Each year on ANZAC Day we recall and honour the heroism, sacrifice and tragedy of those who served their country in wartime.
This year, ANZAC Day takes place at a time when the whole world is united like never before: not in conflict, but in a shared war against disease.
At such a time, it is appropriate to pause and remember the 'quiet heroes' of previous wars - those who served by helping the sick and the injured. They were heroes then, and can inspire us today.
In August 1914, Ida Greaves was a nurse from Newcastle working in London. She joined the Australian Voluntary Hospital in London within days of the outbreak of WWI, and served with distinction throughout the war. She saw the horrors of the Western Front, working close to the lines, while saving the injured.
After the war she saw the onset of the Spanish Influenza pandemic, not returning until late 1919. She was one of the longest-serving Australians in WWI.
In WWII, another nurse from Newcastle gained particular honour. Ellen Savage was on the hospital ship Centaur when it was torpedoed off Queensland in 1943, with the loss of 268 lives.
After swimming for two hours, she joined other survivors on a makeshift raft. Although severely injured herself, she attended to the burns and wounds of the others, and actively maintained morale for 36 hours until rescue.
Ellen was awarded the George Medal for Valour. She had a distinguished post-war nursing career, and is commemorated in the chapel at John Hunter Hospital.
IN THE NEWS:
Tom Hamilton, Tom Brereton, Roy Mills and Peter Hendry were four Newcastle doctors who became POWs after the fall of Singapore in 1942.
Tom Hamilton was already a senior surgeon with a family, while the others were recently qualified. They were sent north to work on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway, caring for the POWs being used as slave-labour.
Conditions were primitive, beatings were frequent, food was minimal, tropical diseases and infected wounds were rife.
Nevertheless, the doctors performed extraordinary feats of healthcare with minimal drugs and improvised equipment under the most appalling conditions.
Peter Hendry always gave his greatest tribute to the caring by the medical orderlies who worked with him on the (Thai-Burma) railway.
The diaries of Weary Dunlop, and other accounts, give some idea of what they went through. But those who had the privilege of knowing them would occasionally hear unguarded or casual comments suggesting the reality was far worse than has ever been conveyed.
One POW recalled being collapsed in the mud, unable to go on, losing hope altogether, prepared to die. But Peter Hendry and the orderlies dragged him out of the mud, revived him physically, and then worked on his morale. The turning point was a song-and-dance performance so ridiculous that he laughed - and hope returned. Peter always gave his greatest tribute to the caring by the medical orderlies who worked with him on the railway.
The doctors themselves were not unscathed. They were beaten for defending their sick patients; Tom Brereton's vision was permanently impaired by malnutrition; Roy Mills contracted tuberculosis.
The emotional burdens they carried are unimaginable. Yet they returned to remarkably positive and productive post-war lives.
Of the 43 Australian doctors on the railway, Peter Hendry lived to 102 and was the last to 'fade away'. At Peter's 100th birthday, Governor-General Peter Cosgrove gave a moving tribute to the bravery of the POWs. He observed that a Victoria Cross could be the result of a short, but extraordinary, moment of valour.
But for the POWs, bravery was a continuing struggle, day after day, for months, for years, maintaining hope, working together, caring for your mates. These stories, and these six heroic Novocastrians, are only a fraction of the whole.
We honour these 'quiet' heroes of wartime, and they inspire us for the challenges of today, in a very different war.
Today, I see commitment and idealism in the younger staff around me. Nurses, doctors, cleaners, clerks and others, all working together. It is not glamorous heroics: it is just being prepared to carry on with teamwork and mateship. I am inspired by them.
I am also inspired by the broader community's engagement with 'social distancing' and recognition that we are all in this together.
I am delighted that the circle continues: the great grand-daughter of one the heroes I have mentioned above is working at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.
Dr Ross Kerridge is a senior anaesthetist at John Hunter Hospital and Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle
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