Amongst Fifteen Wounded Men

Bernice Collopy (back row fourth from left) was trained at Sydney Hospital. Nursing provided a major opportunity for Australian women to participate actively in the war. Around 3000 Australian nurses served as part of the Australian Army Nursing Service in places as diverse as Egypt, England, France, Gallipoli, Italy, Burma, Salonica and India. Many worked in British hospitals or in British army nursing units, and later with Australian units, as well as on hospital ships and in Australian hospitals for the wounded. Overseas, it was not practicable for Australian nurses to treat only Australians: they treated and nursed the wounded of many nations — Margaret Whitton.

Amongst Fifteen Wounded Men

Under another cloudy sky

my grandmother stands

amongst fifteen wounded men.


I wanted them to be young,

and strapping, and larrikin.

But, as they look into the camera

they whisper things to me

that flash and burn my memory.


The fog of the day settles.

They are chilled as they gather close their

ill-fitting clothes.

Their neatly parted hair shows a control they crave.

But, the confusions, the smell, the noise

and the terror are all there in clenched half smiles,

in darting eyes.


My grandmother’s hands rest with priority

on the gloved man’s wheelchair.

He holds his side protecting the broken rib,

the torn abdomen.

His eyes do not focus on the camera.

They dwell in an anger, a madness of pain.

In a destiny reshaped by brutality.


Sister Collopy and Patients the photo is titled.

My grandmother seems impish and full-fleshed,

not the way I ever knew her.

For a few fleeting, nightmarish weeks

these people were thrown together, entwined in a mistake of history.

To be repeated.

To be continued.


I smell the slow burn of the 1918 flash,

And see the men move stiffly to pick up their hats.

They help each other across the road to the hospital

As Bernice wheels her man

Each bump echoing pain.


Margaret A Whitten
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital

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