Defence Honours & Awards is a Defence People Group website
Nurses have had a long and crucial role in the activities of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), from its inception right up until the present day. In virtually every combat, peace-keeping and humanitarian operation that Australia has been involved in, nurses have provided essential medical treatment and care to both our own troops and civilians.
The Australian Army Nursing Service was established in 1902, following Australia’s Federation in 1901, when the nursing services from each colony came together. It was staffed by volunteer civilian nurses to assist in times of national emergency. Members of the Service served in both World Wars in Australian and overseas medical facilities.
During the First World War, nurses were recruited from the nursing service and the civilian workforce, attending field and base hospitals.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, enlisted nurses were the only females to serve outside of Australia, working in hospital ships, troop transports, base and camp hospitals and even Prisoner of War camps.
Nursing within the Defence Force has evolved substantially over the last century. Gone are the days of the red and grey uniforms and "unmarried females only requirement". Today, there are over 600 nurses attached to the Joint Health Command in the ADF, with males representing around 40 per cent. Nursing officers are members of the ADF who possess university qualifications and have nursing experience in a civilian setting prior to entering one of the three services. As officers, they have a responsibility for command, as well as carrying weapons in combat zones for protection of themselves and their patients.
Defence offers medallic recognition for exceptional skill and commitment in the performance of nursing duties. From 1989 until 2007, the Nursing Service Cross was awarded for outstanding devotion and competence in the performance of nursing duties in both warlike and non-warlike situations. This was awarded through a nomination process to only 29 people. Today, outstanding nursing performance or achievement within Defence is recognised by other operational or non-operational awards within the Australian Honours and Awards system.
In 2000, Warrant Officer Class One (then Staff Sergeant) Kim Felmingham, was awarded the Nursing Service Cross for her outstanding devotion to duty following a vehicle accident near Dili, in which she provided vital medical aid to East Timorese civilians. A truck transporting about 30 East Timorese went off the road and fell down a cliff. Kim was the first medic on the scene and provided essential medical treatment and support to the casualties, and coordinated their evacuation. As a result of her skill and professionalism, all of the injured survived the accident. Kim’s Nursing Service Cross was awarded to her by Queen Elizabeth II.