Penshurst Women at War

WW1 Nurse - Ivy Norma Ritchie

When war broke out in 1914, the Australian Government raised the first Australian Imperial Force for overseas service. The nurses to staff the medical units, which formed an integral part of the AIF, were recruited from the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve and from the civil nursing profession. A total of 2139 sisters served overseas and another 423 served in Australia. 25 sisters died and 388 were decorated for their service which included 5 CBE, 10 OBE, 42 RRC and 23 foreign awards.

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Group portrait of members of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) most of whom embarked from Australia on the Orsova during July 1915, outside the Ivanhoe Hotel in London.

Third row: Sisters Kennedy; Florence Vines; Neta Burns; Pearl Lottie Trayhurn (later Mrs Harry Jackson); Dorothea Mary Agnes Burkitt; Grace Lacy Love; Neta May Smallwood; Bartlett; Fanny Isabella Hammersley; Leitch; Violet Grace Jenkins; Marchant; Ivy Norma Kathleen Ritchie; Laura May Begley; Catherine Louie Harden; Alice Bull; Edith Jones.

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Ivy Norma Kathleen Ritchie was born at Mt Rouse in 1880. Her parents were John and Georgina (Hutton) Ritchie. Ivy was the second youngest of ten children (all born at Mt Rouse).

Her father John was the station manager at Blackwood near Penshurst. He died on the 21st May 1883 and is buried at Boram Boram Cemetery. He left the family reasonably provided for with a trust fund administered by Richard Howell of Devon Park Dunkeld and John Mackiehan of Yulanguh Penshurst. Ivy’s mother died in 1913 at Geelong.

On the 8th July 1915, Ivy’s younger brother Frederick David joined the Army. Seven days later Ivy joined the Australian Army Nursing Service, she was 34 years old and single. She had served her training time at Geelong Hospital where she had progressed to Sister in Charge of the Medical and Surgical Ward.

The Nominal Roll shows her enlistment details like this. Ivy Norma Kathleen RITCHIE. Religion; Presbyterian. Occupation; Nurse. Address; Penshurst, Victoria. Marital status; Single. Age at embarkation 34. Next of kin Brother, A I Richie, c/o Dalgety and Co, Geelong, Victoria. Enlistment date 17th July 1915. Rank on enlistment Staff Nurse. Unit name Convalescent Depot, Harefield Park, London.


Her Military papers show that she left Australia just two days after her enlistment. She embarked on the 17 July 1915 at Melbourne on the HMAT Orsova A67. Her destination was the Convalescent Depot, Harefield Park, London where she commenced duty on the 3rd September 1915.

The following is a short history of Harefield Park

General History (Reference; File 1313/26/14; in possession of High Commissioner for Commonwealth of Australia):

Early in November 1914, Mr. Charles Billyard-Leake of Young, New South Wales, offered on behalf of his wife and himself, to the Minister for Defence, Melbourne, and for the period of the War and six months thereafter, the property known as "Harefield park", Harefield Middlesex, England, to be used as a Home for Convalescent wounded soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force. This offer was accepted by the Commonwealth Defence Department in December 1914.

The property comprised Harefield Park House, a plain three storey brick structure, some outbuildings, and ample grounds.

At the time of the acceptance of the offer, it was estimated by the Military authorities that the house would accommodate 50 soldiers under winter conditions and 150 during the spring and summer.

On 19th January 1915 the Minister for Defence informed the secretary, Department of External Affairs, that he approved of the appointment of the following Staff, namely, one Captain ((AAMC) one Sergeant, One Corporal, and four men as wards men and orderlies; also one Matron and five nursing Sisters the Medical Superintendent to be under the supervision of the High Commissioner.

Upon arrival in England, the Medical Superintendent was to purchase, under the direction of the High Commissioner, the necessary equipment for 150 patients in the summer and 60 in the winter and with his staff furnish and equip the House in readiness for use by the Australian troops in the spring.

On the 18th February 1915 the Minister for Defence, Melbourne, wrote to the Secretary, Department for External Affairs, setting out, inter alai, that the names of the original Nursing Sisters were; Senior Sister Pratt and Sisters E Mills, Chadwick, Kidd and Hayes, all of whom had been chosen speciality for their fitness for positions

(1) Rest home to recuperate after sickness or injury for Officers, Warrant Officers, NCO’s and rank and file

(2) Depot for collecting invalids for return to Australia.

On the 31st May 1915, Surgeon General Williams, then Australian DMS in England wrote to the D.G. A.M.S., War Office, stating that he had arranged to extend the accommodation at Harefield Park (now described as an “Auxiliary Hospital”) to at least 500 beds.

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Above is a plan of the Hospital buildings existing on 31 May 1915

Right.  In early June 1916 the Hospital had to be expanded rapidly as this letter shows.

On the 21st September 1917 after serving for two years at Harefield, Ivy was transferred to No 1 Australian General Hospital in Rouen France. (During the war the British used Rouen as a supply base and there were many military hospitals).

Rouen, alongside Boulogne, Etaples and Trouville – acted as one of the primary Hospital Centres for the B.E.F., with some 20,000 beds in March 1918 The British scheme of evacuation was based chiefly on Rouen, to which casualties were conveyed mostly by train, ambulance or improvised, but also by barges down the Somme and by char-à-bancs. About 15 hospitals were based in the town.

No. 1 Australian General Hospital was based at the racecourse in Rouen from 17 April 1916 until 7 December 1918.

In total, 1AGH admitted 90,298 patients (sick 46,187; wounded, 41,111) — an average of 2,913 per month — with 11,488 examined by X-ray department.

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Second row: Sr I. N. K. Ritchie; Sr H. Morris; Sr M. Oglethorpe; Sr E. M. J. Graham; Sr L. S. Powell; Sr M. E. Cullen; Sr W. A. Newell; Sr A. E. Shadforth; Sr E. D. Smith; Sr E. G. Dobson; Head Sr E. M. Menhennett ARRC; Matron Miss E. Cornwell RRC; Head Sr A. Kidd Hart ARRC; Sr G. A. Grewar; Sr G. M. Doherty ARRC; Sr C. O'Connor; Sr S. C McDonald; Sr E. Geoghegan ARRC; Sr A Kemp ARRC; Sr M. D. Edis; SN F. E. Harte

“Three strenuous years”

On April 17th the unit took over the huts and tents occupied by No 12 British Stationary on the Racecourse at Rouen, and on the 29th reported the hospital as ready to receive patients. Here, somewhat cramped as to space, it worked through three strenuous years, passing through its wards in that time more than 90,000 casualties.


Its most difficult time was in the winter of 1916-17. The site was an exposed one. “The winter of 1916-17,” an officer relates, “will long be remembered as one of the most severe on record, and it was surprising how well most of the medical cases got on although they were nursed in tents. This was in a great measure due to the devotion of the nursing staff, many of whom suffered from minor degrees of frost-bite during the first three months of 1917. The cold interfered with the water supply, and the use of fuel was restricted owing to the shortage of coal. For weeks the temperature showed several degrees of frost and on occasion the thermometer registered 4 degrees Fahrenheit.”

A large proportion of the casualties from the Somme Battles passed through Rouen, and in the winter wounded were replaced by trench foot, pneumonias, nephritis, and trench fever cases, the latter chiefly sent in a “P.U O.”

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Above:  View of some of the tent wards at the 1st Australian General Hospital. The sides or ends of the tents were folded up in warm weather. Identified: Staff Nurse (SN) S. J. Proctor (9); SN F. E. Harte (10)

The personnel, officers, nurses, and other ranks, alike took part in the social life of this peculiarly interesting town and the hospital Rugby XV (it is recorded) “succeeded in winning a local competition.”     (Butler’s official medical history.)

It was not all hard work for Ivy as she had quite a few allotments of leave. On the 17th February 1918 she went to Paris for seven days. Then on the 14th July 1918 she returned to England for leave and returned on the 31st July 1918.

On the 11th November 1918, at 5:00 am, an armistice with Germany was signed in a railroad carriage at Compiègne. At 11 am on 11 November 1918—"the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month"—a ceasefire came into effect. During the six hours between the signing of the armistice and its taking effect, opposing armies on the Western Front began to withdraw from their positions.

 The 1st Australian General Hospital spent little time in leaving France as on the 7th December 1918 the Hospital at Rouen was closed, the whole unit being under orders to proceed to Sutton Veny, England, where it was re-opening. The nursing Staff was transferred to England in parties Ivy was amongst the first group of 1 matron and twenty Sisters.

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Shown left:  The entrance and signboard to No. 1 Australian General Hospital 1AGH opened at Sutton Veny on 15th January 1919 after coming from Rouen, France. The signboard seen is that used in France and accompanied the unit from Rouen, Normandy. The flagstaff is seen over top of signboard and carries the Geneva Red Cross flag, the Australian flag on a horizontal bar. The entrance is upon the main road from Warminster to Sutton Veny. The lettering upon the noticeboard is in the colours of the unit, viz, chocolate and green. Four patients stand on the road, two on crutches.

Some more leave came around for Ivy on the 13th February 1919 till 27th February 1919. The most exciting news would have been on the 26th August 1919 when she received this accolade.

AIF List 501. Sister brought to the attention of the Secretary of State for War, for VALUABLE SERVICES RENDERED.

Ivy returned to Australia on the 12th December 1919 aboard the “Orvito”.

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Shown right; Australian nurses returning home on HMT Orvieto. Identified back row, left to right: Sister C M Keys, RRC, Sister A. McHardy.

Centre row, left to right: Sister N Nagle, RRC, Chief Matron E A Conyers, CBE, Sister I N K Ritchie.

Front row, left to right: Captain (Capt) C Mills, Capt G F Patterson, Lieutenant Hastings.

Sister Ivy Norma Kathleen Ritchie was discharged from the Australian Army Nursing Corp on the 26th August 1920 after serving approximately 5 years service.

Ivy Norma Kathleen Ritchie died on the 1st December 1953. She is buried in a family plot WST-PRES-01-807-0015 Geelong Western Public Cemetery with her brothers William and Frederick and her sister Violet.

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An interesting Note: Her next of kin shown on her enlistment papers was her brother Alexander Inch Ritchie. He went missing after the 30th July 1917.

The Sydney Mail  Wednesday September 25th 1917 (weekly publication)

Personal and Missing Friends

£100 REWARD —Alexander Inch Ritchie.

THE ABOVE NAMED, WHO WAS A REPRESENTATIVE OF DALGETY AND CO., GEELONG, MISSING FROM GEELONG SINCE 30TH JULY, 1917.

DESCRIPTION: Age 45, height 5 feet 9 or 10 inches, medium complexion, darkish hair turning grey, brown moustache, square-shouldered, rather sharp features about 13 stone. When last seen wore dark grey sac suit, white starched collar, cotton shirt, rough grey tweed overcoat, dark grey hat— generally wore tan boots— gold curb' pattern chain across vest, with Oblong Church of England Grammar School Badge, and open-faced silver watch. Assumed to be suffering loss of memory, and gone to the country. Appearance may have changed by growth of beard.

IF LOCATED, PLEASE COMMUNICATE W. S. RITCHIE WESTBANK CAMPERDOWN, VICTORIA.

The Age. Melbourne, Friday June 26th 1925.

Wool Clerk Disappears.

DECLARED LEGALLY DEAD.  ESTATE TO BE ADMINISTERED.

The Union Trustees Co. of Australia, acting on behalf of the next of Alexander Inch Ritchie, formerly of Geelong, clerk, in the employ of Dalgety and Co, yesterday applied to Mr. Justice MacFarlane in the Practice Court for letters to administer the estate of Ritchie on the presumption that he was dead.

Mr. Ian Macfarlane (instructed by Messrs. A. C. Palmer and Herald, of Hamilton) who appeared in support of the application, said Ritchie left Geelong by the steamer Courier on the afternoon of 30th July, 1917, for the purpose of attending Goldsbrough, Mort and Co’s ram sales on the following Monday. Before his departure Ritchie had complained of severe headaches, and had said he was over worked. After the passengers had left the steamer on her arrival in Melbourne a bag was found, which was identified as Ritchies. It contained pyjamas and a few other articles. Nothing is known of what Ritchie did between the time he left the Courier and 11 oclock on the morning 1st August. At about the time of the latter date he was seen and spoken to by several persons at the ram sales. One of these persons said Ritchie appeared well but not too well. After being spoken to at the sale Ritchie, as far as could be ascertained, was never seen afterward, and no trace of him has since been found Advertisements had been published in the newspapers in the several States from time to time, and rewards had been offered for information about him, but there had not been any response to these. His body bad not been discovered, and the members of his family had made every search, but had not discovered any trace of him, and they believed he was dead. Ritchie had a banking account, and the last cheque drawn against this was on 25th July, which was paid on 4th August. Ritchie was a Single man, and his estate, which was all personal, amounted to £839. He also had an interest in his deceased father's estate, which he had not claimed. Mr. Justice Macfarlane granted letters of administration to the company on the presumption that Ritchie was dead.


by Ron Heffernan, Mount Rouse & District Historical Society

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