It’s often been said that women are written out of history, their major contributions being ignored and all the credit going to the men.
One area where this appears to be glaringly true is in the military service of female doctors. In World War I, women doctors from Australia served in Egypt, France, Serbia and Malta. At the time, they were not even able to join the Australian Army, but they still found a way to serve overseas.
One remarkable Australian, Dr Helen Sexton, had the courage to establish her own tented hospital unit in France. This is just one of the extraordinary stories in Not For Glory, a new book by academics Associate Professor Susan J Neuhaus (Adelaide University) and Dr Sharon Mascall-Dare (formerly of UniSA and now at Canberra University).
The authors’ interest in the history of military women is not purely academic. Associate Professor Neuhaus is a former military surgeon who was decorated for her service after tours of duty in Cambodia, Bougainville and Afghanistan. She was keen to understand the great legacy of female doctors in the military, and especially in war zones.
Dr Mascall-Dare serves in the Army Reserves and is a military public affairs officer. Her doctoral research was around the ANZAC Day traditions and reportage.
Their new book tells many stories of women in war that would otherwise be lost. Many local women feature in the stories, such as Colonel Vikija Andersons, who served as Commanding Officer of the 3rd Health Support Battalion in East Timor, and Major Suzanne Le Page Langlois, who set up the East Timor Women Doctors’ Network.
But it is the stories of the early military women that are most fascinating. These brave and determined women had to battle prejudice, stereotyping and suspicion before they were even allowed to serve. Many can be thankful they didn’t give up the battle!
Not For Glory is an excellent contribution to the history of war, and very timely with the ANZAC Centenary celebrations.
Not For Glory, by Susan J. Neuhaus & Sharon Mascall-Dare, is published by Boolarong Press, $34.95.
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