COURAGE UNDER FIRE: Sister Rachel Pratt was awarded the Military Medal in 1917.
COURAGE UNDER FIRE: Sister Rachel Pratt was awarded the Military Medal in 1917. Contributed

Wounded nurse's show of bravery

ON A recent visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra - a place every Australian should visit - I wandered into the Hall of Valour, a place where Victoria Crosses donated to the memorial are on display.

Among other arrays of bravery medals, one with a female name on it caught my eye.

It was a Military Medal with the name of Sister Rachael Pratt engraved on it.

On reading the card accompanying the award, it said it was only one of seven ever issued to nurses in a war zone in World War I.

Here is Rachael's story.

Rachael Pratt was born on July 18, 1874, at Munbanner, near Heyward, in Victoria. She was the ninth child of William and Phoebe Pratt, who had migrated from Leicestershire, England, to take up a sheep property in the district.

Rachael attended the local Munbanner State School for her early education before working on the farm helping her parents.

However at the age of 31, Rachael decided to take up nurse training at Ballarat Hospital, eventually qualifying in August 1912.

In early 1915 she obtained a position at Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne, where she worked from October 1914 until early 1915.

With the heavy demand for nurses in the 1st Australian Imperial Force after the Gallipoli campaign, Rachael felt her country needed her particular skills, so on May 10, 1915, she enlisted in the newly formed Australian Army Nursing Service and was to be posted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital to be situated at Lemnos in the Greek Islands.

Lemnos turned out to be a horror posting for the Australian nurses, where they were met with very limited resources and hundreds of Gallipoli casualties to treat.

Working in atrocious conditions on Murdos, Racheal contracted dysentery while dressing Turkish casualties and was later sent to 3 Australian General Hospital at Abbassia, Egypt.

In September 1916 she was posted back to England to 1 Australian General Hospital for six months before crossing the English Channel to France on April 17.

Rachael was in the thick of the action on the Western Front, when the Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul where she was attached came under heavy German artillery fire.

Her work here came under notice and she received the award of the Royal Red Cross Society (Second Class) on June 24, 1916.

However her finest hour was to come on July 9, when she was severely wounded by shell fire but bravely continued her duties until she collapsed hours later.

After recovering from her wounds, she was posted to Weymouth in England and later to No.1 and No.2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital.

For her courage and devotion to duty Rachael was awarded a Military Medal for "bravery under fire" on October 19, 1917, and promoted to Sister.

Rachael's wounds caused her to suffer from chronic bronchitis for the rest of her life.

She continued to work under duress for the remainder of her time in England until she returned to Australia on the "HT City of Karachi" on October 24, 1918.

Back in civilian life, Rachael continued nursing at various Melbourne hospitals before she became a partner in a rest home at East Malvern until the 1930s, when she suddenly sold the business and went on a lengthy holiday to England.

On her return to Melbourne, Rachael never went back to the family home at Mumbannar and lived a very quiet life at Upwey, in Melbourne's Dandenong mountain district.

Her chronic bronchitis and war injuries never allowed her to be in perfect health but as a stoic and independent woman, she never sought government assistance and treated herself.

Rachael never married and remained at Upwey for many years until her failing health saw her admitted to Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in Melbourne, where she passed away on March 23, 1954, at the age of 70.

Sister Rachael Pratt was one of the thousands of sisters, nurses and voluntary aid detachments, who became the "Angels of Mercy" to the men of the Anzac forces.

From the incredible chaos of Lemnos, the heat and flies of the Middle East, to the mud and slush of the Western Front, under these arduous and dangerous conditions they "soldiered" on and for that they deserve the highest acclamation of all the services.

These wonderfully dedicated women, like the Anzac soldiers, should never be forgotten in the annals of Australia's military history.

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