Edith Blake: Lest We Forget

Australian War Memorial image of Sister Edith Blake

The third of this year’s Georges River Council heritage markers will commemorate local WWI nurse, Edith Blake.

We know of several local women who enlisted in WWI and served as nurses.  Susan Arnold, Stella Black, Ida Carruthers (eldest daughter of local notable Sir Joseph Carruthers), Nellie Chapman, Helen Ford, Violet Harvey, Adelaide Lindschau, and Jean Miles-Walker all had Georges River connections.  The last-named earned the rarely-awarded decoration, the Royal Red Cross 1st Class.  She had the misfortune to succumb to the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Also among this group was Edith Blake.  She was born at Redfern, but was brought up at Sans Souci, eldest daughter of Charles and Catherine Blake of 9 Vista Street.[1]  She trained at the Coast Hospital at Little Bay, where she was Sister for about four years.

Following the outbreak of war, she was one of a group of 130 nurses who sailed to London to enlist with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.  Her wartime service was spent in Egypt at No 1 Australian General Hospital in Alexandria, treating wounded men from Gallipoli, following which she served in France, and then spent a year nursing German prisoners of war at Belmont, Surrey, seen by many as an unpopular duty.

On 26 February 1918, she sailed from Cardiff on the hospital ship Glenart Castle bound for Brest, France, to pick up patients bound for treatment in Britain.  The ship was torpedoed by a German submarine and she drowned, along with 160 others.[2] She was the only Australian nurse to die as a direct result of German action in WWI.  She was 32.

Sister Blake is commemorated at the Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton, England. Her parents received a letter of sympathy from the King.

Her diary and letters are deposited with the Australian War Memorial.[3]

[1] Rathbone, R W The Sans Souci Peninsula, p94.

[2] Propeller 12 July 1918, p1, “A Sans Souci Heroine.”

[3] Sydney Morning Herald 5 August 2014.

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