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Aboriginal nurse in WW1 ‘was actually serving for Canada’

Aboriginal nurse in WW1 ‘was actually serving for Canada’

Published:11 May 2015

Throughout much of the 20th century, there were many official and unspoken barriers to Aboriginal women having access to nursing training in Australia. Those who did succeed in breaking through had to fight for their right to gain access.

It was in this context that an Australian Aboriginal nurse involved in World War 1 was actually serving for Canada.

That’s according to CQUniversity nursing history researcher Irene Rogers, who said that Marion Smith was among 3141 Canadian nurses who served overseas and on the home front.

Ms Rogers says recent archival research by Philippa Scarlett shows that Marion was distinguished by her Australian connection.

"Although resident in Canada since childhood she was born in Liverpool, NSW, in 1891," Ms Rogers says.

“Marion’s grandmother, Lucy Leane belonged to the Cabrogal (Liverpool) clan of the Darug.  In 1893, two years after Marion was born, Lucy Leane petitioned the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board describing herself as ‘the only surviving Native Woman of the Georges River and Liverpool District’.

"Marion’s mother Elizabeth was also born in Liverpool but later moved to Canada with her husband."

Ms Rogers says that Marion Smith trained as a nurse in Massachusetts, USA, and after graduating joined the Victoria Order of Nurses in Montreal.

On March 7, 1917, she volunteered for World War 1 and became a staff nurse with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. She embarked for France on March 30, 1917, joining No. 41 Ambulance Train on December 9, 1917.

“Marion served with distinction in France until September 1, 1918, then Italy with Britain’s Italian Expeditionary Force,” Ms Rogers says.

Marion moved to the University War Hospital in Southampton on October 5, 1918, and remained there until May 4, 1919, when she returned to Canada. She later married Victor Walls who had also served in World War 1. Some people speculate that the two first met during the war years.

The couple left Canada to serve at a Trinidad missionary school, Naparima College. The Naparima school hymn which is still sung was written by Marion.

“Marion was responsible for bringing the Red Cross to Trinidad and also served in World War 11 in Trinidad, where she was commandant of the Red Cross and award the Distinguished Service Medal,” Ms Rogers says.