Text and Images: Karen Agutter
Anne Donnell was born in Cherry Gardens to William Donnell and Fanny (nee Jacobs). Anne enlisted for service in 1915.
On her attestation she is described as aged 39, five feet two inches of medium complexion with light grey/blue eyes and brownish grey hair.
A member of the New Church, Staff Nurse Donnell embarked on the Mooltan in May 1915 and was posted to the British General Hospital (Deaconesses’ Hospital), Alexandria, Egypt.
Donnell also served on Lemnos, in England, and in France. She was promoted to Sister on 5 May 1917 and returned to Australia on the Margha, disembarking 28 February 1919.
On return she became the matron of the South Australian Anzac Hostel at Glenelg and later went on to train as a mothercraft nurse in New Zealand, and ran the Infant Welfare Centre in Kalgoorlie. Sister Donnell died in Perth in 1956.
Sister Donnell published extracts of her letters in a book of her experiences in the First World War entitled Letters of an Australian Army Sister, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1920. She writes ‘When I said “au revoir” to all my dear friends in South Australia, I resolved to spare a few minutes each day to write a line or two, but the shop had scarcely left the wharf when I was well and truly down to it” [p. 1]. Sister Donnell’s letters reveal the grim realities of war through her descriptions of her life as an army nurse and of the ‘poor boys’ she cared for. Night Duty 6 December 1915 Lemnos, ‘During those fearful days our thoughts were constantly with the boys on the Peninsula … Thousands have been taken to Alexandria, hundred … were drowned because their feet were so paralyzed [sic] that they could not crawl away to safety in time. They endured agonies. Sentries were found dead at their posts, frozen, and still clutching their riffles … It’s all too sad for words, hopelessly sad” [p. 69].
Sister Donnell is remembered on the additional plaque on the Lych Gate Memorial, Stirling. She is also the subject of a Sixty Minutes episode and a children’s picture book.
Sister Donnell’s WWI service records re available at this link
Do you know any more about Sister Anne Donnell? Contact us at email@example.com or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.