. He had gotten into a practise in Balmain, so until the boys were on their feet I didn’t get married. Poor old mother, I didn’t think she should have done that to me but she did. It did dreadful things to her. You know when we were up in Dubbo we had a little dog that we found and it danced
its way around and we called it Koko after the little one in ... anyway... we decided when we knew we were leaving Dubbo, we rang up. “Mother, we’re sending you down a little dog.” Oh, she needed one like a hole in the head. She had a cat. So the next thing, we got an agonised call to say that one dog had eaten all the labels off the dogs in Sydney and she wasn’t too sure what this little feller was like so we had to tell her. But anyway she finally got the dog and the dog absolutely adored her. When she died the dog nearly died. It was pathetic. I remember seeing my great big hulking younger brother down on his hands and knees trying to tell the dog he had to lap the food up or eat the food or drink the milk or do something you know and the poor little thing, she didn’t last much longer than mother. She was a beautiful little pup.
Interviewee: Ethel Lane Archive ID 0663 Tape 03
We’re calling you Stalky, so I think we should perhaps explain your nickname. Can you just tell us where that came from?
I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, possibly at hospital where we didn’t have a Christian name and you were Nurse Stalker, or Nurse Smith, Brown or Jones but I think most of us at some stage in our youth had read ‘Stalky & Co’ and it was just cut down to Stalky. So instead of being Stalker it was Stalky. And I’ve had it ever since, even my husband called me Stalky. He said the day we got married he thought he had the wrong woman but, you know, he hoped for the best. Everybody called me that.
Oh that’s great. And in your training at the RPA [Royal Prince Alfred Hospital], just some of the other things you were telling me about like the theatre, having to boil all the gloves.
You had to sterilise everything and as a junior of course you did the dirty work as it were and at the end of a day’s surgery you had to leave everything in order so they could start again. They might be called out in the middle of the night or start early in the morning and there had to be gloves and things sterilised so that they could do that without, you know, worrying about it, so that sometimes we were very late at night. Sometimes you were called up in the morning depending if there was an emergency, you might be called out of bed and start the day very early or it may go on and you were there for quite some time in the evening. But it was very interesting if you were interested in surgery, it was interesting in the theatres. You progressed from being a junior who just stood around and if somebody wanted something they might ask you to get it, or you might even be asked to hold something which was tremendous and you gradually learned to do things and to become more proficient and become a theatre sister.
What kind of operations would you get to help with?
All sorts of emergency ops that came in. The surgeons had their lists and Mr so and so, a surgeon was always ‘Mr’ whereas a physician was ‘Dr’, but surgeon would have a list of all his cases and you worked through that or they were in the hospital itself, in a ward, and he would go around and say, ‘Well I’ll do Mr so and so and so forth,’ and that was how his list was compiled. You did everything from minor surgery to very complicated, for those days, very serious surgery.
Was that useful experience for later on when the war wounds came in?
War wounds were slightly different, I suppose. You’d have soldiers in with normal complaints that people would have in civilian life but we did have quite a few war wounds
and they were cared for to the best of our ability and then, if possible, they were put on a plane and sent back. But when it came to putting them on a plane and sending them back to Australia, they had to take into consideration whether the patient was going to survive the flight and the air force sisters would have to care for them, and I must show you a picture of them coming home in a plane, it wasn’t the easiest of things.
Not like today?
No. But, talking about war
wounds, you’d have – I can’t quite get back that far on things that happened except that they would be probably operated on and then plastered. We had them sitting up in bed with plaster from head to foot, that type of thing. I can’t, I’m sorry but I’m not coming in on that one at the moment.
Still talking about at the RPA, your nurse training.
When you commenced your training you wore a mauve uniform with your brown lace up shoes and your brown stockings and a button through dress with long sleeves that were rolled up and a little sort of white mob cap arrangement. And you did, as a junior, we’d say you did all the dirty jobs. You scrubbed all the mackintoshes and the bed pans and all those sorts of things and boiled up the bandages because we didn’t throw away things in those days and bandages had to be boiled and hung out to dry and then brought in and rolled and all of that sort and also they helped with handing
out meals and general duties. When you got to second year it was great excitement because you went into blue. You had a blue uniform and your duties were slightly more senior. To take temperatures in those days we had an old trolley and it had three ink wells on it – you know ink wells? – so you had your black and your red and your green ink wells and you had your dip and splash pens and you had to put the thermometer in the patient’s mouth and say, “Now don’t bite that whatever you do.” You might be using two thermometers at the time if you were lucky and then you would, with your dip
and splash pen you had to make little round blobs on the chart and you hung the chart back up on the patient’s bed top and made a note in your own book and moved to the next one. You had then duties that were slightly superior to the junior pro and you probably handed out a mixture, you had to have it checked well and truly before you did so, and ... medicines, yes. You’d be told, “Take this to Mr so and so or Mrs so and so.”
And who was telling you to do that?
The one that was senior to you. You see we had four years, so you had the four different people going up in rank and responsibility.
And then with the matron at the top?
You had a sister in the ward and so they were very well structured because if sister wasn’t there the 2IC [Second in Command] was, she was what we called ‘Staff Nurse’. She had done her four years’ training and become a staff nurse and if she carried on further she’d become a full sister. And we also had little cut out things on the front of our caps. You didn’t have one but when you got to second year you had a cut out and a star and the next year you had another star so people could pick what you were.
What was it a cut out of?
Of your cap. Your cap turned up in the front and had a little cut out and they could pick you from that and as you went up in years of course your responsibilities went up further and you’d do dressings and the other thing we had to do, which is not done very often these days, rub backs four-hourly. We had to turn the patient over and rub the back and get the circulation moving so that being in bed for any length of time, bed sores, oh my goodness, if somebody had broken skin on their back you were in big trouble and you rubbed backs and made sure you didn’t have any problems.
Also making beds. We had to lift patients up in the bed – a lot of them didn’t lie flat – you lifted them up and you used to put a sheet – a pillow in a sheet – and then the two ends were tied to the back of the bed to keep the person propped up, well you couldn’t really lift on your own. Well sometimes you’d be on duty in the day room, which meant you sponged three or four patients and then you galloped to the day room to cut up bread and butter to go round [with] the breakfast trolley so that you were panicking if you had a patient that wanted lifting, and you might have a couple, and the others were busy and they didn’t want to come and help you, you know you were
not very happy. But usually you find somebody would stop what they were doing and come and help you, that was a double sponge that one. You had to have someone to help tie them up in the bed. I hadn’t thought of that for years.
So presumably there weren’t any male nurses at all.
Oh there weren’t.
Were there male orderlies?
No. We had a few old chaps that used to wander around but I can’t think now what we called them. But they might be doing odd jobs around the ward but they didn’t lay hands on the patients.
And you were doing shifts. What sort of hours would you be working?
Do you eight hour shift. You’d come on at the crack of dawn and you used to come on earlier than you should have come on because you knew you weren’t going to get those sponges done in time. So it used to be an early morning struggle and then you’d get perhaps a few hours off in the morning and come back and then somebody might get time off in the afternoon and then you had to go to lectures. The doctors gave us our lectures and it depended on what hours they could spare and sometimes you’d have to get up from a nice sleep when you were on night duty, to go, and then go back and get undressed and get into bed and try and go back to sleep, you know. So it was loads of fun really.
And you were sleeping in the nurses' home?
Yes we had a nurses' home.
What was that like?
Well we had, I think we had very good accommodation. Sometimes when you started you might have a couple in the room which is good because you had someone to talk it over with because you’d go over to the nurses' home and say, “What that old so and so said to me this morning and made me do,” you know. Get it all off your chest to one and other. It was good. It was excellent to have someone there.
So as a junior nurse you were sort of – who sort of talked to you, how were you addressed, and would the doctors talk to you?
Oh you were there. If he wanted something he might turn around and say, “Nurse, get me so and so.” No, you were still the junior. You were not there.
And you were a nurse for another year before you could go to the army so war had broken out and you were still in the hospital. How did that affect what you were doing, the fact that all the doctors were leaving?
Well, in the preliminary training school, I was training the young ones that wanted to come in so I didn’t become involved actually much with what was going on in the hospital at that time. But I must tell you that my Winnie the War Winner – my big experience or my big, what shall I call it? We had a seven storey building and this school I was attached to was down in the basement so when we had an attack round about Bondi or some place, and if the alarm went off, my duty was to get in the lift and go to the seventh floor, which meant that the weight went to the basement and then I had to tootle down the stairs and that meant that, if anything happened, that weight wouldn’t come down and crash into someone or do something. Very important job I had.
Okay, so let’s go on to you doing your training as an army nurse? How was that different? What new things did you have to learn?
I’m just trying to think. It was at Concord. Concord, you have no idea what Concord was like. It was like an ants’ nest. There were people moving everywhere, troops moving everywhere. A convoy came in nearly every day, one went out and one came in, and we had what we call the ramp wards, which go from multi-storey building right down to the water’s edge
and they’re all wooden and you’d hear ‘clonk, clonk, clonk’ of the army boots coming down the ramp and the most wonderful things would happen. We didn’t think so at the time but looking back they were wonderful, a fellow would see one of his mates that he hadn’t seen and he’d suddenly realise he was alive and well and there were the greatest reunions that went on and you’d go out and say, “Look, you’re supposed to be down at the pack store with your goods. Get down there. You can come back and talk to him later.” But it was wonderful to see them and you had them in bed, they’d be eyeing the AAMWS off that you had in the ward. The minute they could put
their feet to the ground they were out to the day room to help. The day room was like a kitchen where the drinks were made up or water bottles were washed out and put back on lockers and all these sort of things. Look, some of their wives would have been shocked had they seen them, terrific. They’d do the lockers for you and empty ash trays, they were just so thrilled to be home and doing things, you know? But also we had physiotherapists, I think we had about two physios at PA but we had physios out at Concord
and they gave them jobs, not jobs, but taught them how to do things. We had them, they were making at one stage Dutch dolls out of felt and stuffing them and there were Dutch dolls everywhere, then they’d get onto some other thing. Or you’d go to take a meal time [to them] and they had meal tables and you couldn’t put it on the bed table because there was a great loom there. “Don’t move that, Sis, I’m just doing so and so.” They were into the weaving, and you know, it was wonderful. If you had the evening off and there was a movie on, which we had, or Jack Davey and all that crowd used to come out regularly, we had some wonderful shows out there because we
had a big theatre. And you’d take the ones that were ‘up patients’, as we’d call them, and down you’d go and have a wonderful time down there. And then you’d bring them back and you had to get them into bed again and they were all highly excited and full of beans. And the sister on duty wasn’t too pleased with you and you’d have to get them to bed again but you wouldn’t get them to bed until they’d had a cup of coffee or something like that. It turned out to be quite a long night for the rest of us but they thoroughly enjoyed it and I mean, so what? We were in it too. Thinking back they were terrific. When you’d think what they’d been through and what they were probably going to go back to.
So these were men from the Middle East?
Or, it was two years on so they were over that way, yes.
What sort of injuries had they sustained? What sort of things were you dealing with?
You would ask me that. Well you had limbs that were fractured and you had plasters and all sorts of things. You had quite a bit of theatre work but I was never in the theatre so I should know what was in the ward but ... there’d be all sorts of the normal sorts of things from your appendix upwards or downwards I suppose. Mainly, as I remember, taking them to the theatre, you’d have them in a wheelchair. A lot of them couldn’t walk so you know they were affected that way so they probably had busted limbs. I’m as vague as can be when I try to ... it just goes. Can’t tell you.
You’d have been quite young presumably?
Relatively young, relatively healthy. On the whole they were relatively healthy.
Did they talk much about what they’d been through?
Mainly themselves, wouldn’t say much to us, never did and never do. But they were naughty. You’d come on duty for evening duty and you’d go around your ward checking up and there’d be a note, “Dear Sis, Gone to ward 35. Be back by midnight. Please cover for me.” And they were down at the local pub and they used to come back through a hole in the fence. We
had guards around the hospital, it was a real military establishment you know. And you’d just – there’d be a pillow in the bed and you’d think, ‘Oh God! If there was a black out…,” we had a black out, you couldn’t see your nose in front of your face. And you’d think, ‘He might be hit by a ….” It was nothing to be coming home at night, and we’d come to the station and get a bus up, to find one of the patients sitting up in the bus, shouldn’t have been there you know. Oh they were naughty, they wanted to be. Ward 35 was a well known thing out at Concord Hospital if you mentioned ward 35. But that’s where they used to go. What else can I tell you?
I’d tell you, a convoy would come in. A convoy was supposed to go out and a convoy would come in. And sometimes one hadn’t gone out before the other one came in and we used to have confusion around the place but we’d get that sorted out. Everybody, it was like a beehive. Also the air force had number 3 Air Force Hospital down the ramps so they had people coming in and out too, you know. Concord was just extraordinary and as I said to someone one day, very military, and sometimes you’d see the bus coming and you’d be going out and you’d make a dive across the front lawn to catch the bus and the bugler would start and you’d come to attention and you stood there and watch the bus depart for town without you. Being the military was loads of fun but at times was a little inconvenient.
So the bugler, you had to ..., what was happening then?
It was one of the ... he might be playing the afternoon ... what do they call it? See if I start and think I can’t .... oh dear me .... there would be a call ... I’m trying to bring it back ... but that meant that everybody stopped whatever they were doing for so long while he played and then you went on with what you were doing. It wasn’t a reveille but a similar sort of a thing. It’s just gone now. I was doing well.
So was that something that would happen in the morning and the afternoon?
Oh yeah. It was just that you came to attention and you stood there while it was played. What would you call it? Oh ... can’t think. It might come later.
We were just talking about the way you had these military things interrupting your nursing duties. Can you tell me, just tell me about having ranks as nurses. How did being in the military change that?
I suppose it wasn’t that much different. We went in as lieutenants and then you became a captain and matron was a colonel and I think the 2IC was a half colonel [Lieutenant Colonel]. And it was not that much different in as much as you were a junior, so you played the junior rank when you were a lieut. and then by the time you were a captain you had more responsibility and so it went on.
And what about your uniforms, did they change?
Pips on your shoulders. You had your army uniform. You went to work in a
grey button through frock, had your tan shoes and stockings, we wore our veil, we wore a red cape and we had our rank on our shoulders. You’ve seen what we call pips, so you had two, three or whatever on your shoulder. We also had a white apron that we put on and you’d take your cuffs off, we had white cuffs with a stud in them, take your cuffs off, put them in the front of your apron and away you went doing duties and then when you
finished whatever you were supposed to be doing, you’d roll your sleeves down and put your cuffs on again and be regimentally dressed. When we went out we had, we thought it was the most beautiful uniform, it was a grey woollen material, it was a suit, a beautiful suit. Again you had your rank on your shoulders. You had a white shirt and you had a brown tie and we had a lovely hat with a band on it and we carried a little handbag. It was a little wallet, I suppose it might have been four inches long, three inches deep, and
into that you put everything but you weren’t supposed to carry a parcel or anything when you were in uniform and we had our brown gloves, leather gloves, and that was our stepping out uniform. We were very, very proud of that uniform.
And what did you put in your little purse?
As much as you could, by the time you put in some powder, a lipstick and a comb you just about had it.
And you said earlier you had a veil on. What was that?
Oh our white veil, how do you describe that? You weren’t with Patrick [interviewer] the other day were you? Do you see a model there with a white veil? Can I move my hands, my arm? You had about 36 inch square muslin with a hem stitched hem and you turned one corner back and then in the front you turned it back again about an inch and you pinned it around the back so that it covered your head and it came out and down your back. And we were very proud of that veil.
And you wore that all the time around the wards?
Yes. That was the veil. We had a white collar, with a hem stitched edge on it and your badge went through that.
And did they have uniform inspections? Could you get into trouble if your uniform wasn’t quite as it should be?
No, I don’t think so but then I don’t think any of the girls would have ... you cleaned your shoes so that you were. I used to have a little orderly when I was down at Concord. I was in the psych ward and he had been an orderly
up at Goulburn, he was a twin. You’d hear, “Hey, Sis.” “Yes?” “Did you clean your shoes tonight?” “Of course I cleaned my shoes tonight.” “Oh.” I said, “What’s worrying you about that?” “Oh well, so and so’s just gone out the window and the tide’s out and I thought you might be going after him.” So he’d ring up one of the senior psych doctors and get in an ambulance and go round the other side and by the time he’d swum across the water they’d pick him up and bring him back and he’d be locked, you know, wouldn’t be able to get out. Oh it was sad, really sad the psych cases.
So these were men who’d come back. These were soldiers who were mentally ...
Mentally affected. It was really very sad.
What sort of things would they do?
Well they weren’t doing anything there. All they were worried about was they didn’t want to go back to that dreadful place they had been to.
Sort of, yeah. We had a lot of psych cases.
How did they treat patients like that?
Well, the only way they, sedation and so on. That’s about the only thing, and when I was in Goulburn we had, they used to go and have an injection in the morning and then they’d come back to the ward and you had to give them a huge breakfast, they had to eat a lot after this injection. We had to make sure they ate their breakfast. And what was in that injection now I couldn’t tell you. But that was their treatment.
I guess today we have so much in the way of counselling.
Well we do and to a certain extent the boys weren’t counselled but we wouldn’t have, time would have been limited but they had their medics and they were looked after and I suppose we didn’t know all that much about these things, not what we know now.
As a nurse, did you have any training in that area, mental illness?
No. I didn’t. Except I was on night duty in my ward but they were, you know, quite easy to handle. But it was something that was sad when you came up against it.
And you said sometimes the soldiers would sneak out. Did you sort of turn a blind eye to this?
What could you do? You weren’t going to dob them in, no, no. Not if they turned up in time. But if you got caught then they got caught. But the powers that be knew it was going on, I think.
What happened if you got into trouble?
Oh you’d just be reprimanded. Front up to the colonel or somebody. But you couldn’t be held responsible for a bloke who cleared out in the middle of the evening. I mean, you weren’t there to stop him.
Tell us a bit about some of the colonels. Who were the women you were working under?
When I went out there we had Colonel Willie Wood. He was a WWI colonel and he was excellent. He had later on a lot to do with a war veterans’ home
down at Narrabeen and starting that. And he really cared for his troops. He was strict, he didn’t like anyone playing up, but he did a wonderful job setting up the hospital. You know it was built in record time and it was the largest hospital and there must have been a lot of admin work that we didn’t know about that he did. He used to have a parade, all the boys who’d been naughty and gone AWOL and so on, and I always remember one little fellow and I said to him this day, “He’s going to throw the book at you,” I said, "you’re a naughty little boy." He used to duck off at the weekends. He said, “Couldn’t care less, Sis,” and I said, "But you should care," and he said, “I’ve
got property out in the country there,” and I think his wife was trying to run it and he used to hire a plane and fly home at the weekends and then come back. I couldn’t tell you what happened to him in the end. I really don’t know. He may have been discharged and sent back to his unit, I haven’t a clue, but he didn’t care how much the old boy charged him, he was going home to help on the property. I think he was still there when I left. Everybody knew Colonel Willie Wood. Then our matron was a colonel, Hope Croll.
Interviewee: Ethel Lane Archive ID 0663 Tape 04
So Stalky, we were just about to start talking about Matron Croll. Tell us about her.
Matron Croll was the first matron at Concord Military Hospital. She did a fantastic job because she virtually had to set it up and staff came in gradually as did the patients, you know. And she had the allocation of staff and I have in the museum a copy of her first rostering system which is magnificent, what they did and what they didn’t do, but the story goes, and I wasn’t there
at the time, but the story goes that she would do rounds often and someone would ring down the ramp wards and say, “She’s doing rounds.” So they’d all be waiting you see and the next call would come through, “She’s looking for such and such a thing.” So that meant either you tied something up or did something for a certain type of patient, that she was looking for that. And then there’d be another call come, “You can relax. She’s had a phone call. She’s had to go back to the office.”
When you say ‘such and such’ what kind of things would she be looking for?
Well she might be looking for, I mean it's ridiculous to say this but something mightn’t have been attended to properly, she might think they weren’t caring, doing the right thing by a patient or something in the ward wasn’t being ... or equipment or something like that she felt was not being attended to properly and then she’d get a call back to the office so that would be called off and everybody relaxed then till the next time she did rounds. When I came there, she’s been there of course two years but a lot of people
didn’t like her, I liked her and got on well with her. We had what is now the Medical Centre, was number one nurses’ home and that was for nurses and then there’s another one a little bit further down and that was number two nurses’ home, so you can image there were quite a few nurses there. And she had a lot of domestic things she had to look after as well as technical things in the hospital side and the other thing about it was that her staff was moving. I mean I might come in this week with three or four others and ten or eleven might go out, she never knew. Then the hospital ship was having its barnacles removed. The girls would have a couple of days leave or
whatever and they’d be sent out to Concord so she’d have staff that way. It must have been a nightmare in some ways, whether she’d have enough or whether she wouldn’t have enough staff, but then she might have to send so many off to different hospitals. I know I was there and I … the 2IC who was a lovely person and she said to me, “Have you ever been to Dubbo?” and I said, “No,” and she said, “Would you like to go?” and I said, “I would.” So I went up to Dubbo Camp Hospital which was an entirely different thing to the
hurly burly of Concord. A military camp up there and we didn’t live at the camp, we lived in behind the hospital in town and one of the women’s services, I don’t know if it was AWAS, she was an AWAS, used to drive us out in the morning in an old ambulance and bring us back in the afternoon and we had measles, mumps, you name it. All these young boys got together for training and all these things they could come up … was nobody’s business so you were kept pretty busy out there. And we were there until the camp
closed or those boys were moving on to God knows where and we had the honour of standing up and watching them march past our camp, you know. And all very ceremonial and wonderful but I didn’t meet up with Croll then. I did, I was posted from there to Goulburn but you never went in a straight line in the army, well we didn’t. So you had to go to Concord and do a few nights’ night duty and then you’d move on somewhere else and eventually get to where you were posted.
I just want to talk a bit more, because we’re heading towards Tamworth. There are a couple of things you were talking about with Louise [interviewer]. The Bondi attack, which I’m fascinated by, Sydney was invaded by the Japanese. What was that like for you when that happened?
I think we were quite thrilled about it, I’m not sure. It was of course the papers ... The papers told us all about it. We only had the wireless there. We didn’t have the telly and you could listen on the wireless and hear about it and it was like when the ferry was bombed in the harbour and that was the closest we seemed to get.
You say it was thrilling. Were people excited about it?
Well not. I shouldn’t have used that word should I? I should have said that they were, it was brought home to them and there would be a certain sense, I mean we were so many miles from what was going on that that brought it closer to home and ‘excited’ is not the word I should have used. What’s the word that should be used for that? There would, a word that would express ...
Excitement makes sense to me. Excitement makes good sense to me.
You’re excited, yes. We all had slit trenches dug in the back yards. You know about that of course. I’m sorry. It was one of those things that the government suggested and every home near and far had a slit trench in their backyard which some member of the family dug and if there was another air raid you had to run down and crawl into this hole. I think you’d have been safer in the house but ... I saw some peculiar trenches round about.
Describe for me what a slit trench was.
Well it looked as though somebody was going to be buried. There was a hole there that would have taken a coffin or some of them were bigger and had lids on them and so on and so forth but we had them out at the hospital between the wards. There were trenches there that you could have gotten into and when it rained they filled up with water.
Did they have a metal roof on them?
Well whatever you had in the back yard. Sorry. I could, I can show you a picture of one. What I’m saying, I think it’s next week, a very good friend of mine, Bob Leonard from Westpac Bank, is having an exhibition on what happened and I’ve got the invitation there somewhere, and Bob … so if you go into the Westpac Bank after, I’ll tell you the date, you’ll see all these pictures up on the ground floor, about Wednesday.
You mentioned that at Concord there was a theatre, not an operating theatre, a show theatre. What shows would they put on?
Well you couldn’t have paid for it. Everybody who was anybody in the entertainment world came out. Jack Davey was a regular, we had … I go blank then.
Were they like Vaudeville where you get song and dance and comedians?
Yes. The boys'd join in and it was free for all. I’ll never forget the night that the very famous violinist, the boys jacked up, they weren’t going for classical music. And the CO said they would turn up, this man was coming and they would turn up and because we girls thought this was lovely and those naughty little blokes were trying to get out of it, I can’t think of the man’s name, but I know we were horrified to think they didn’t want to go to this concert but we did have some magnificent shows in that theatre.
What’s happened to it now?
Well at the present moment, the building that’s going on at the moment, it’s full of old furniture and stuff that hopefully, we like to think that one day it might be re-opened as a theatre again because it has a wonderful history, it really does, fantastic history.
So would you go to the shows with the soldiers?
Oh you’d have them in wheelchairs and all sorts of things, wheel them down and sit with them, tell them to behave themselves or whatever.
You must have got very close to the soldiers. Was there ever any relationships emerge?
I think so, over the years. They would have put their life on the line for us and even up in the islands the boys would say, “You get under my bed Sis, I’ve got more plaster on me than he has. You’d be better under here you know.” No, they'd put their life on the line for us. It was wonderful, we had a wonderful rapport with them.
Did you know any nurse that married one of the soldiers?
Yes, we had weddings. Not many because you couldn’t stay on if you were married, if you married you were out, you came back and you’d have to join up the civilian side again, you couldn’t stay in the army. Some of the girls married.
Why is that? Why did you have to leave if you got married?
I don’t know but it was a funny set up. You could get married and you could spend .... Oh rank came into it. He might have been a private and she might have been an officer. So you couldn’t have that. And it used to happen and a wedding would take place and they’d spend a couple of nights in the night staff quarters and then she’d have to get ready to come home. They tried to talk me into that and ‘not on your Nelly’. But that was how that went on. I think it was the difference in rank. We never went into that, we just said, “No go.”
So the couple of nights in the night quarters were like a honeymoon for them.
Yes. Of course the girls were on duty in the night and during the day they were round about. Oh yes, all beautifully worked out.
And would you throw a reception for them?
Oh yes, everything. We had some, some of the girls would put on, one of them could sing, she had a beautiful voice, and they’d put on concerts and things and costumes would be made so that, we weren’t bad at scrounging things and doing things that way, so when it came to a wedding we could turn it on with the best of them.
Could you describe for us a reception that you’d put on?
Well in the mess, as such, the cooks, if the cook liked the sister you did very well thank you. If they didn’t like her you had to plead and carry on but they would make, cook special dishes and so on and so forth and we always had a grog ration so we’d produce a few bottles. All of the boys would bring them in and there’d be much merriment and what have you but I don’t know. I just felt sorry for them because, I suppose the war was coming to an end and you could say, “Oh well, I’ll go home and by the time I find somewhere to live or something like that he’ll be back,” which I think is one of the things they did but then you’d be sent off on the first available boat or plane or something.
You talked about at Concord there was a navy hospital nearby or a navy unit nearby. Air force was it? I’m just wondering, each of the forces have their own nursing service. How did they get on - the various nursing services?
We didn’t come in contact that often. We came in contact with the air force when they came in, sometimes they would if there was an air force base and they had a sick bay or a small hospital, the girls on the medevacs [medical evacuation] would stay there. When things were closing down, the air force had closed and I know they came in and they stayed in our lines till the next morning when they took off with a plane load, but a lot of us, we knew one another from our training days even. So that we are a funny group of people but ... that’s me, friend.
As I was saying we were a funny group of people because we did know one another from hospital days and then we came home and we still went to work in various places together and we joined, we had, the World War I sisters had formed the sub-branch of the RSL [Returned and Services League] so we all joined up there and had a wonderful time with the old dears, learning about what they did. We all became quite close but so many have moved on these days, it’s very, very sad.
And then there is the ‘Amwars’ [Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS)]
Well the AAMWS started off as the VADs [Voluntary Aid Detachments] and they were like the junior sisters. They worked in the wards and they worked in the day rooms, they’d make drinks and afternoon teas and morning teas for the patients and the boys would be out helping them if they were on their feet and they’d help in the wards, help you make beds and clean lockers and so on and so forth and
they were excellent. They were terrific girls. When we went to Morotai, we had, we had a hairdresser that had been an AAMWS, I’m trying to think of the other one. And they were great. So that they wore a blue uniform, button through uniform, and a little white cap on top of that. We all wore big soldiers’ hats up in the islands, the felt ones, but they wore blue. We had tents there and they had tents over there. They were commonly known as ‘other ranks’, they didn’t have rank, but they worked hard. Some of them ... the AWAS [Australian Women’s Army Service] were drivers and things like that but the AAMWS helped in the wards. The patients thought they were magnificent.
The AWAS didn’t come to Morotai.
Let’s go back to – Australia before you head off. You go to the Dubbo camp and to the Goulburn army hospital, having popped back into Concord on the way. What were you doing out at Goulburn? What was that like?
They were psych people I was telling you about and it was cold and there was frost on the ground, it was all white in the morning, it wasn’t very pleasant at all. The poor little boys. We had to get them up in the morning and they were sent off for their treatment and they’d come back and we’d have to try and stuff, we had to get food into them, we had to stuff their breakfast into them and I had one little boy there, this is sad, don’t put this in, and I couldn’t find him one
morning and he was lying naked in the frost. I thought, ‘What was he doing?’ And he said, “Enjoying the sunshine.” He decided that I should marry his brother who was in the railway but after I got him out of this little garden of frost that he was in, no way was I getting near his brother, I was an old witch. And what he did for a living - he went from door to door (and you’re probably too young, the pair of you, to know this) and he sold black aprons with colourful, they used to have a coloured piece on them, and he went from door to door selling these aprons. He shouldn’t have been in the army at all, God bless him, but I didn’t get the feller.
That brings up a really interesting point. Obviously there are some men and women I guess who are more suited to army service and the pressure that war puts you under. What do you think from your experiences distinguishes someone?
I don’t know. I think you’d have to interview them and talk with them and a lot would come out. It would be the questions you were asking them to find out their interests, what they did to earn a living, and that sort of thing that you’d really find out that people really were just not suitable.
What sort of questions would you ask?
I don’t know. Well you’d go on about what family they had, mother and father and so on, and whether they had brothers or sisters that were in or any relatives who were already in the services and had they spoken to them? And then, say, what they did for a living and what their interests were. Whether they were interested in rough sport or whether they didn’t like those things at all and I think you’d get a little bit of an idea of what they were like, you tell me.
Did they ask you any particular questions before they sent you overseas? What was the process?
I don’t remember anything like that. I remember going out to Paddington and having numerous injections but I knew the doctor that was jabbing them into me. I don’t remember her saying, you know, she was from Repins Coffee Shop, she was one of the Repins and she was a lovely person. She’d been at PA and I don’t remember her asking me, “Do I jab this in you or do you want to get out?” We were all that keen to go that it didn’t matter, we hadn’t heard what had really happened to our other girls
or maybe we wouldn’t have been so keen. I don’t know but we were dead keen but we didn’t expect to be fired on or I mean, a fellow has got man to man fighting half the time, we were only cleaning up the mess. No it would be difficult but I think you could work it out. But there were a lot of them and some of the things they saw affected them.
What sort of things?
Well if you saw all your mates being shot, wounded, dead. I think it would be an horrendous shock to be three or four of you, maybe, abreast and you suddenly find you’re the only one, the others have been killed. How they go back again after they’ve been wounded and got out and recovered, pretty tough.
So you just said that you were all excited about going. What were you expecting to be going to? What did you imagine you were going to?
Tents, tent wards and an army camp of that description. You see, we nursed a lot of the wounded boys that had come back so we knew a few of the things that we were going to strike that way.
So the soldiers would actually tell you about the hospitals that they’d been in on the islands or ...?
We’d seen pictures of that when magazines came out you know, military magazines and that sort of thing and you knew what to expect because you go up to Dubbo camp and you were under tents. You went to Tamworth and there were a few huts but tents. You knew and it, that side of it didn’t worry me at all.
Let’s talk about Tamworth because that’s where you find out that you’re going to be posted, isn’t it?
We knew we were being posted but we didn’t know where. We didn’t know where till we got there.
What ... ‘cause that was an AGH [Australian General Hospital]?
Tamworth, Tamworth was an AGH at that time I think. I’m not sure. We went there as an AGH so we made it an AGH. It was a run down camp hospital when we went up there but the 2/9th [AGH] went to Tamworth.
And who were you looking after there and what were your responsibilities there?
We were looking after troops that had come back from overseas and round about. We had a lot of malaria cases, we didn’t have so much surgery. We had a few surgical things but we weren’t overworked by any means, you know. Just trying to think. I can see the malarias up on the hill and I can see this, I was in the surgical ward, the road to Tamworth went through the camp hospital and we were down the bottom on the other side of the road in a surgical ward with a lass from Western Australia.
Did they actually start to train you for tropical diseases at this point in time?
No I don’t think they did. We nursed malarias, you were doing that. You’d get an outbreak of other diseases when the boys got together, measles, mumps, and all that sort of thing because someone would come in that hadn’t had it before and next thing you had that, but we didn’t have anything hectic in Tamworth.
And what about the social life up there?
We had a very good social life. Until, or even after that, they decided the time was ripe and we had to march into town.
Just tell us about the social life. What sort of thing would you do?
Oh well we’d have the odd concert but it was very low key compared to what we’d had at Concord.
Did you mix with the locals?
I didn’t know any of the locals but the girls used to go in and somebody knew people from Tamworth. They’d go in there, meet folk in there, but it was low key as far as our social life was concerned, away with the fairies a bit on it there. Once again I had the mess to look after.
And what did that involve?
Sorting out the menu, seeing it got on the table, seeing it was cleared away.
And so were you responsible for ordering the food as well?
No, the boys in the catering would do that but I just had to put up with, “Oh that again!”
So when you say you were sorting out the menu, did you actually write the menu up for them?
Oh no, when I mean sorting out a menu, talking with the boys about what we would have, you know, and they’d say, “We’re having so and so and so and so,” and I’d say, “Okay,” because they did the cooking, we didn’t do the cooking.
What would ‘so and so’ and ‘so and so’ be?
Well quite good meals. Roast meals or stews or, you know, we had excellent meals. We always had a wet mess wherever we went so we were fortunate.
Tell us what a ‘wet mess’ was.
Wet mess means you can have a grog.
Was it a well stocked bar?
Yes. We had a well stocked bar, very happy there for a few weeks. That was where we came across a lot of hessian. I may have told you this the other day. We made cushions and all sorts of things to take away. And I always remember doing rounds with the CO matron, I was doing rounds with the CO up in Morotai and he got into the toilets and there were hessian curtains in the shower. Well, did he go to town.
‘Wasn’t I aware that that was the sort of place that mosquitoes got?’ He really had a go. So I assured him that we would take them down but we never did, they were there till we left. Apart from those curtains, we made cushions for our entertainment area, we had cushions and we put felt flowers and things on them. Oh we were clever.
What was your entertainment area?
I think I showed you a picture of my entertainment area, with ferns and things I had that the boys brought me back. When the boys went out they’d bring me back orchids and ferns and they were up around the ceiling and around and we had little tables. We had a piano that had come from the Middle-East, it survived that. We had that and I think we had a big radio.
We’re in Morotai here.
Where in Morotai? In my, in the compound. I explained that to you. We were in this big wire netting compound. We used to hold dances and the Aussie girls, they loved the, our boots, you could dance in them beautifully. They were really lovely boots and they were so easy to dance in. People used to say, “Boots.” Yes, they were beautiful.
And would you dance with the American soldiers?
A couple did. We didn’t have many Yanks come there, we had our own boys came there. You had to be invited of course, you couldn’t get in the gate otherwise. We had, you made your own entertainment but it was quite enjoyable.
What was the dirndl hut?
Oh more or less the dirndl hut. That would be, she’s talking about the daytime in that hut. You could take your uniform off and a dirndl was a little cotton frock we had in those days which were very popular. Have you heard of a dirndl? And we nearly all sent off a letter, “Dear Mum, please send me up a dirndl.” And I’d forgotten about that and we could go there out of uniform in the day time. Yes I forget about it because I was happy to get back down to the tents and the wounded at times.
Interviewee: Ethel Lane Archive ID 0663 Tape 05
Before we leave Tamworth we were talking a bit about training. You were trained to use pistols. Can you just tell me about that?
Well that was possibly the shortest period of time we spent but we didn’t realise. I think I told you before we were marching into the baths and we had to swim and we had to march back home again. We didn’t really realise but I think at that time they had found out girls that were prisoners of war had drowned and so on and they were making sure that we were physically fit but we had no idea about that. One of the things we did a very short course on was pistol practise, whether any of us did any good I’m not sure but that was as close as I came to a pistol and as close as I wanted to come to one.
How big were the pistols? What kind were they?
Fancy asking me that at this stage, I couldn’t tell you.
Did you just have to shoot at targets?
Yes. I suppose some were better than others but it was a matter of how good an eye you had, I suppose.
You didn’t have to take pistols with you?
No. They were taken back. We were handed the one and then it was taken back and carefully accounted for.
And these would be soldiers training you?
From the unit, from our own unit. It was a little bit like air raid practise and having to get into an air raid situation. You practised it so that when the time came you knew what you were doing.
What did air raid practise consist of?
Well getting into a shelter and so on, not coming out until it was all over, and getting patients in, you had to, the patients came first.
What did you have to do with the patients?
See that they were cared for and in as little danger as possible.
You were talking before about slit trenches. Would you have to get patients into trenches?
Like that, a little bit like that.
That would have been hard, getting sick men out of bed.
It depended who you had, I didn’t come across anything like that. I probably had walking wounded or something which makes life much easier but we did have slit trenches between all the huts on Concord site.
At Tamworth as well?
No, at Concord. At Tamworth, no, don’t remember seeing any there, could have been but I don’t remember.
You said before that you had heard about the nurses who’d been taken prisoner but you hadn’t heard everything. What was the story?
No, we, I think we knew, I’m not sure. I think we’d heard that they had been taken prisoner of war but we had no idea what had happened to them or we might have said, “I don’t want to go overseas,” because they had an horrendous time. I’m talking about the girls that were in Singapore when the war actually started. That was when, instead of 14 people getting on the little
launch that belonged to the Sultan of Samaranch or whoever he was, 300 people were packed on that and went up the river and it lasted one night and the next day the Japs spotted it and it was sunk and all these people were in the water. Some could swim, some couldn’t, and others were helping people. It’s an awful thing to read about really, it doesn’t do you any help at all. Beautiful women, a couple of beautiful matrons just disappeared and then the girls that did land, as you probably know, they landed on Banker Island and the Japs watched them, watched them land, made them turn around,
walk back into the water and machine gunned them. And one girl, Vivienne Statham, was hit, but just on the side, she wasn’t badly hit, and she floated in the water and pretended she was dead with the rest of them until she floated away from where the Japs were and she finally came back into land and then others eventually came up the river and found that they could land in a little place there, which they did, and were taken prisoners by the Japs and were then all taken further up the island and put in these dreadful camps where they were for the next two years.
Where were you when you found out about that?
After the war. Yes.
So the time you went, you heard simply that they left Singapore ...
Well I think we knew that Singapore had been bombed, you know, out of recognition sort of thing. I’m not too sure the date they bombed Singapore.
And I mean news of surrender? What was it like, you were still in Australia at this point.
No we were up on the island and my husband-to-be was going to Borneo on the hospital ship that afternoon and also Lady Blamey, the wife of General Blamey was going and the ship was out, say at the heads, as it were, and it was stationary at the time and one of our doctors came in. He’d been out around the islands looking for, they went around to see if there was anyone lost there that they could bring in to the hospital and he had an American with him and they were slightly under the weather, I must admit, but they were very hungry and they wanted food and I said, “You’ll have to wait until I’ve
finished here and then I’ll take you up to the mess and give you something to eat up there.” So I finished my duties, walked outside the tent, when the world exploded. Guns went off, rockets went up in the air. The Americans went completely and utterly mad, they had heard. And in, we went up past on the way up to the mess. There was a little hut there and it was American and it was on our property and we weren’t supposed to speak to them. But they were radar and [knew] all sorts of things that we knew nothing about and they said as we went past, “It’s all over.” That night it was all over, people were thrown in the sea. The next morning we,
the excitement just went on half the night. The next morning a call came around, ‘Did any of the sisters or any of the AAMWS have any American badges of rank because they couldn’t go on duty. They didn’t have any.” But that was our night that we knew it was over.
Tell me about what you would have taken with you to Morotai - the different uniforms that you had at that point.
Perhaps I should tell you that we had a cabin trunk, metal trunk. Why I remember that so vividly is that when we were getting off the ship at Morotai, they were having a bit of bother and I was watching my trunk because you had your number on it in big numbers and it hit the side of the ship and it had a lovely ... and I thought, “I hope the water doesn’t get into it,” which it didn’t. I think it’s out at Concord now, I’m not sure but it was still doing a good job
the last time I saw it but in that I had extra uniforms. We had about three uniforms and we had veils or capes. You had to look after your things, you had nowhere to put them back here so you had them in your cabin trunk and then (Patrick won’t mind this but) we had dozens and dozens of ‘Modess’, that was one thing that we were quite sure we would not go without. Eventually we did get an issue but we were very worried about that. Otherwise you just had all the things in it that you would normally take on a trip. Makeup, underwear and so on and so forth like that. We had writing materials and just a trunk full of all sorts of bits and pieces.
And the uniforms, when you said three uniforms, different types of uniforms?
No. We didn’t take our, I’m pretty sure we didn’t take our dresses and things up to, although we had them when we got home so we must have had them in the trunk there somewhere and we had the grey uniform, button through uniform, and the cape and veil, stockings and shoes.
But you didn’t wear the stockings and shoes?
No. Up there we had boots and socks and gaiters. We had gaiters, Australian gaiters, but if you knew an American and you could get a pair of American gaiters, they were much easier. They went under your foot and we preferred those so you had to find an American that had some and bartering ... you could barter with a bottle of Goo or half a bottle of whisky or something and do very nicely, thank you, but that was our cabin trunks.
But this new uniform had trousers, didn’t it?
It had trousers, t had gaiters, it had a jacket and you had your slouch hat.
That would have still been quite warm with a jacket, wouldn’t it?
The jacket was the same material as the trousers, cotton. I mean you were wet from the time you got up until you went to bed but I mean you didn’t worry about that.
You said before, the trousers had come about because of the nurses in New Guinea.
Because of the mosquitoes and the malaria and I suppose they had to work out what they were going to dress us in, being tropical, and we weren’t the only unit. The 2/5th went up there too. There were quite a few of us and they, it takes them a little while to work out what they’re going to make in bulk in a uniform. But they came up with these, we called them “passion killers” but they were gaiters that came up your leg and you pinned them to your frock or whatever and at 4 o’clock you had to put these on, these grey cotton gaiters, and were we pleased when we got out of those and into trousers? We didn’t have to wear them. Trousers were so much easier and I think so much easier getting round beds and doing things that they were well worth while having.
Did you take anything special from home, any bits and pieces?
Well I hadn’t been home for quite a while. I can’t remember, I don’t think so. I might have had the odd photograph, I don’t know.
And what was the accommodation like on the ship?
Oh well, it was a hospital ship so we had oodles of accommodation. I was down in the hold somewhere but I had a very comfortable bed and it was good.
Were there troops on the ship as well?
No. Just the, the hospital, the whole of the medical and nursing staff.
When you arrived, tell us a bit about arriving. You got off the ship, was this where all the Americans and Australians were out in the boats?
They were all on the ... when we arrived, the fact that there were a whole lot of females out on the deck caused a bit of a flutter among the Americans and they were going around and around the ship. And the captain wasn’t very happy and we were a bit worried too about getting down there because we had to go over the side and then when I saw my cabin trunk get damaged, it didn’t improve things at all but we eventually got down and got into the little motor boats and headed for the shore and I’m afraid a couple of the boys were rather sarcastic. We had nothing to do with it. We were up there and just coming down innocently and just because the Yanks were playing up we couldn’t be blamed for that, could we?
So when you said they were sarcastic, what were they saying?
Oh, we could have ... I think they thought we were playing up to the Americans and so on. Said we were rather stupid and things like that. ‘Didn’t we realise we were on a boat and we could have fallen in.’ Never mind, we survived.
What were your first impressions of Morotai?
Well we saw the harbour which was most interesting, big harbour, trees, it was fairly well covered, coconuts and so on and so forth. No, it seemed quite
a pleasant sort of an island so then I think we got in a, it must have been a mini bus or something like that and we were taken up and greeted by this great compound with a wire fence around it and had to give our names etc to the guard on the gate to get in and face up to matron who had a list of tents and who was going to tent with whom. And she was saying, “You three that way and so on and so forth.” And I said, “You haven’t given me a bed.” So eventually we fixed that up and I got in with people I wanted
and without giving me time to breathe or put my finger in the tent, she said, “You’d better get up to the mess and start getting ready. It’s past lunch time,” and you didn’t argue. You just trotted off. It was all very new and I wasn’t too sure. We had a sort of a free-for-all lunch. We had sandwiches and this and that and the other thing because they didn’t know how many were coming or what was happening and our boys had only just landed too, our cooks and so on. And then you had to go and, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a tent when you’ve got to stretch out the tent ropes and things, it's interesting, very interesting. Then I talked my boyfriend into digging a trench around it and he didn’t go deep enough and the water came in that night. But we weren’t the only ones that suffered that way.
So you had to put the tents up yourself?
No, the tents were up but they hadn’t been fully stretched out or a ditch dug around the outside of them, you had to have that done. And the other thing you had to be very careful about, the coconut trees. If a coconut came down and hit you on the head, you’d had it, so you had to be very careful that way.
Did that happen to anyone?
Well it had come down and hit the tent and they were very fortunate, you know, it didn’t come through.
Just tell me a bit about the layout of the camp, where the wards were and where your tents were.
We were away from the wards, as I say, we were way up that way and the wards were further down in a lower area and we used to walk down a windy path to the wards, first wards. We had quite a few wards, big tents and to go to my ward which was down the bottom, when I eventually got a ward, we had to pass an American radar station which was on our property, which we were told we were not to speak to the Americans so we used to walk past
and we’d say, “It’s a lovely day today ... such and such a thing has happened,” and they would say ... we’d have a conversation with one another in a very loud voice, letting us know what was happening in the outside world. And ...
When we come back I’d like to know how much interaction you had with the Americans.
I had none, once only. But a lot of the girls did go down to the American mess.
Tell me, why were you not allowed to talk to the American soldiers?
I don’t know, I really don’t know.
Tell us how much interaction you had with the soldiers though.
Well we, it depended. I suppose I was different to the others and there were several of us who did have boyfriends there so we weren’t that keen to go off to American messes. A few times I went out to boats on the harbour. I’ll never forget the day that a fish landed at my feet and I said, “Look what I’ve caught!” So what did they do? They took it down below and cleaned it and gutted it and brought it up ready for my breakfast. True American what not. That was funny that night. I’ve never forgotten that. This fish just came up
and .... Anyway, I didn’t have that much interaction at all. They used to come up in the evening to our recreation room, as it were, or dirndl room or whatever you like to call it. We had dances there and some of the girls would invite them there and we used to go for picnics out to the islands and some of them would go with Americans but I was never with them. I was always with our own boys. I don’t, oh I think the powers that be were interactive, they had to know what was going on, but the ordinary people, we didn’t have them as patients or anything like that so we didn’t get to know them pretty well.
So were you engaged at this time?
Oh yes, but we didn’t put it up in the local paper. We used to bring out a local paper up there but we didn’t ...
Were you engaged before you left Australia?
So your fiancé travelled over with you?
No, he went before me.
And where was he working, relative to you?
We were in the same ward at odd times, medical or surgical, he’d move around but I’d be sent to a ward for so long.
You said you were in charge of a ward, is that how it would work.
No, there’d be a senior one to me. I was a lieut., you’d have a captain in charge of a ward. I didn’t come down to a ward for quite some time, till I think they were sick of me up in the kitchen. I must tell you this. We had Lady Louis Mountbatten call in and our boys cooked and they had these stoves which go back to Florence Nightingale’s day, fairly primitive cooking. So I got almost down on my bended knees asking them to turn something on extra special. I ran around getting things and doing things and
when she came she was highly nervous and the first thing she did was take out the lipstick and this went on and on. Anyhow we put the luncheon on and she didn’t eat and our matron in chief was up there on leave and word came through, they’d found these sisters I was telling you about earlier and she turned around to Matron and she said, “You come with me and we’ll go and rescue them.” “Oh no, I can’t. I have to go back to ....” “No, you’ll come with me,” and she took her and the girls were so excited when they saw their matron in chief had arrived to rescue them. If it hadn’t been for her
she never would have gotten there but I would have hated to be her cook. But Gracie Fields came, lovely time with Gracie. Gracie would eat anything, do anything you could imagine.
Tell us about that. Where did you have entertainment? Where did Gracie perform?
Well Gracie took up half the island, everyone turned up to hear Gracie. And you either took your boys, you got them out of bed, you put them on anything at all to get them down the paddock a bit so that they could hear. Others, you had tins and things to sit on but Gracie used to put on a great act and it was much appreciated. By the same token we had movies. Once again you sat on your tin, you took it with you, but if the tide came in, you copped it. If you weren’t aware, the tide would come in and wash the tin from under you. There were some very exciting evenings when things like that
happened but we eventually got a little more sense and knew where to go. They moved the picture theatre, as it were, up to a higher piece of ground and we could go to the pictures there. As I say, something special, and you’d get them out of bed, dress them best you could in something.
So this is all down on the beach?
More or less down on the beach, we had this area but they shifted it around then when it looked as if we were going to be washed out. But we had a very good social life that way.
What kind of films did you see? Did you see newsreels as well?
They used to bring up the very latest films, oh yes and we were ... I think they’d have sent them up from here fairly quickly all around all the troops and we had the other hospital, the 2/5th, came up. They were across the road and so there were two hospitals that benefited. I think maybe they didn’t have it on the same night we did but there were two hospitals there that would benefit from the film.
And were the hospitals very busy? What happened when the casualties started?
We got casualties from Borneo and boys that were sick from Borneo and we had our very busy periods and then we started to get the odd prisoner of war in and this was what we were sent up there for. They came in. We had a lot of Indian prisoners of war. We had some magnificent Sikhs, they were magnificent men. And others came in and the first thing they wanted to do was to go on duty up in the Jap compound. We had a Japanese compound there and we knew we wouldn’t have any Japanese in the morning if they got loose. They weren’t allowed to do that but they used to go up and look at them.
That was a Japanese prisoner of war?
Yes. They came in and there were, trying to work out a menu to suit them and not knowing what to give them used to be fun. One delightful day there was a phone call, this used to happen around the ward, the phone would ring, “Are you busy up there? Well come down to such and such a ward. We need you.” And this day they’d had a group come in and it was getting on in the afternoon, heading for four o’clock, and they got them all showered and, they thought, and into bed. But, as I say, they didn’t have an interpreter and here was this little man, he got up out of bed and walked past them all so
they all got out of bed and headed to the showers again because they weren’t clean, he’d walked past them. So we all had to get past there and change the beds and get them all back into bed and tell him not to get out and so on and so forth. It was an hilarious afternoon, I don’t mind telling you, but that was the sort of thing that went on.
What sort of condition were the prisoners of war in?
Thin, awful. Some of them, you’d wonder how they could move. If they had taken a little while to come to us they had put on a little bit of weight on the way and when they were leaving they were so grateful, just so grateful for anything that had been done for them. It was very moving in a way. We had women and children, must have come from the islands round about, and they set up wards in the grounds of our compound and we had women and
children there. I remember being on night duty and about three of the littlies had croup or something and I couldn’t get them to stop coughing all night, you know but they must have come from the islands nearby but things were coming to an end and it was wonderful to be able to help them. I went out one night with the matron, up to the matron in chief, I was taking some food up there. She was having a function and I was on night duty but somebody else was put on until I came back and when we came back in the
car with a superior officer and we came back and there was my ward lit up like I don’t know what. I nearly died. And Hope Croll said, “Prisoners of war’s last night on the island, Sir.” You know, it was beautiful and I thought, “God bless you matron.” Anyway I got out and I said, “What’s the light doing on?” “Oh we couldn’t put the light out until you came home, Sis. You wouldn’t have found your way.” Oh honestly and truly how, how they can all, and most of them can be so relaxed and happy and naughty, you know.
One little boy that was in that group, he said to me, they got mail, and he said, “Sis, would you read this and explain it?” I said “I’ll try dear.” It moved [me?], Dad had died, Mum had moved house, his sister had had a baby to an American, his pet dog had died ... and what was he going to do when he got home. I was ready to cry with him, it’d be an awful thing to get when you’re looking forward to going home and so on. Home wasn’t there where it ought to be and um was married to someone else. I know, they were like your own sons or brothers. You just felt that way about them.
So these were Australian prisoners of war - Australians and Indians?
Mmm. We had quite a few Australians come in the end, and Indians and what not, that must have been prisoners close by and they were released. Our boys used to go out around the islands looking for anyone that had been taken there and left there and was sort of lost there. They went round searching for any prisoners of war that might be out on the islands, there’s quite a few islands out there.
And did they find any?
Oh we’d get the odd one in but you know.
And what about Japanese prisoners of war, did you treat them as well?
I can’t remember seeing them, could have been but I can’t remember them. Well we had them there in the camp but we weren’t allowed to touch them so whether, if we had any they’d be in the Jap compound with the Japanese who had been taken prisoner but we wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near them.
Did the Australian prisoners of war talk to you about what had happened to them?
To a certain extent. When they got their mail from Australia they were devastated, a lot of them, and they did tell you a little bit, but not much, and I suppose in a way we were doing anything but talk that sort of talk to them. We were bolstering them up to the best of our ... like the naughty little bloke telling me, “Couldn’t put the light out till you came home, Sis.” So they hadn’t lost their sense of humour.
What kind of, what did you have to treat them for? What were their main problems?
Malnutrition mainly, the odd general ailment but malnutrition was one of the worst things. And you know, sores and things on legs and tropical sort of ulcers.
How did you treat them?
Well, we would have had ointments of some description dear, but you’re asking me to go back a long way now.
Just tell me a little bit about how the wards were set up. What did it look like?
Should show you a picture. Well we had a great big tent and then you had another one going across ways and you had another one there. So the centre, the one going sideways, was your office, your sterilising facilities and all that sort of thing took place in that one. Now you had beds down one side and up the other side in the other two but we all had this office. I’m just trying to think, something happened, and I can’t. They were very easy to cope with. You rolled the sides up so the breeze went right through all day. If you wanted it down, it came down. You had a sand floor. When you think of Concord, it had parquet floors and if you had a drop of water on the floor it was sacrilege, and there you could wash a patient and ‘whoosh’, a bucket of water or a dish of water straight on the sand and it would disappear. It was lovely fun but that’s how you get the sand down, we watered it, and we thought it was wonderful.
Interviewee: Ethel Lane Archive ID 0663 Tape 06
Yes, I was fascinated to hear you talk about your uniform and you say you got trousers, which would have been the first time you would have worn trousers, I would imagine? What was it like?
It just depends what you mean. We wore slacks in civilian life but as a nurse it was absolutely wonderful.
for the reason that we had them, the mosquitoes, and we were covered and we didn’t have to change or put things on at 4 o’clock, but you could get around so much easier and your lifting was, it just seems like a new life that we could lift and we could do things and your dress wasn’t up your back or something like that. No, we loved our uniform.
Did it stay like that after the war?
No, they’ve all changed, we wouldn’t know what they wear now. Well I think they wear the same as the boys so they probably are in trousers half the time, I don’t know. But it was a big breakthrough that we benefited from.
We were just talking about procedures in the ward. How would you sterilise things?
Well, have you ever heard of a Primus stove? My first experience with a Primus stove was almost a disaster but we got to use a Primus stove and a tin hat and a few other things you could put on the top of it. We could sterilise, we could [put] a tray of instruments on the Primus stove and sterilise.
In boiling water?
Oh yes, Primus will boil the water.
So you put the instruments in a pot of water and boil them up.
Yes, rinse them first.
And there was also a blood bank on Morotai?
Yes, I don’t know much about that. That was run by a little girl who had done a lot of blood bank work. I think she did it when we were in Tamworth and she had done it in private life. Jeannie Hinze ran the blood bank and they did an excellent job but it wasn’t the place where normally you went. I can’t help you there.
You obviously had a very good relationship with one of the doctors on the island, your fiancé. On a working basis, what was the relationship like between the doctors and the nurses?
I think I could say that it was very, very good. I can’t remember us being witchy about any of them. You were all doing a job and you did it and you worked together and you had to work together in lots of things or, you know, you wouldn’t have gotten there. I think that the relationship was very good.
Was it different, do you think, from your experience as a civilian nurse?
Oh yes. You came down to earth when you went to the Pacific. In civilian life they wore their white coats and they were very prim and proper, as it were, but we were all one, working for the King you were, and we were all very good friends. I can’t think of any that we didn’t like or that, you know, somebody might say to you, “Oh I can’t stand so and so, he ….”
And was that liberating for you as a nurse, to be able to have that rapport with the doctors?
I think the whole experience of rolling the side of a tent up, the breeze blowing straight through, it was a different atmosphere in the ward, even though the man was desperately ill it wasn’t a hospital ward as such. You had all the equipment there you wanted but it was a different atmosphere altogether. Well I found it was and I think the other girls would tell you the same thing.
Can you describe, I get the understanding that the atmosphere was different, you were in a very different environment. How did that express itself in relation to your work and the way you’d approach the work?
I think it was all part of it. You weren’t confined to a hospital. You weren’t confined to four walls. You were in a tent as such and it was a different thing. Looking after the troops was altogether different than looking after the civilian population. It shouldn’t have been but it was. And you got convoys in and you worked with convoys and a lot of them would come in plastered or, see a lot of our casualties came from Borneo but they’d be picked up on the hospital ship and by the time they came to us they were plastered or they
had all sorts of things done to them so when they came in we were very fortunate that we didn’t have to do this, that or the other thing, that they’d already been done, which made our work much easier but it was great.
When you say a convoy would come in, what did that involve?
Well, when I say a convoy, I shouldn’t have said ‘convoy’, I meant when a hospital ship came in. A convoy is several ships coming in together. We did have them. I remember when they were trialling Q-class destroyers from Australia. We would be invited out on those ships and we would come home
with fish and Lord knows what. We had a wonderful rapport with the navy that was situated there in the harbour. And you know it was great to be able to give someone who was very sick some fresh fish, if you didn’t eat it yourself and all these sorts of things, even the air force because they were picking up the medevacs. Medevacs were... we had to decide (or the doctor, when I say ‘we’), the staff in the hospital had to decide, whether you were going to make it back to Australia and then it was up to the air force sisters to keep you going till you got back here. But, I don’t know, we were all working together. As far as I was concerned we had a wonderful set up.
You talk about being able to bring fish back from the boats, and you also mentioned there was a bit of a market, bartering that would go on between the soldiers and other people on the island. What sort of things would you trade?
Well, may I say the Americans had a lot of things we didn’t. Gaiters were one thing or were one thing. Our gaiters were fairly …
Yes, you told us about those, the American ones went under the heel, they were better protection. Anything else?
They were much easier to wear so they’d have to get something that the Americans wanted, to do that. I wasn’t involved in those sorts of things but I think grog was bartered at odd times or exchanged or something like that.
When you say the Americans had things the Australians didn’t have - anything else apart from the gaiters?
They had ice cream. I can remember I was making a cake or something, for whatever it was, and I wanted some rum and we didn’t have any rum, the boys didn’t have any rum and Kingsford Smith’s brother came in. He had a little plane up there and I said, “You haven’t got any rum on you, have you?” and he said, “No. But we can get it.” I said, “Where?” He said, “We’ll go down to the mess.” He was in the American Air Force mess. So I had to sort
of excuse myself from higher up and away we went down the road to the air force mess which wasn’t that far from our mess. And I knew they had ice cream but you went in, you’d have thought you were in the largest sort of milk bar set up. You’d have the seats and the little tables, like a milk bar, you know what I mean? And they had this great big room and they were all in there. So Smithy got in and I was on the end. And he of course started talking to the boys outside and this big Negro came up to me and said, “Do you want two ladies’ drinks or do you want to knock your boyfriend cold?” His
nibs had told me to order the drinks, that’s right, and, “Did I want two ladies’ drinks or did I want to knock the boyfriend cold?” And I then put it on him for the rum and I got the rum for my cake, that was my one experience of bartering with the Yanks. And of all people, I’d have never have that but Smithy’s brother led me astray.
Did they have a juke box?
Of course they did. They had this ice cream machine and they made ice cream. They had iced water, they had everything you could think of. Oh yes.
Where did they get the milk from?
Flown in daily I would think. Anything they wanted was up there. I never went to any of their functions but a lot of the girls did. They’d have dances and things but they said everything was laid on there. Now I’ve told you. I didn’t barter with the Yanks.
What about your relationship with Ray? Was there any opportunity for romance on the island?
No. There wasn’t. We worked together. He’d tell me to mind my ps and qs when he was doing something, or I wasn’t holding it right or I wasn’t doing something else, I heard about it. And then he’d come up to the mess in the evenings if he was off and that was it. Very romantic it was, very.
Now some girls did get married on the island, didn’t they? Can you describe for us one of their ceremonies?
Well there used to be a great flap and fuss and I know Auldie was involved in that. They’d get material, probably from the Americans, I wouldn’t know, make sure that they had a dress and had all sorts of things. She was involved in a group that put on concerts and things for the troops there.
Sister Aulden. And we had padres there so that was easy to fix up and then of course they could have a wedding breakfast in the mess. That was easy to fix up so that it was quite easy...
What would the bride do for a wedding gown?
As I say, these girls were involved with this concert sort of thing and they had bits and pieces and as far as know that’s what they used. Otherwise you could get married in your uniform if you wished to. And then they spend one night or two nights in the night nurses’ quarters and then on a plane home. Matron said, oh when they knew the war was over, she said, “You’d better get married,” and I said, “No thanks.” “Oh don’t be stupid, get married.” And I said, “No. Not me. I’ll get home first.” Yes.
So you do come back and you marry Ray and you have a child and tragically Ray dies very soon after that and you go on to become involved in the War Widows’ Guild.
Not straight away, I went into a little business in Five Dock which sold toys and all sorts of things and books, you name it, school stationery and other stationery and so on and my elder brother came with me. So his nibs was so big. I started to have this from a girl who was treasurer, I think, of the Returned Navy, Army and Air Force Sisters sub-branch and I showed you that book and, “Come in to the meeting.” So I decided one night I’d better go.
It was not one of the things I wanted to do but I went in and I came home and my brother just looked at me and said, “What job did you get?” I said, “I’m the president,” and I was the president for 40 years or something. It was like going to the ... “Sir said, that the parents and citizens are having a meeting tonight and he wants the mothers and fathers to come.” So I went home that night and George said, “What job have you got?” and I said, “Treasurer,” and so life has gone on from one thing to the other. I then became ... I don’t know if the War Widows’ came in then but I became President of the War Widows’ Guild, I was on the board of the War Veterans’ Homes at Narrabeen, I was on the council for RSL, what else? What else did I do? I must have had some spare time for something.
I want to know what gets you motivated for these things?
I just get pulled in. You know, the pitiful story about, “Sir said nobody’s doing anything, parents come,” and what do you do, you go and then you get landed with it. It’s like the Museum out here. We’re going to call it, “We’re putting that room aside for a museum and we’re going to call it after you,” so you end up two days’ solid work a week and sometimes three or four. This week has been every day in the week and the weekend. But this is how it goes on. But I have, I gave up the War Widows’ and I ... something else ... oh we had the GG [Governor General] over the other day. I’m on committees for Concord Hospital that go back donkeys’ years when they first started. And, ‘Oh yes, she’s one of the old girls,’ and I get roped in. I got off one the other day.
Some people come back from the war and never have anything to do with it again. They choose not to be involved in the RSL, not to fraternise, but you have basically devoted your life to those services and to the point you’ve been awarded an MBE [Member of the Order of the British Empire] and an OA [Order of Australia] for those services.
Well the whole thing is, I didn’t, I never met anyone that I wanted to marry, [reason]
And, [reason] B, I had a lot of women who I was fighting for pensions for and things like that and I felt that was worthwhile. That’s B. [Reason] C, the War Widows’ was much the same. They were in need and nobody, well Una Boyce was pretty good, and between the pair of us we used to drive them mad so that was that one. A, B, C. And then you’d know the fellow who was going to be the president of something out here and he’d say, “Hey Stalky, would you come out and, you know, be on this committee,” or, “Can you do this?” And you’d think, why not? Why not? Then try and get off them and you can’t. But I’m off a few now.
And what do you see as their role, these various societies that you’ve been involved with?
Most of them are looking after the veteran and we must still do that. I have a friend, she didn’t leave Australia, she went up to Australia [Darwin] after the bombing. She’s having trouble now with hearing and sight and a few other things and she can’t, and I’ve tried for her but, she’s not eligible for any, she doesn’t want a pension, she’d just like to be covered for medical expenses and I’ll get it for her before I’ve finished and I think it’s so wrong, just because I went a few miles further on and I’m covered. A war widow can marry twice and still retain her pension. She married her first husband and gets a pension, then he dies and she marries again and gets her pension. You’ve got to fight sometimes, never mind, I won’t be around much longer. They’ll get rid of me.
I doubt that very much. Okay, I’d like to stop it there.
Just backtracking a little Stalky, wondering, on Morotai, you talked about how great it was but there must have also been hard times. What were those times?
Well, hard times were when you lost a patient because everybody put everything they had into keeping them alive. Especially, I shouldn’t say especially, they were all treated the same, but you just felt that the prisoners of war, you had to make every effort for them to come home to their families and that was very stressful if you lost someone like that. But I think when you look back, we were in tents and if you were in strife, you were worried about someone, you could always ring the next tent and someone would come down. It was so different to being in a hospital. I don’t know. To me it made it so much easier to care for the patients but compared to today’s standards I suppose we didn’t have that much.
And was it there for you when you lost someone as well? Obviously you would have experienced death when you were a civilian nurse, which I’m sure was also very hard but was there a greater sense of support in the army?
Well, yes. We were all, anyone round about was involved, if you know what I mean, and you’d go off and talk it over and, you know, it’s the only way to get over things, is to talk it over to other people and to go through it and it makes it easier then.
Was there anyone in particular who you got close to, who you lost, can you recall?
No. I can remember someone coming back from Borneo, he had a dreadful time in Borneo but I think we sent them home. I think we had them well enough to be medevaced back home. There was one, I must tell you about a little boy, covered in plaster and an older man, covered in plaster, and ...
Is this the one when they told you to get under the bed? You told us that one.
Yes but the little boy had put his age up and that was one of the things that affected you because you had youngsters. But he was out in a hole, bomb blasted
hole, and the other poor fellow had to go and get him. He didn’t have to go and get him but went and got him, so both of them covered in plaster. And you know, it must have taken a lot and he used to tell him off every now and then. “If I hadn’t gone and dragged you out that hole, you’d have still been there,” and it was wonderful to think that they could talk about death or disaster in that sort of a way. But no, I don’t know, it weren’t easy that side of it. Anyway you’ve had enough of me.
Let’s look at some photos.
That is a very old picture of army nurses on parade at Concord Repatriation General Hospital.
A picture of the second first AGH going overseas, Miss Constance Fall on the right hand side.
Where are they? Are they on a boat?
I don’t know. They’re on a boat.
And are they presenting to the captain?
Parading I suppose dear. Well we’ll say second first AGH on parade. I don’t know which ship they went on now.
A picture of the nurses going ashore from larger vessel.
So that’s the sort of boat you would have gone to Morotai on, is it? When you hopped off the big boat they would have ferried you in on one of those?
No, unfortunately not, we had a smaller one. No, but that was the general size of the boats that we went ashore in and that was the tropical uniform. Can’t work out what that is.
That was after we landed in Morotai and there’s a little bit of rubbish there and the girls are sweeping it up. Glad Ewers looks as though she’s doing a good job there.
Are you in the photo?
That is a view of the grounds of the second ninth AGH on Morotai. Supplies and, I think it’s supplies and stores.
That’s a picture of the drivers’ lines at Morotai. We had quite a few drivers and they had beautifully kept lines.
What are the lines?
That’s where they lived.
What did the drivers do?
Drive trucks around and things around, very busy boys.
Did the women ever drive?
Not up there. They did down here. We had AWAS driving everywhere.
That is a picture of the 2/9th AGH sisters’ recreation room at Morotai and the hanging baskets were nearly all exotic orchids that the boys brought back when they went for a little walk, some of the ones that were recuperating. Some of them were navy and when one of the navy captains heard of that, he said he would take them back and he would give us an old car in place of them. We were the proud possessors of a motor car.
Why did he want to take the club back?
He was taking the car back but here were these exotic orchids which he could bring in because he’d anchored the ship over there in Perth.
So he wanted to take the plants back to Australia and he gave you a car in return.
Did I make sense in what I said?
You did, you did.
That is a picture of the war cemetery at Morotai.
Was that a mixed cemetery? Would they put all denominations in there?
Oh probably in different sections. I don’t know they could have Americans, although I think they took all the American bodies home, couldn’t bury a Yank in foreign soil. I think all denominations and races would go in there.
What about the Japanese?
I don’t know, quite frankly. I’d hate to contemplate it.
That is a picture of the aeroplane graveyard at Morotai, all the different planes were all buried in the same cemetery.
Were they planes that had been shot down or ...?
Did you ever have to nurse ...
No I didn’t, I don’t think, because the air force ... Heap of things up there, including old Tom Blamey’s yacht that he had built, it lasted two days. You couldn’t tell them how to use anything or what to do with it, they knew. So up the end of the island was quite a cliff, so it was a steady line up to the cliff and into the water with everything that was left. We decided that they could do without.
So you dumped everything?
Yeah. They were dreadful, the locals, they knew what to do and what not to do. Now what am I going to say here?
That is a picture of Ethel Lane, or Ethel Stalker, and Ray Lane who later became her husband.
That’s just a picture of Mrs Ethel Lane.
When was it taken?
Taken before she went to Morotai.
So it was Ethel Stalker.
Well I’m Mrs Lane now, ‘tis I.
Have you got any pips on your shoulder?
Yes. Lieutenant Stalker.
That is a picture of the Anzac Day March, I would say in the late '60s, featuring some of the more prominent members of the Returned Sisters’ sub-branch of the RSL, coming from 2/1st, 2/9th AGH.
Which one are you?
You don’t want to know where I am, I was leading them I think.
Third from the left.
To think that I gave him the best biscuits.
So these are Ethel’s medals. OA on the left, MBE next to it. And then a whole host of others that she won’t tell us about.
NB. This transcript is of an interview filmed for the television series, Australians at War in 1999-2000. It was incorporated into the Archive in 2008.
Interviewee: Ethel Lane Archive ID 0663 Tape 117
It’s interesting, we were filming at Concord yesterday and now it has become a general hospital, it seemed to us to be terribly busy and full of activity, was it the same when you first went there during World War II?
Today it has got nothing
like it was in those days. It was just one hive of activity and once we had the multi-story building, going down the ramps, down those duckboards, you have no idea what it was like because we had convoys coming in and they would be coming in in their hobnail boots down on the wooden floor and you would hear them coming and there would be others going out. Likewise we had
the boys that were on their feet visiting or going down to the Red Cross to get material for their handcraft or going down to physio [physiotherapy] and it was like Pitt Street on Friday night, everybody would be leaning on the railing talking and it was just fantastic. You couldn’t believe what it was like, really.
Tell me about the atmosphere or the relationship between the nurses and the men, we mentioned earlier
the sense of family between everybody, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Well, it was different to any other hospital because you weren’t nursing males, females and people from the local area. They were the young ones and the older ones, your younger brothers or your older brothers and that sort of made it family and also made it harder for us too because
we felt they were family if anything went wrong but the whole place was like one huge family and that family atmosphere has carried on for many many years.
I guess the downside of that is if a patient dies, did you grieve for the loss?
It did. You didn’t care for that very much at all. We were fortunate
that we could go off to the nurses’ home when we got off. We had friends there, we consoled one another, you were never left to grieve on your own or anything like that and you would get over to the home thinking that the end of the world had come. You had lost this patient and you would find somebody else over there in much the same state, so it came together like that and
the scrub typhus boys, you would think, oh I have got him, it is really going to get better and yes, he would have a tiny piece of steak, you would go and get something as big as a match, not a match, a stamp to take to him, you would get back and he would be gone. No one knew what that did to you, it was …. but then you got over to the home and you would find somebody else almost in tears because one of hers had done the
same thing, so they didn’t treat us very kindly those boys.
You mentioned before when they did recover and got active again and on their feet, their whole attitude to the place changed?
They were magnificent. The minute they were capable or the doctor said they could put their feet to the floor, they wanted to help you. They helped us in the wards; they helped doing the lockers,
filling the water jugs, emptying ashtrays, they took over the day room especially if there was an attractive VA [voluntary aid] out there and they made the drinks for the boys and came around and handed them out, they did everything they could for us, they were never still.
Nursing in those days was much more regimented wasn’t it than it is today,
can you tell us a little bit about what it meant to be a nurse in the ‘40s?
Yes, but I think it’s so different today, it’s beyond me. No, we were regimented to a certain degree but we’d learnt that at training school and the army was more relaxed, I think, than training school.
What about those morning patrols?
Oh, don’t mention those,
that was great, we knew that we were eventually going to be commissioned you see and I think this was all part of it and every morning when you came off duty, you had to, so many days a week, you had to line up for a march and before you went on duty and you had your tin hat and your respirator and haversack and God knows what else and around the block we would
go. And the orderly would have a wind up gramophone either on a wheel barrow or on a trolley and he would be pushing and all the dogs in the neighbourhood and as the gramophone would wind down so would we. And the RSM [regimental sergeant major] used to get as mad as a hornet but the people of Concord thought it was the greatest show on earth and then they taught us to form four sixes and all this sort of nonsense
and then on the 23rd of the 3rd, ’43 we were all commissioned and I don’t think we ever marched again.
It was all part of the process?
Immediately after the war and I guess during the war too, for early wounded people there was a lot of effort towards rehabilitation in terms of artificial limb manufacture, did you have much experience with that at Concord?
didn’t have that much experience with it but I know it was going on and there was quite a bit of artificial limbs and then whilst I was not there, the … sorry. What am I trying to say about faces, the ….
For some of the seriously wounded who needed limb and facial restructuring, that was a new technique at that time wasn’t it?
Definitely, yes and I think that we learnt a lot from England because they were doing that sort of work and they had several wards there. I didn’t work in that area, but they had several wards there and I now have gone through there and they would have a picture, perhaps, of this soldier taken in
uniform before the war and you’d look at the face and wonder whether it would ever be anything like that again but they did some magnificent work. The reconstruction work on limbs, magnificent.
What we have been talking about is that period during and immediately after the war but
Concord has played a major part in the last fifty years of Veterans’ Affairs hasn’t it? I mean still regularly we see veterans turning up there for treatment and occupational therapy, can you tell us a little about the importance of the hospital over those last fifty years?
I think it’s been a magnificent hospital from the day it was built but I’m possibly a little bit biased.
I know in the early days when we were there and it was a base hospital, we all wanted to get overseas or somewhere and you thought Concord was the last stop. You had to get out of there but then looking back you realise what a wonderful job it did and the boys that went through. I don’t know what their input and output would have been but they would be figures of many, well
worth seeing. I know overseas we sent them back in droves to Concord around about and I didn’t go there when I came home but I do know I eventually started to live in Concord, I wasn’t there very long before I was hauled back in, not as a…
on the staff but as a volunteer I suppose it is, I think that’s what I am, I am not sure. Somebody told me it was thirty-two years ago that I had been hoodwinked into coming back but … to see it and in my position I see lots of things that go on that possibly others don’t, but it’s a wonderful hospital
and the veterans are in and out and you meet them out there and it’s done so much for them. It’s done so much for their families and I think we have always had a wonderful medical staff and nursing staff. They started the school of nursing and they turned out some magnificent nurses
but it has just been, from the time it was built, it has been a wonderful hospital. I don’t know that it still has the same family atmosphere that we had, it did for quite a long time but the girls will tell you it still has the family atmosphere but the veterans still think they own it and why not and they’re in everything.
You meet them all around the place and we have so many services there and they are very well attended. We have, rehabilitation is still there, they’ve got physio, I’ve even been a patient myself. All the outpatients’ services are excellent.
Because we filmed it yesterday would you mind chatting about the activities in Ward 21, where they have occupational therapy and support groups for the veterans, do you have any experience with that?
Haven’t had to use that as yet. I don’t know too much about that except that I know that it’s a very necessary thing and that they are helping a lot of people down there
and I think that it would be a shame if anything happened to it, I think it’s got to continue, that ward.
That’s great. That has managed to paint a picture of Concord which complements the material that we have been shooting, so that’s terrific. If you don’t mind moving onto a more personal side,
you’ve become a war widow yourself, quite young, and that bought you into contact with the War Widows Association, which you in fact led for some time. Just tell us your own experience of sadly becoming a widow and than seeking out to find that support from the association?
My husband was a medico [doctor] and we were in Morotai up in Halmahera and just when the war ended he went over to Borneo and he had a native hospital of his own. And he wrote over and said he had a couple of attacks of appendicitis and
he had no sick parade to go on, he was stuck there and came home and he didn’t have any more problems. We’d been married a couple of years and he had another attack and he was pretty sick and he went into hospital and they took the appendix
out and he said, “I’ve got an abscess.” and they said, “Oh no, you couldn’t have, you’ve got malaria.” and he said, “I haven’t got malaria, I’ve got a…” He wasn’t a very nice person, he told them in plain language what he had and then he rang me up one day and he said, “You’d better come in.” because he said, “It burst this morning and I’ve told them.” so he was virtually in my mind, murdered by his own profession. So, I didn’t have
much to do with doctors and people for quite a while. We had a six months old baby and Sir Ivan Docherty rang me up one day at work and he said, “So and so, where was she?” And I said, “Sorry Sir, I haven’t a clue, I couldn’t tell you.” and he said, “Well, what are you doing next week?” and I said, “I will be at work.”
he said, “No you won’t, you will be coming up to New Guinea with me.” So we went up for the return of Wewak and whilst I was away, the minister was there and his wife was there and all the rest of them, and we were talking and we girls were talking and I told them because they asked me and I told them what happened. So the next thing I get word to say ‘front up or else’ and so virtually that is how I became a war widow.
So, I sort of felt a little bit obliged to help them a little bit later on but that is how I became a war widow and I can’t tell that story other than to say that is how it happened.
If you just want to talk about the support?
I joined the War Widows Guild and in a very short time
I became the President and I was a President for five years. I think it does a very good job; we had War Widows Guild groups all over the state, well it’s all over Australia really, all over the state. They had get togethers, they had all sorts of things and I think that having
their health covered by DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs] is the most wonderful thing, you have no idea, you don’t have any worries and I think our war widows are very well cared for at the moment.
Other than medical care, other than the ongoing veterans’ medical
care, what other activities or support does the guild run?
In town they have a room, if they are in the city or the suburbs, they can go in there and they have a room where they have… I know they had all sorts of activities that they could do in there and in the suburbs, around suburbs they have got these groups where they
meet and they have activities. So they have social activity as well as having their health cared for and also I think they make friends and this is a big thing, they don’t have to be lonely.
Is Anzac Day an important time for you?
Yes, I think I might have been at the last one.
It means a lot; it has done ever since we were children because when you go back to when I was a child at school, we were taught by World War I soldiers. I can remember my mother saying to me, “You will be very good in Mr so and so’s class because he is a returned soldier and he is not very well and he has a
plate, a metal plate in his head.” I spent most of my lessons looking for that plate, I thought it would be sitting there on top of his head but it wasn’t. He was an excellent teacher but this is what we were taught in those days, you behaved yourself and we respected the returned soldiers, we just loved to get out and see them march on Anzac Day and then
of course to be able to march yourself on Anzac Day was just something special.
It’s interesting, I find, we went to Anzac Day this year, we went to Gallipoli and to the dawn service there and we were astonished by the large number of young Australians, teenage Australians, who had made that pilgrimage. Who had gone there on Anzac Day and people talk about it being a phenomenon because there
is so many in this resurgence of interest, do you have any idea why that is?
I don’t know but I mean at our age we wouldn’t have had the money to do it, would we? But they apparently have and backpacking they can get over there. Maybe they have heard more about it because DVA have for some years publicised Anzac Day haven’t they?
Maybe that is the reason.
I mean those traditional qualities of Anzac that you and I know so much about because we were taught and experienced, comradeship, perseverance and strength of character. Do you think they are qualities that apply to young people today or do you think they are seeking out those qualities?
I really wouldn’t know.
I don’t know. I have met a lot that are very keen on going to Gallipoli. I have met a lot that are keen to go to France and see what is going on there. As a matter of fact I was most surprised the other day when I was speaking to a nephew of mine that I haven’t spoken to for a couple of years and he is very interested
in writing military articles for some magazine in America and then making up war games and those sort of things to play on the internet and I thought well… I would never have believed it, so it’s coming up in all sorts.
You, as a representative of your generation, the Second World War and its aftermath has played a very important part in that
generations lives. Has that contributed to what we are today do you think as a nation, has that war experience been important to people of our generation?
That’s a tricky one that one. I think we’ve, maybe we’ve had more
publicity than, and more activities have been publicised of World War II returned people, like World War I wouldn’t have been and whether that has done anything about it, maybe may have been more memorials and things,
you know we have the children coming to our Kokoda memorial over at Concord now and they think it’s the most wonderful thing, whether we have publicised ourselves more, I don’t know.
Or maybe people are now paying due respect to those who sacrificed at that time?
Thank you, unless there is something else that you would like to tell us that I haven’t covered, about Concord or nursing or the war in general?
I’ll tell you what we haven’t covered… I think
and what I should have said when we were talking about nursing. I should have said that we were trained in hospital by World War I sisters, the same as we were taught at school by World War I veterans and those women were magnificent.
They came up the hard way and what they did in World War I was unbelievable and maybe a little of it rubbed off on us. I think it must of because otherwise I don’t think the girls that were prisoner of war would have survived but I think some of that must have rubbed off on them too and that allowed them
to carry on and some of them did their nursing. They looked after one and other, survived what happened, others didn’t but I think we should give the old World War oneies just a little bit of credit for turning us out anyway. Whether, if there is another war or may have been, whether we have had any
influence on those other girls, I don’t know because nursing is entirely different now.
Thank you. Very nice.