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Lydia Abell (13 June 1872 – 21 July 1959)[1] was a celebrated Australian nurse who was awarded the medal of bravery. She is perhaps the best known World War 1 (WW1) nurse of the Newcastle Region. She was presented the Royal Red Cross by George V at the Buckingham Palace in May 1919. The medal was awarded for bravery during the evacuation of a field hospital that was under enemy bombardment on the Western Front.[2]

Early lifeEdit

Lydia Abell was born on the 13th June 1872 in Wallsend, NSW. She was the daughter of Elijah Abell and Margaret nee Brown and grew up in Wallsend with her family.[1]

Nursing careerEdit

Lydia Abell was one of the founding members of the Australasian Trained Nurses Association and later had a desire to serve in the war as a nurse. Lydia trained and graduated at Newcastle Hospital in 1898 and hence worked there. Before the war, she worked as a private nurse for Thomas Cook of Turanville, a famous cattle breeder. She then travelled to England to join the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserved (QAIMNSR).[2]

For many years Lydia Abell continued her practice in Sydney, and was attached to the Phillip Street Nurses Home.[3]

Service in World War OneEdit

Lydia made her own way to Europe. Embarking September 18 of 1915 and arriving in Tilbury on the 1st of November 1915. She was enlisted late in 1915 when she was 43 years old. She served in two countries England and France - her first stop was at Talence, a town in the southwest of France near Bordeaux, her second stop was 32nd Stationary Hospital at Boulogne - casualty clearing stations.[1]

She left for France and London at her own will during September 1915. Abell volunteered her services to the military authorities and was later assigned to Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. She was designated to a military hospital at Talence, in the south west of France near Bordeaux, then was transferred to the 32nd Stationary Hospital in the north of France at Boulogne. She was then appointed for hospital work on one of the canals and was frequently under fire, and as a result she was moved to the 14th General Stationary Hospital at Boulogne, and was moved again to serve duty at a casualty clearing station in the danger zone.[1]

Despite her harrowing experiences of war, Lydia Abell was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 17, 1918 as saying, "Much as I would like to come home, I do not wish to leave the boys or my work.” She was discharged in April 1919, and later returned to Australia on September 25, 1919.[1]

Recognition for BraveryEdit

During her time spent on the casualty clearing stations her group had a hasty removal of the hospital which was immediately behind the lines on the Western Front, owing to the allied army being pressed back by the Germans. Less than half an hour's warning was given to the staff on the casualty clearing station to pack up as much of the equipment as possible and leave with the wounded patients.[1] Hospitals in the vicinity were being deliberately bombed by German aircraft and she successfully re-established the station in a safer quarter.[3] These were the actions that won her the Royal Red Cross medal.[1]

She received her Royal Red Cross (RRC) on 15 May 1919 by George V at the Buckingham Palace. The RRC is awarded for exceptional service in military nursing.[2]

After the WarEdit

Lydia Abell never married and passed away on July 21, 1959 at the Lady Gowrie Home, Gordon New South Wales, aged 87 years.[1] Lydia Abell is listed on the Wallsend War Memorial and was listed with the British Military Nursing Unit while others were listed with the Australian Army Nursing Service.[4]


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