St Patrick's College history club praised in State Parliament

Respectful tribute: Students from St Patrick's College donned army nursing uniforms at the 2019 Campbelltown Anzac Day march.
Respectful tribute: Students from St Patrick's College donned army nursing uniforms at the 2019 Campbelltown Anzac Day march.

CAMPBELLTOWN'S St Patrick's College was praised in State Parliament this week for its extensive research into local wartime nurses.

The Catholic girls' college has not just researched the life and service of local servicewoman, but its students also paraded in army nursing uniforms at this year's Anzac Day celebrations in Mawson Park, Campbelltown.

Many of the students involved were sitting in the public gallery of State Parliament on Tuesday as the guests of Campbelltown MP Greg Warren.

He praised the college's history club for its dedication and respect.

"The [history] club was formed in 2017," Mr Warren told Parliament.

"It encourages our youngest generations to not only learn about but also understand the plight of all our veterans and what they went through."

The local students, hailing mainly from Campbelltown and Camden, were also hosted to a special lunch in the Parkes Room and visited the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park.

The history club has a membership of nearly 100 interested students who meet at lunchtime once a week.

Teacher Fran Musico-Rullo said she and the students were "really touched" that Mr Warren also presented the college with a beautiful painting of poppies.

"War nurses have often been overlooked in the history books but it was essentially the quality of their nursing skills in a pre-antibiotic age that gave the wounded their only chance of survival," she said.

"The devotion and dedication of Campbelltown's seven World War I nurses are exemplary role models for our girls and complement the Good Samaritan values we instil in our students.

"Greg Warren has been a great supporter of all the commemorative activities St Patrick's has undertaken."

Elwyn Spencer of Campbelltown RSL Sub-Branch has also praised the girls' efforts, and has been working closely with the college in support, lending authentic WWII and Vietnam War era uniforms.

The WWI uniforms were painstakingly hand-made by Lucette Zapirain, the mother of Year 7 students Laura and Bronwyn. Mrs Zapirain and her husband Paul also joined the contingent in Sydney.

Also included was young Alessandra Rullo of Campbellown's St Peter's Anglican School who had marched as a (tiny) nurse on Anzac Day, and presented Mr Warren with a hand-drawn thank you card.

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FULL TEXT OF GREG WARREN'S Statement to State Parliament (from Hansard)

Mr GREG WARREN (Campbelltown) (12:19): When we reflect on World War I and World War II we often cast our minds back to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who bravely sacrificed their lives defending our great nation.

However, there is another aspect of those wars that we do not regularly acknowledge and in June this year an exhibition by the history club of the St Patrick's College for girls in Campbelltown did just that by paying homage to local nurses who served in the various wars.

I acknowledge the many history club members who hosted the event and who are present in the gallery today.

From the moment that the other guests and I walked through the school's front door, we were greeted by students dressed in historical uniforms as a tribute to the local nurses. It was not the first time they had donned their outfits; they also dressed up during Anzac Day commemorations earlier this year.

Nurses who served in World War I, including Sister Eleanor Dagma Gjedsted, Sister Ida May Graham, Sister Clarice Elizabeth Green, Sister Elizabeth McRae, Sister Dora Ohlfsen-Bagge and Sister Elizabeth Chisholm Thomson, were represented by students Bronwyn Zapirain, Laura Zapirain, Olivia Hind, Molly Quinnell, Olivia Mason and Eve McGillicuddy respectively. Nursing Sister Ruth Allardyce Steel was represented by two students-Abbey Clancy and Eliza Percy. Aimee Claydon and Alessandra Rullo, a year 3 student from St Peter's Anglican Primary School, also dressed up as Red Cross nurses who served in World War I. World War II nurses Sister Helen Haultain and Sister Nea Hildred were represented by Tess McEvoy-King and Emeline Latu, and Chantelle Gordon was dressed as a nurse from the Vietnam War era.

The students' effort and attention to detail was impeccable. It was obvious that a lot of time and thought had gone into the designs. Credit for that must go to all the students, but particularly Lucette Zapirain. I commend Fran Musico-Rullo for her role as organiser.

One of the local nurses represented in the history club's exhibition was Sister Eleanor Dagma Gjedsted, who was born in Campbelltown in 1981 to Edward and Eleanor. Her decision to enlist was particularly timely as it was the day after the Gallipoli landings.

After enlisting in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Sister Eleanor was assigned to the No. 1 Australian General hospitals in Egypt and London. She then joined the No. 3 Australian Casualty Clearing Station in France.

The horror and devastation of the action on the frontline is often talked about. Undoubtedly, Sister Eleanor was not immune to the carnage that she experienced during the Great War. She would have been completely exposed to the brutality of war including gunshots, shrapnel wounds and missing limbs. Her ability and willingness to nurse, care for and treat the wounded soldiers and service personnel during their time of distress would have had a profound impact on those soldiers and their families. I am sure Sister Eleanor's wartime memories never left her until the day she died in 1955, aged 71.

Sister Elizabeth McRae was one of the more documented nurses from World War I. Her journey, duty and life was captured by Jeff McGill, the former editor of the Campbelltown-Macarthur Advertiser, who led the successful push to have a street in Minto-her former home town-named after her.

It is fitting that Jeff is here today in the gallery. This confronting passage from one of Jeff's yarns in April 2015 sums up the stark reality of Sister Elizabeth's role during the war: "She saw more danger in World War I than some of our male veterans and, as a surgical nurse on the Western Front, was up to her elbows in blood as bombs and gas shells fell around her."

This is why the history club at St Patrick's College for girls in Campbelltown is so important. The club was formed in 2017. It encourages our youngest generations to not only learn about but also understand the plight of all our veterans and what they went through. Whether they be soldiers or nurses, airmen or sailors, so many Australians played critical roles during the many wars in our history. Their contribution and dedication should never be taken for granted or forgotten.

Well done to the history club for keeping the memory of our veterans alive. Lest we forget.