THE ABC TV series Anzac Girls tells the stories of Australian and New Zealand nurses serving at Gallipoli and the Western Front.
(min cost $8)
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The Shoalhaven has a strong link with many of these stories, with Sister Sarah Melanie de Mestre one of the first nurses on Lemnos at the 3rd Australian General Hospital, where the Gallipoli casualties received treatment.
Sister de Mestre enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) in Sydney on April 26, 1915.
She had previously been one the first matrons on a hospital ship when war broke out, sent with the navy to Rabaul and later Suva aboard the Grantala.
The daughter of Andre de Mestre and his wife August Ann Noyes, of Greenwell Point, she was 38 when she embarked from Sydney aboard the transport RMS Mooltan in May 1915.
As the television series showed, the conditions on Lemnos were harsh.
The commanding officer of No. 3 Australian General Hospital was Colonel TH Fiaschi and the matron, Miss Grace M. Wilson, who had been matron of the Brisbane Hospital.
The hospital was equipped with 1040 beds.
Its staff included some of the leading medical men in Australia, while the nursing staff were matrons of some of the smaller hospitals and sisters from all the larger hospitals.
At the close of the Gallipoli offensive, Sister de Mestre continued her work at the hospital when it moved to Egypt and then to Brighton, England.
For the latter two years, she was stationed in France, where she was second in charge of the No. 2 Australian General Hospital at Abbeville.
She was awarded the 2nd Class Royal Red Cross in recognition of her valuable services with the armies in France and Flanders on June 4, 1918, among the birthday honours conferred by the King.
She was actually presented with her honour by His Majesty King George V at Buckingham Palace.
She returned to Australia as matron aboard the transport Ormonde from England on May 24, 1919, disembarking at Sydney on August 4, 1919.
Her service ended in October 1919.
Sister de Mestre did not marry, and died at Burwood in 1961, aged 84.
Sister de Mestre’s story is included in Untold Stories – Shoalhaven Heroes of the Dardanelles which is being published by local historian Robyn Florance.
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