The Victoria Museum holds a small collection bequeathed by Rosemary McArthur in 2010 commemorating the life of Sister Selina Lily ‘Lil’ Mackenzie which provides an interesting insight into the role of women (in this instance nurses) serving in Egypt during World War I.
Portrait of Sister Lil Mackenzie with a Friend, Egypt, 1915-1917
Lil returned to her hometown after the outbreak of war, and on 5 October 1915 enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service. She was 33 years old, and despite 11 years nursing at a senior level, she was given the lowest rank: staff nurse. Lil embarked for Egypt shortly after enlistment, reporting for duty at the 1st Australian General Hospital (AGH) in Heliopolis, Egypt, on 9 December 1915.
The 1st AGH was housed in the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, a grand building on the north-eastern edge of Cairo with rooms of marble and alabaster. Planned as a 520-bed hospital, by June 1915 it held nearly 2,500 patients. The hospital expanded into nearby buildings: the racecourse, the casino, the barracks of the Egyptian Army, and Luna Park where the ticket office became an operating theatre and the skating rink, bandstand and scenic railway became wards.
A keen photographer, Lil took images of her time in Egypt; the photographs were carefully placed in albums, and chronicle the hospital at which she served and Luna Park Cairo. The camera on which the images were taken forms part of the Museum’s collection, the inside of the leather case bears Lil’s name with the date 1915 and location Cairo, Egypt. Also donated in the group are Lil’s nursing capes, one made of a very light-weight silk (necessary in the extreme heat of Egypt); buttons carefully removed from her uniforms and kept by the family; and souvenirs from Egypt.
A Scarab ring bought by Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie as a souvenir of her time in Egypt during World War I
In February 1916 the 1st and 2nd AGH moved to France, but Lil remained in Cairo for another 12 months with the 3rd AGH. In January 1917 the 3rd AGH moved to England, then France on 8 February 1917. On arrival in France Lil was transferred to the Imperial unit, the 13th General Hospital at Rouen. She would have been one of about 70 nurses.
Lil was transferred back to the 3rd AGH, now at Abbeville on the western part of the Somme River, on 6 July 1917. The 3rd AGH was one of the biggest hospitals in France, with 2,000 beds, 20 sisters and 60 staff nurses.
In November 1917 Lil was again transferred, this time to the 38th Stationary Hospital which had just opened at a boys’ school in Genoa, Italy. Lil served at this 520 bed hospital for British Troops until March 1918, when she was put in charge of the 24th Casualty Clearing Station, located north of Venice; she had 30 staff reporting to her.
Having served five months in the exhausting conditions of a Casuatly Clearing Station, Lil returned to the 38th Stationary Hospital in Genoa on 18 August 1918, and a week later left for England for three week’s leave. She returned to Genoa in September, and in October was notified she had been promoted to Sister. She served at the 38th Stationary Hospital until January 1919 when she was transferred to England.
She spent a month at the 3rd Australia Auxilliary Hospital in Dartford, Kent, and then took a few months leave during which time she attended lectures at the Royal Sanitary Institute in London. She qualified as an Inspector of Nuisances in June that year. Upon completion of her course, Lil returned to the 3rd Australia Auxilliary Hospital in Dartford for two months, and was then transferred to the 1st AGH which was now in Wiltshire. Just over a month later, on 18 October 1919, Lil embarked for Australia on the ‘Morea’, disembarking on 28 November. Her appointment as an army nurse was terminated on 17 February 1920.
In recognition of her service, Lil was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class for her service in Italy. She also received the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victoria Medal. Lil passed away at the age of 90. In 2010 her family donated photographs and personal items associated with her service to Museum Victoria.
Sister Selina Lily (Lil) McKenzie (1882-1972) Smith, C. (2010) Sister Selina Lily (Lil) McKenzie (1882-1972) in Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/3586
Accessed 02 July 2017
Wallet – Leather, Egypt, Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie, 1915 – 1917 Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1584159
Accessed 01 July 2017
Scarab Ring Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1584148
Accessed 02 July 2017
Group Portrait of Nurses in front of the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt 1915 – 17 Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1562607
Accessed 02 July 2017