Their bodies are buried in peace; but their names liveth for evermore.
Their Duty Done
A tribute to the men and women of the East Gippsland Region who Died as a result of their participation in World War One : 1914 - 1919
 Staff Nurse Louisa Annie Bicknell – Bairnsdale Died of illness 25 June 1915
….. as brave as any fighting soldier
Louisa Bicknell was the first Australian nurse, and the only one from East Gippsland, to die while on active service. She was also amongst the earliest to enlist. Louie, as she was known, was born at Elmore in 1879 the daughter of John and Eliza, the seventh of twelve children. She started to learn dressmaking with Miss Creagh in Kyneton but felt nursing was her vocation and trained at the Mooroopna Hospital and worked at the Women’s Hospital, before opening up a private hospital at Bairnsdale with Nurse Massey and later Nurse Williams with whom she had trained. She had been in Bairnsdale for more than eight years when a large crowd of well-wishers farewelled her at the Masonic Hall presenting her with a cut glass bottle of smelling salts and a nurse’s wallet before accompanying her to the train the next morning, Monday 29 March, and she left Bairnsdale. Six weeks later, without having known any other serious illness in her life, she died of septic poisoning. She had arrived in Egypt on the Kyarra just one month earlier, and was posted to No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis. Within twelve hours of being informed that their daughter was seriously ill, her parents received a telegram informing them of her death. She was highly regarded for her high professional standard and was a universal favourite,  when a septic germ in one of the surgical wards got into a scratch on her hand and travelled up her arm. She died a painful death from pyaemia just six days later. Her matron at the time 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 at the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery. News of her death was received locally with much disbelief and sorrow and was not just felt in the town she made her home. The town clerk, on behalf of the Mayor and councillors wrote to her parents saying Your loss will, I am sure, be compensated in some manner by the knowledge of the fact that your daughter has given her skilled services, and even her life, in the noblest and highest of services, namely, the amelioration of the wounds of the suffering, who are bravely serving their King and country.” Marion Miller Knowles, a highly regarded Australian writer of the time, made mention of Louisa in her column in the Advocate the following month. When money is a little more plentiful, Australian women should not forego the opportunity of doing honour to the memory of the first Australian nurse to fall at the post of duty – namely, Nurse Bicknell. We have memorials for many less worthy things; and it is only fitting that this brave woman should receive her earthly meed of praise, even if in a better land, where the slightest service reaps a thousandfold rewards, “When did I visit Thee, O Lord?” “In the long aisle of the Hospital ward.” “When sis I give a drink to Thee?” “When you soothed a sufferer’s agony.” Louisa is remembered on the Bairnsdale Shire honour roll and on a memorial to overseas nurses who died in WW1 at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital for women and children in London which was built in their memory.
Photographs of Louisa Bicknell courtesy of her nephew John Bicknell. Louisa Bicknell’s service records are not available online.
Possibly this is the last photograph taken of Louisa (left) and one of her fellow nurses at the hospital in Heliopolis, Egypt.
Studio photograph taken of Louisa before departing overseas.
Louisa’s grave in the walled cemetery at the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery.