Matilda Bullwinkel: The Nurse Who Changed My Life

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‘Where there are men fighting, there are always nurses.” This was said by my good friend, Sister Florence Syer- God rest her soul. Anyway, hello, my name is Matilda Bullwinkel, and I used to be a nurse back in the late 1900s, World War Two. This war began on the 1st of September 1939 and ended in 1945- the same war that changed my life forever.
I was 26 years old when all the Australian women (including me) volunteered and joined the only women’s service that existed at that time, the Australian Army Nursing Service. The requirements for enlisting included already being trained and registered, single and having no children, aged between 25 and 35, and having passed a medical examination. Thankfully, I fitted all those requirements.
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This became the turning point of my nursing career. “As air raids and military campaigns intensified, our nursing duties and experiences expanded. We received many air raid casualties from surrounding areas, including those from city hospitals. The centre of Birmingham was attacked relentlessly. We were often forced to put casualties on stretchers in the corridors due to lack of beds.” (Goodhand, 2004) We had to slog our guts out every day for the rest of our lives, cleaning up blood, tending to the patients in critical condition, dealing with the overcrowd, while also coming to terms with the fact that despite years of training, we couldn’t save everyone no matter how hard we tried. Not only that, we faced a variety of challenges like poor facilities, lack of staff, disease, harsh climate and of course, large numbers of wounded and traumatized patients. Language difficulties with some patients were yet another problem we had to overcome, as we had thousands of patients coming in from all over the world. It still frightens me to this day, seeing all those people die right before my eyes… while knowing there was nothing I could do to save them… I can honestly say that there is nothing worse than that feeling of

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