Women to the Front
The Extraordinary Australian Women Doctors of the Great War
By Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee
Published by Ebury/Penguin Randomhouse
RRP $34.99 in paperback • ISBN 9780143794707
Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee have compiled a meticulously researched account of the work of the Australian women who served as surgeons, pathologists, anaesthetists and medical officers between 1914 and 1919 in the Great War.
At the outbreak of the war, 129 women were registered as medical practitioners in Australia. Many of them were eager to contribute their expertise to the war effort.
For the military establishment, however, the notion of women doctors serving on the battlefield was initially unthinkable. In fact, there was active discouragement through advertising.
Undaunted, at least twenty-four Australian women doctors ignored official military policy and headed to the frontlines.
Yet acknowledgement of their contribution is almost totally absent from official military records, both in Australia and Great Britain. The skills and courage displayed by this group are remarkable.
Among the volunteers was Queensland’s first registered woman doctor, Dr Lillian Cooper. Her name lives on in a women’s health centre in Brisbane.
At the end of the book, biographical notes give the reader an insight into each of the women’s lives. Without exception, they each made a significant contribution, not just during the war, but afterwards as they resumed their careers and re-established their lives.