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Breaking bread with the dead: The Australian "Bluebird" nurses of World War One seen through the lens of microhistory

posted on 12.11.2019, 00:00 by Irene Rogers
Through narrative inquiry and microhistory, this thesis contextualises and explores the collective and individual life experiences of the Bluebirds who were a group of twenty trained Australian nurses who served on the Western Front during World War 1. In July 1916, the Bluebirds left Australia aboard the Australian Hospital Ship Kanowna. They were under contract with The New South Wales Division of the Red Cross Society to work for the Red Cross Society or the French military authorities and called the Bluebirds because of their distinctive uniforms. The Bluebirds became the only group of trained nurses sent to the front by any Red Cross branch in Australia during WW1. Whilst some of their achievements during WW1 have been acknowledged, little is known about what may have shaped the experiences these nurses had and the lives they led before, and after, the war. Microhistory provides an opportunity to approach the subjects from a different direction, to listen to a variety of voices and to use the resulting paradoxes as a way to increase historical understanding. Investigating and exploring the personal experiences of the Bluebird nurses has enabled stories to emerge that can potentially illuminate and inspire. The detailed evidence presented, reveals new insights as well as variously supporting, supplementing or even calling into question some of the larger narratives of the lives of Australian women at war and at home.



Central Queensland University

Additional Rights

This thesis may be freely copied and distributed for private use and study, however, no part of this thesis or the information contained therein may be included in or referred to in publication without prior written permission of the author and/or any reference fully acknowledged.

Open Access


Era Eligible



Professor Margaret McAllister ; Professor Donna O'Brien ; Dr Wendy Madsen

Thesis Type

Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format