Muriel Leontine Wakeford

First Name: 
Muriel
Middle Name: 
Leontine
Last Name: 
Wakeford
Alternate Spelling: 
Leontine Sarah
Father's Name: 
H.G Wakeford
Date Enlisted: 
Saturday, November 21, 1914
Rank at Enlistment: 
Staff Nurse
Rank at Discharge: 
Sister
Unit: 
2 Australian General Hospital
Service: 
Australian Nursing Service
Place of Death: 
England
Details: 

Muriel Leontine Wakeford was born in 1887 at Bathurst, NSW. She was a nurse by occupation, trained in Sydney and was one of the youngest nurses in the war at the time. Muriel enlisted as a Staff Nurse and embarked from Sydney in November 1914 on HMAT Kyarra, A55; at the time she was living on Crown St, Wollongong. Muriel attained the rank of ‘Sister’ only four days after enlisting.

She kept a diary where she recollected her day and wrote down events during her time as a war nurse. She kept record from the beginning of her involvement:

A momentous day indeed. At 4pm we pushed off from Circular Quay amidst wild enthusiasm and also a terrific storm. The ferry boats all saluted, the crowd cheered and I felt pretty miserable. My first experience at sea. The night was wild indeed – three sea men were knocked over by the elements and one had to be operated on next morning. I was fortunate enough to be able to assist at the operation. Unique experience at sea. (November 24th Wednesday, 1914)

She continued writing during her time in the war.

The wounded came down to the shore in an endless stream. Accommodation on the hospital ship Gascon soon gave out. After that occurred there seemed to be no one in charge of direction wounded men to any one ship in particular…” Sister Muriel Wakeford, Diary, 25 April 1915.

On April 24, the day before the Anzac landing, Muriel Wakeford and Ella Jane Tucker were originally aboard the hospital ship, Cecilia in Murdos Harbour but due to a change of plan the nurses were told to board another hospital ship, the Gascon.

The hospital ship, Gascon was overcrowded with only 400 beds and no other hospital ships available. The Gascon received seriously wounded men and well as the ‘walking wounded’ who often assisted with other injured soldiers boarding the ship. The nurses and staff worked flat out dressing wounds and removing fragments of shrapnel and bullets.

As part of her duties, Wakeford and the other nurses administered morphine and gave the patients as much as they needed without seeking a doctor’s permission unlike the standard practice in civilian hospitals.They spent their time treating the soldiers as best they could, feeding and washing their wounds. Any spare moment was taken up by preparing the wards and equipment for the next influx of soldiers. In a letter to her parents, Muriel wrote that in April at Gaba Tepe, there were over forty deaths in a three day trip.

Muriel was a prolific writer and sent pleas to the Illawarra Mercury for more Australian doctors and nurses to enlist. This was published although censorship was enforced. Her revealing letter written in mid-May published in the Illawarra Mercury described the terrible wounds inflicted on the Anzacs due to the use of “dum dum” bullets. The revealing article subsequently caused a stir in the district. Although the editor knew he could face prosecution for breaching the War Precautions Act, he published the letter in the public’s interest. She continued writing letters which continued to be published regularly. An example below was published on 11 June 1915.

Although all the nurses were warned that fraternising with the officers was forbidden, she fell in love with Lieutenant Sergeant. The romance was omitted from her diary and was kept a secret on ship as it would have resulted in trouble for both of them. Muriel married Ray Sergeant at East London and as a result, resigned from her position as ‘Staff Nurse.’ Her diary entries ceased at the end December 1915. She officially resigned from the AANS on 27 June 1916.

One of her last diary entries reveals her trip home to Australia:

Up at 5am when we were just opposite Botany Heads. Go alongside Woolloomooloo Wharf at 9.30am. A band played “Home Sweet Home” just as we were getting alongside. A big crowd greeted us. We left for Wollongong at 4.50pm. When we arrived a big crowd met up at the station and cheered heartily as the train steamed in. Escorted us home in motor cars (19 October, 1915).

Muriel and her husband lived in Kenya for a time as Ray was a harbour master at Mombasa. Later, they returned to London, England where Muriel lived for remainder of her life. She returned to Australia on one occasion with her son so that he could meet her mother and the rest of the family. In Australia, she petitioned Canberra for her war medals which were ultimately forwarded to her.She died in England in 1965.

Muriel Wakeford is linked to a local soldier, Oliver Heardwho became her brother-in-law in 1919 when he married her sister, Vera Wakeford.

The information provided has been passed on by Muriel’s family. Her letters published by the Illawarra Mercury can be accessed through microfilm archives which are currently available to all at Wollongong Library. Susanna De Vries has published a book, Australian Heroines of World War One: Gallipoli which is a well-researched account of Nurse Wakeford.

Sources: 
Australian War Memorial, First World War Embarkation Rolls – Muriel Wakeford, Australian War Memorial Canberra, 2013, <http://www.awm.gov.au/research/people/nominal_rolls/first_world_war_embarkation/person/R1813433/&gt>, viewed 2 October 2013.
S De Vries, Australian Heroines of World War One: Gallipoli, Lemos and the Western Front, Pigros Press, Brisbane, 2013.m
J Duffy, ‘Tales of a World War I heroine,’ Illawarra Mercury, April 20 2013, available from http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/1446493/tales-of-a-world-war-i-heroine/, viewed October 9, 2013.

Images

Sepia photograph of nurse Wakeford.
Sepia group photograph of nurses.
Scan of a newspaper clipping from the Illawarra Mercury about correspondence from Muriel Wakeford.

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