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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

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“…a most excellent nurse – one of the very best Australia has sent out.”




Sister Cawood has for four years faced the perils of the deep and the dangers of field hospitals near to the firing-line, and has shown by her gallantry, heroism and self-sacrifice that she is worthy of the great honor and distinction which I am proud to know has been conferred upon her.  We diggers all say, “God bless her and all the other brave Australian sisters who gave up everything to assist us when we badly required help.”  We won’t forget them.

[Michael Adams, 1919 – late Pte 1129, 20th Bn, AIF]


The great honour and distinction that Michael Adams was referring to was the Military Medal awarded to Dorothy Cawood in 1917.  He personally would never forget her, as it was she who nursed him back to health in 1915, and he clung to the belief that it was solely due to her untiring efforts that he had survived.


Dorothy had trained in general nursing at the Coast Hospital in Sydney from 1909, and together with colleague Clarice Dickson passed her exam for membership of the Australasian Trained Nurses’ Association in December 1912.  Both ladies were still nursing at the Coast Hospital when they enlisted for war service in 1914.  Having been accepted for overseas service with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), they embarked in Sydney and sailed for Egypt on the 28th of November 1914 on the hospital ship Kyarra, as Staff Nurses with the 2nd Australian General Hospital (2AGH).


The Kyarra arrived at Alexandria on the 14th of January 1915, and the following morning Dorothy and Clarice were among a party of Doctors and Nurses who took a day trip to the Mena House Hospital in Cairo, arriving just before lunch.  In the afternoon Major (Dr) Reginald Millard, also a former Coast Hospital colleague, who was temporarily in charge at Mena, took them for a ‘walk round the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid ending at the First Field Ambulance for afternoon tea’.


The party having returned to the Kyarra, it was some days later during the 19th and 20th that the entire personnel of the 2nd AGH and all their equipment arrived at Mena House to take over the hospital.  Before finally handing over and leaving to return to the 1st Field Ambulance on the 26th, Major Millard received a wire requesting 10 nursing Sisters be sent the following day to join the Stationary Hospital at Ismailia.  Dorothy and Clarice were delighted to be among those selected, and had a most interesting time nursing the English wounded, while coming under fire during the attack on the Canal.  The campaign over and all their patients moved to Cairo, they returned to Mena House on the 27th of February.  [Note: Bessie Pocock was also among the 10]

Following the commencement of the Gallipoli Campaign in April the 2nd AGH also took over the Ghezireh Palace hotel in Cairo, leaving Mena as an auxiliary hospital until finally abandoning it on the 7th of June 1915.  [Note: Mena House was reopened again in July as a Convalescent Hospital]

While still at Ghezireh Dorothy and Clarice received a couple of visits from Major Millard during August.


Then at the end of August, the entire nursing staff of the hospital ship Assaye, under Matron Bessie Pocock, was sent ashore and replaced, and once again Dorothy and Clarice found themselves among the 9 new nurses selected to join the ship.  They embarked at Alexandria on the 3rd of September, and the Assaye set sail for Mudros, (Lemnos Island) on the afternoon of the 5th.  On the 8th they were taking on sick and wounded from Imbros Island and that night Matron Pocock noted in her diary: “Everybody worked well & happy all together such a difference from the last lot of nurses’ we had.”


Following the disembarkation of their patients at Alexandria, they experienced some rough weather on the return to Mudros, and on their arrival on the 17th of September Dorothy was one of 2 nurses feeling a little under the weather.  As they had no patients and not a lot to do, they were sent to bed for the day, and Dorothy had recovered by the following day.


Having survived the torpedoing of the Southland on the 2nd of the month on the voyage to Gallipoli, Major Millard was encamped at Anzac on the 21st when a messenger arrived from Suvla, where the Assaye was taking on patients.  He had with him 2 sacks of red cross goods that Matron Pocock, Dorothy and Clarice had put together for Major Millard to distribute amongst the men, which he carried out the following day throughout the Dressing Stations.

The Assaye was stationed off Anzac on the 3rd of October when they sent another sack of goods ashore.


One of the soldiers taken on board from Anzac on the evening of the 6th of October was the previously mentioned Private Michael Adams of the 20th Battalion.  He was a Scot who had emigrated to Australia and was living with his family in Granville, NSW, before enlisting.  Suffering from shock and a shrapnel wound to the head, he awoke the following morning to a cheery “How are you this morning?”  After establishing that the nurse who was removing his bandages was not only also from the Sydney area, but from a neighbouring suburb to his home, he asked her name.  Recognising the name Cawood as his daughter’s teacher’s name, it was soon realised that Nessie’s teacher was none other than Dorothy’s sister Muriel.


No doubt the two of them had plenty to talk about over the following weeks as the Assaye slowly made its way to England, and while under Dorothy’s care and attention Pte Adams’ health and strength gradually improved.  Invalided home early in 1916, one of the first things Pte Adams did was visit Dorothy’s family, and her father was overjoyed to meet a ‘Digger’ whom his daughter had nursed at Gallipoli.  John Cawood ‘was one of the pioneers of the Australian citizen forces and the two soldiers yarned for hours.’


Arriving at Southampton on the 20th of October, the nurses had shore leave while the ship went into dry dock for repairs, and it wasn’t until the 9th of November that they departed once more.  Experiencing bad weather as they crossed out, everybody was sick for the first 4 days.  Stopping first at Malta where they picked up 59 Canadian Sisters, they disembarked them at Salonika before returning to Mudros, and then onto Cape Helles on the 24th of November.


Having completed their year of service both Dorothy and Clarice received their promotion from Staff Nurses to Sisters on the 1st of December 1915.


After a few more trips between Gallipoli, Malta and Egypt in the December, they arrived back in Alexandria for the final time on the 7th of January 1916.  Waiting it out in the harbour, it wasn’t until the 18th that orders came through advising that the ship was going to Bombay without any nurses.  Leaving the ship on the morning of the 20th, Dorothy, Clarice and Matron Pocock returned to the 2nd AGH at the Ghezireh Hospital in Cairo.


Matron Pocock noted in her diary: “Everybody very sorry to say ‘Goodbye’ to us, they say, all said we had worked hard and peacefully and were a great help. Want all back again if ever ship is refitted up for British soldiers.”


She also wrote home in regard to her nurses: “They were awfully nice girls and worked hard, devoted to their patients.  No one on board ship ever went to bed or off duty till every man had been washed, fed, and his dressings all done; no one felt for themselves until everything was done;….”

In February, Bessie Pocock was serving back at Mena House, when Dorothy and Clarice visited her on the 19th, staying for afternoon tea and dinner.  Dorothy visited again on the 29th and they went for a camel ride around the pyramids and had their photo taken.


Leaving Egypt on the 26th of March 1916 the staff of the 2nd AGH sailed on the Braemar Castle to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France.  Arriving at Marseilles on the 1st of April, the nursing staff disembarked on the 5th and caught a train to the Moussot Hospital, where they remained for some time before heading further north in small groups.


Dorothy and Clarice proceeded to Boulogne on 17th of June, arriving for duty at the 8th Stationary Hospital, Wimereux on the 22nd.  The pair were finally separated when on the 11th of July Dorothy and a few other nurses were transferred to the Australian Voluntary Hospital.  However, on arrival it was discovered that they weren’t actually needed and they returned to the 2nd AGH the following day, which by this stage had established their hospital at Boulogne.  Clarice didn’t return to the 2nd AGH until the 1st of October, and only 2 weeks later she was transferred to the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station (ACCS) at Trois Arbres.


Following 2 weeks of UK Leave from the 13th to the 29th of December 1916, Dorothy was reunited with Clarice on the 31st when she too was attached to the 2nd ACCS, where once again they were serving under Bessie Pocock.  In the new year Clarice had a lucky escape when on the 21st of January 1917 her dress caught on fire while standing with her back to an open fireplace.  Apart from the damage to her dress, initial shock and a scorched hand while trying to extinguish it, she was okay.  However, it was only a few days later that she was transferred to A.I.F. Headquarters in London, and the two friends would follow separate paths for the next 2 years.


On her arrival Dorothy had been put on duty in ward A1, and it was noted that on the 17th of February she had finished her period of night duty.  Some enjoyment was had on the 6th March when together with a couple of the other nurses she attended a concert at one of the nearby Clearing Stations.


The 2nd ACCS consisted of both huts and tents, but even those nurses lucky enough to be accommodated in huts still suffered from the bitterly cold winter, with no insulation and fuel hard to come by.  Duckboards ran throughout the complex saving them from tramping through mud, but they still had to contend with wind, rain and snow as they went on and off duty.


Being so close to the front line they were subjected to the terrific din of intense bombardments that lit up the countryside for miles around, and night alarms for bomb and gas attacks often had them scrambling from their beds for the safety of the dugouts. An Observation balloon situated nearby attracted constant attention from enemy aircraft, and the fallout from the British anti-aircraft fire often dropped within the grounds, occasionally penetrating their huts.


Bessie Pocock had been relieved by Ethel Davidson in April, and she in turn had been relieved by Louisa Stobo as Sister-in-charge on the 12th of July.  On the 17th Sister Stobo noted that there were 10 Sisters besides herself at the hospital, and it was only 5 days later that 4 of those nurses would become the first members of the AANS to be awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field.  One of those nurses of course being Dorothy.  Of the other 3, Mary Derrer had joined the Unit with Dorothy, Clare Deacon early in June, and Alice Ross-King had only arrived on the 17th.


It was the night of the 22nd of July 1917 when the hospital was hit by an enemy air raid.

Lieutenant Colonel J Ramsay Webb noted in his report:

“On the 22nd inst at about 10.25 pm an enemy aeroplane flying low over the Station dropped two bombs.

The first fell at the rear of ward C.5 blowing a hole in the ground about 15ft in diameter and 6ft deep in the centre.  Ward C.5 was made up of 4 small hospital marquees arranged in a square.  Of these one was completely destroyed and the three others rendered unfit for service.  Some equipment was destroyed.  The mortuary also was wrecked, the roof and two sides being blown out.

Two patients and two orderlies were killed and many of the men in the ward were wounded.

The second bomb dropped outside the southern boundary of the Camp near the Cemetery.

The total casualties were 4 killed and 15 wounded – 1 seriously.”



Refusing to seek shelter during the raid, Dorothy and her 3 nursing colleagues remained on duty together with some of the other medical staff and worked through the dark and destruction to calm the patients and attend to those newly wounded.

The following month each of them received a letter of congratulations from Lieutenant-General William Birdwood and Miss Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief of the B.E.F., the latter including a piece of ribbon for the Military Medal.


At the end of July Dorothy was transferred to the 38th Stationary Hospital (SH) at Calais, and reported for duty on the 1st of August.  Upon leaving the 2nd ACCS, Ethel Davidson had been sent as Matron to this hospital, which was still being established when Dorothy arrived.  Although still under construction they had taken on patients, and both patients and staff were accommodated in tents while huts were being erected.  Unfortunately, problems with the water-tightness of the huts was endless, and they were only just beginning to become operational in the second half of October, when it was decided at the end of that month to close the hospital site down.


Dorothy had been on leave for the first two weeks of October, and when the hospital was closed many of the other nurses were sent on leave, while Dorothy reported for temporary duty at the 6th General Hospital on the 7th of November.  On this date she also received a “Mention in Despatches” (MID) in Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatches, for distinguished and gallant service in the field between the period 26/2/1917 to 26/9/1917.


On the 11th of November 1917 the Matron-in-Chief (BEF) was notified that the 38th Stationary Hospital (together with the 11th General Hospital) was to proceed to Italy.  With Ethel Davidson in charge of 27 nurses, including as many of the original staff as possible, they were to establish a hospital of 400 beds.  Together with as many of the nurses that could be gathered at such short notice, Dorothy was collected at the Nurses Home in Abbeville on the 15th and transported by the 21st Ambulance Train to their destination.  On arrival in Genoa they were billeted in a hotel, from where they travelled by ambulance to and from the hospital which was established in one of the cities large schools; reporting for duty on the 19th of that month.


On the last day of January 1918, Dorothy was admitted to the 11th General Hospital with Tonsilitis, and Ethel Davidson wrote the following letter to her mother:

“Dear Mrs Cawood, – You may have received a notification from the Defence Department that your daughter, Dorothy, is sick in hospital; so I am writing to tell you not to worry – it’s nothing serious – just tonsillitis.  I hope to have her back on duty long before this letter reaches you.  I want to take this opportunity, Mrs Cawood, of congratulating you upon having such a good daughter as Dorothy.  She is a most excellent nurse – one of the very best Australia has sent out.  When I told my O.C. that I had sent Dorothy to the Sisters’ hospital, he said, ‘I’m sorry; I like that little girl.  She does her work well, and gives no trouble to anyone.’  I will take care of her for you, and not let her work too hard.  Kindest regards.  Yours sincerely, ETHEL S. DAVIDSON, Matron, A.A.N.S., 38 Stationary Hospital.”



Two weeks later on the 13th of February Dorothy was discharged back to duty and continued her service in Italy with the 38th Stationary Hospital until early the following year.  During this time she was granted UK Leave from the 11th of August to the 13th of September, as well as 10 days in Rome from the 14th to the 24th of December 1918.


With the war over, Dorothy and her nursing colleagues were eventually returned to the UK, arriving at Southampton on the 22nd of January 1919, and Dorothy was attached to the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford the following day.  From there she was transferred to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Southall on the 8th of February, where once again she caught up with her old friend Clarice Dickson.  During her time in England Dorothy was presented with her Military Medal by his Majesty the King at Buckingham Palace.


The first of the two friends to be repatriated, Dorothy began her journey home on the HT Soudan, embarking at Devonport on the 12th of May and arriving in Sydney on the 3rd of July.  Returning home to Parramatta by train it was noted in the local paper that:

Mayor Simpson welcomed Sister Cawood as she came out of the southern portal of the station, with her father and mother and other members and friends of the family.  They were given the attendance informally of a guard of honour of returned soldiers and others of the military, the officials of the welcome-home committee …, a number of the splendid, hard-working V.A.D. girls (in uniform), and ladies of the Red Cross and War Chest and other patriotic societies.  After the Mayor had briefly and appropriately expressed the town’s heartfelt gratification at seeing back again with them Sister Cawood, the brave little lady (apparently the most retiring of all the personalities for many yards around) got into Mr Muston’s gaily-decorated cars with penons gaily streaming from them in the breeze; and the gay cortege was whirled through the town and round the park.  At the gate of the neat cottage in Hunter street, at which the cars at last pulled up, Sister Cawood was given an enthusiastic and hearty welcome by a large number of relatives and friends, who assembled to meet her at the residence of her parents, Mr and Mrs John Cawood, Hunter-street.  “Genugen” was prettily and profusely decorated with a liberal supply of flags, and across the verandah was displayed in large letters the words “Welcome home.”



She received her official discharge on the 1st of September 1919.




Dorothy Gwendolen, also known as Dora, had been born on the 9th of December 1884 in Parramatta, NSW.  She was the second youngest of the 8 children of John CAWOOD and Sarah Travis GARNET, who had married in Parramatta in 1874.  The family were living in Sorrell Street at the time of her birth, and she was baptized later that month in the local Anglican Church of St John.  Educated at Granville North Public School, Dorothy was amongst those receiving the highest marks in her class in 1899; and winning first prize, a silver medal, in Cookery in 1900.


Her father John, a Carpenter by trade, died at the family home “Genugen,” 39 Hunter Street, Parramatta on the 27/6/1928, aged 78, and her mother Sarah also died at their home in Hunter Street on the 27/8/1944.


Following the war, Dorothy continued to nurse and was appointed Sub-Matron of the Liverpool State Hospital and Asylum from the 1/11/1922 to the 3/9/1925, at which time she took over as Matron of the David Berry Hospital, Berry, following the resignation of Matron Williams.  She remained Matron of the David Berry Hospital until her retirement in 1944.


Following her retirement she returned to the family home in Hunter Street, where she remained for the rest of her life.  Dorothy died on the 16th of February 1962 at a private hospital, aged 78, and was privately cremated and interred in the Rookwood General Cemetery 3 days later.


Edited by frev


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