Stories from the Archives
Everyone has a story to tell, they say, and Grace Thompson’s is a little more unusual than most. She attended PLC in 1904 and 1905, as did her sisters. Three of her sisters later taught at Branxton. Her twin brother, Frank Low Thompson, served as Chairman of our College Council from 1931 to 1974. Her husband, Dr Piero Fiaschi, Clinical Assistant at Sydney Hospital, is remembered by the sculpture Il Porcellino (the piglet) that stands in Macquarie Street near the hospital.
But Grace has her own story. She was one of more than 3,000 Australian civilian nurses who volunteered for active service during World War I.
She completed her nursing training at Prince Alfred Hospital in 1913. Aged 26 and single, Grace joined the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) as a Staff Nurse and embarked on the HMAS Kyarra on 28 November 1914 bound for Egypt. According to the Nominal Roll, her religion was Presbyterian and her salary was £60 p.a.
On the long voyage, she and the other nurses were kept busy assisting with vaccinations and operations and training male orderlies. Grace served with the 2nd Australian General Hospital, which had been established in Mena House, a former royal hunting lodge in Cairo (now a resort with easy access for visiting the Pyramids at Giza). Once the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign started on 25 April 1915, this hospital was soon overcrowded with wounded soldiers and the medical staff worked around the clock.
Thompson family history tells us that Nurse Thompson contracted mumps while in Egypt and subsequently undertook nursing duties on the Runic back to Australia. Back home, however, she did not resign from the AANS but rather embarked on the HMAT Orsova on 29 July 1916, this time with the higher rank of 'Sister', to serve with the 14th Australian General Hospital in Abbassia, a neighbourhood in Cairo.
Working in this hospital Grace would have been exposed to the horrors of war—soldiers suffering from savage wounds, missing limbs, shell-shock, mustard gas and more. It is also likely that in her time off, she and other nurses enjoyed excursions, by camel, to the nearby Pyramids. These experiences were life-changing and fostered a more worldly view than in women of Grace’s generation.
To read more of Grace’s story visit the Archives Microsite
Image: Nurse Grace Thompson during World War I. Credit Betty Davis (née Thompson)