After my mother passed away, discovered amongst her possessions in a dusty old beauty case in the back of a cupboard, was a set of WW1 diaries passed down to her by the woman who had raised her from a wee baby. This was Sister Anne Donnell.
As a teenager I left home and headed off to work the pipelines around Australia. Taking an old merchant navy kitbag that carried everything I owned, including an old set of WW1 photos. I have no idea where the photos came from, but wanted them with me. Occasionally giving some of them away while travelling. Forward to 2013, I met my partner Jan who showed the same enthusiasm in the diaries and photos as I did. Realising we had rare and significant women’s history in our safekeeping, we started the process of ensuring Anne Donnell’s words and deeds were hopefully never forgotten.
Meeting Mitch changed the direction my life was headed. I threw in my job working for a General Surgeon, and put every bit of energy and time I had into the task of reading and transcribing Anne’s diaries. After reading through the diaries of Nurse then Sister Anne Donnell, I discovered some amazing, poignant and funny untold stories, now 100 year old Australian women’s war history.
On a visit to the State Library of New South Wales in January 2014, we found they had some of Anne’s original circular letters. Many years ago in 1920 the library had done a call out across Australia for any letters from the Great War as part of the European War Collecting Project. Unfortunately the censor had redacted and ripped up many of Anne’s letters. Some of which never reached their destination after ending in a watery grave when the ships they were sent home on were sunk by the enemy.
Fortunately we are lucky enough to have all the full original carbon copy books uncensored. The following is Anne’s story……