Gertrude Moberly was born in Rockhampton, Queensland on New Year’s Day 1880 and grew up in Walcha, NSW, where her father was rector. She moved to Sydney in 1894 where her sister, Nora Moberly, was matron of Dulce Domum Private Hospital in Hardie Street, Neutral Bay.
Moberly trained as a nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital between 1908-1912. In 1913 the Sydney Sands Directory showed Gertrude Moberly, nurse, living in the Powell Estate, Strathfield. She was working as a nurse at the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital when she enlisted.
In July 1915 Sister Moberly enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and embarked for the No.6 Australian Army Hospital, Suez, on 12 August 1915 aboard the transport ship Orsova. When this hospital closed in May 1916, Matron Moberly was directed to take charge of nursing staff on HMAT Euripides, returning to Australia.
The adventure begins for a group of Australian nurses departing in the troopship HMAT Euripides, Melbourne May 1916.
Moberly re-embarked on HMAT RMS Kashgar in September of that year and sailed for India, where Australian nurses, considered better adapted to the climate, replaced their English counterparts. Moberly was appointed matron of Hislop War Hospital in Secunderabad, India. She was later appointed matron of Australian Auxiliary Hospital No. 1 in London, arriving there in charge of a group of nurses aboard HMAT Herefordshire. After 3 years service, she returned to Australia in April 1919 as matron aboard the troopship SS Castalia. With the war’s end Moberly’s army appointment was terminated in August 1919.
After the War Gertrude Moberly returned to her profession as a nurse, and in 1920 was appointed matron of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, Concord where she served until 1926.
In December 1919 Gertrude Moberly was awarded the Royal Red Cross (First Class) for exceptional services in military nursing. Instituted by Queen Victoria in 1883 the Royal Red Cross was first awarded to Florence Nightingale. The award is made to a fully trained nurse of an officially recognised nursing service, military or civilian, who has shown exceptional devotion and competence in the performance of actual nursing duties, over a continuous and long period.
To help the Concord community come to terms with the losses of the Great War, Concord’s “good and great” proposed the building of a ‘Pavilion of Honour’, dedicated to the nurses, soldiers and sailors who served in the war. Major General Granville Ryrie, attended by local council and church officials, unveiled the pavilion in Queen Elizabeth Park on 26 September 1921. Among those named on the Roll of Honour was “Nurse Moberly”.
A further legacy is a collection of letters from Gertrude Moberly to a friend back home, published in 1933 with the title, “The Experiences of a ‘Dinky Di’ RRC”. In it, Moberly gives a detailed description of the conditions under which the nurses in military hospitals worked. She describes the horror they experienced as well as the extraordinary people she met from all levels of society. The book was widely read and a second edition was published in 1937.
Moberly is also credited with coining the word “Aussie”, as a shortened form of Australian or Australia. [i] The first reference to this was in Moberly’s letters, which included a list of Australian slang terms as used by the diggers. Interest in Moberly’s book was fanned by the review published in “The Australian Women’s Weekly” (shown below). The interest for historians, however, lies in the authenticity of Moberly’s experiences as related in the letters; describing a war that was beyond the imagining of those on the home front.
While the overall tone of the letters is positive, there are inevitably glimpses of the war’s grim reality.
As an army nurse, Moberly was required to be single and under the age of 40. Moberly’s letters were addressed to a fictional fiancé, Peter. Being “spoken for” by a friend back home was a ruse often used by the young nurses to ward off unwanted attentions. Moberly explains that writing in the form of a correspondent allowed her to make personal observations and provide insights about her experiences and those whom she met. Most poignant were her references to the “mad boys”; those affected by the largely undiagnosed condition of shell shock. Moberly’s brother, Edmund was one such soldier. Enlisting in 1915, he won the Military Medal at Pozieres in 1916. In 1917 after a prolonged period in hospital he was discharged and returned to Australia with “premature senility”. He died in 1925. Moberly’s eldest brother was killed in the Boer War while another tragically drowned while on service in India.
No longer in the army, she married coachbuilder, James Thomas Hogan in 1926. Gertrude Moberly died in Balmain on 20 August 1962.
[i] “Glossary of Slang and Peculiar Terms in use in the AIF 1921-1924” Amanda Laugesen (ed.) Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANU) 2017 http://slll.cass.anu.edu.au/centres/andc/australian-words/meanings-origins