Staff Nurse Louisa Bicknell ‘As brave as any fighting soldier’

Louisa Bicknell was the first Australian nurse to die whilst on active service in Egypt. ‘Louie’ as she was known, was born at Elmore in 1879 to Eliza Bicknell of Abbotsford, Victoria.  She departed from Sydney on HMAT Kyrarra A55 on the 13th of April, 1915 for Egypt and was posted to the No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis.  Within a few weeks of her arrival she died from pyaemia following an incident in one of the hospital’s surgical wards where she sustained a scratch on her hand. 


She was highly regarded for her professional standards. Matron Pilkington wrote “We are in deep grief, she was one of the brightest, healthiest and unselfish nurses I have known. She was as brave as any fighting soldier and said when she was dying “How hard it is to die with so little accomplished, but I would go through it all again to help, and it is all in the game”.

She was buried with full military honours in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, grave reference B. 306. The personal inscription on her headstone read “Peace perfect peace, with loved ones far away, in Jesus keeping, we are safe and they”.


Louisa is commemorated on the Bairnsdale Shire honour roll and on a memorial to overseas nurses who died in the Great War at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London.


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Australian War Memorial ‘A tribute to the men and women of the East Gippsland region’

Sister M.T. Martin and her visit to the Great Pyramid

Sister Mary Theresa Martin (1881 – 1929), an Australian Nurse who served with the 2nd Australian General Hospital in Cairo, Egypt. She sailed from Sydney on the 28th November 1914 on the Kyarra, a steel cargo passenger and luxury liner requisitioned and converted into a hospital ship (HMAT A.55 Kyarra) for the purpose of transporting Australian medical units to Egypt.

Mary Martin’s life was probably no different from numerous others who joined and served in the Commonwealth forces during the Great War. However, through one small incident – a memorable visit to the Great Pyramid , she left her name to posterity as the first lady to explore Campbell’s Chamber.

Whilst in Egypt with thousands of other Australian troops waiting to be deployed, Mary Martin visited the Great Pyramid at Giza and painted her name on the wall inside Campbell’s Chamber, the uppermost of four chambers directly above the Kings Chamber. The graffiti reads “SISTER M. T. MARTIN 6.2.15 – FIRST LADY TO EXPLORE THIS TOMB” indicating that she visited the pyramid on 6 February 1915. This date is consistent with the deployment of Australian troops who trained in Egypt before being sent into action.

After serving in France she returned to Australia in November 1918 and took up employment at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney. She  died suddenly in 1929 at the relatively young age of 48 and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of the Botany Cemetery.

Kheops Cambell's Chamber

‘Campbell’s Chamber’, named after Major-General Patrick Campbell (1779 – 1857), Agent and Consul-General of Egypt, 1833 by its discoverer Giovanni Battista Caviglia




Sister Martin (seated) at the Gezirah Palace, c.1915, Image Source: The Australian War Memorial, H16403 refers