Ever since the first nurses sailed for the Boer War in 1900, Australian nurses have served in theatres of war and conflict around the world. They have worked in hazardous conditions, endured extreme discomfort, and sometimes lost their lives.
Forty-three nurses served as part of the Australian Army’s involvement in Vietnam between 1966 and 1972. Service nurses were also involved in the evacuation of casualties back to Australia.
Terrie Ross was one of the first four army nurses to be deployed to Vietnam.
“I worked then with a darling old nurse called Nora Marmont,” she says. “I knew she’d worked on a hospital train in Japan during the Korean War.
“One day Marmie said to me: ‘Young Terrie, you have to leave; if you don’t, you’ll end up here with five babies and you’ll have been nowhere and seen nothing. Go join the army’, she said. And so I did.”
It was May 1965 and Lieutenant Terrie Ross headed off to join the staff of the No.2 Military Hospital at Ingleburn, just outside Sydney.
In Vietnam, things were just starting to get ‘interesting’. The US had committed 200,000 troops to the conflict; the Australian government was just about to deploy the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment; and the first National Service conscription ballot had just been drawn.
By August 1966, after the Battle of Long Tan, one of Australia’s heaviest actions of the war, the need for expanded medical facilities became obvious.
With just a few weeks to prepare, and sworn to secrecy, young Terrie Ross was deployed to the 8th Field Ambulance unit in Vung Tau.
Terrie has plenty of fond memories of her time in Vietnam.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work. We’d work 10-hour shifts, six days a week, the conditions weren’t great and the boys were so young, and some of the things you’d see…” she says.
“But it was exciting, and we learnt so much. There wasn’t much chance to look after patients with malaria or bomb injuries or shrapnel wounds back in the wards at home.”
She remembers one patient who’d been hit by direct rocket fire during the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha. Six Australians had been killed and another 20 wounded. She was on duty in the intensive care unit when he was wheeled in after several hours of emergency surgery.
“He was so sick,” she says, “I was trying to keep him comfortable and get him off to sleep, but he was worried he would never wake up if he did. But he said he would go to sleep if I stayed with him.
“I did have a date that night,” she laughs, remembering it now. “But I said, ‘You’re on’, and I sat with him for hours and when he woke up he knew he’d be OK.”
ALTONA RSL ANZAC COMMEMORATION
Altona RSL is holding its traditional Commemoration Service on Saturday, April 20.
People are invited to assemble at the club at 2.15pm for a march to the Cenotaph for a service at 3pm.
On Anzac Day, April 25, people can assemble out the front of the club at 5.30am to march to the Cenotaph for a service at 6am.
The service will be followed by the traditional Gunfire Breakfast at the club.