Christine (Strom) Bonwick
Christine Strom was born at Ascot Vale in Victoria in August 1892. She began training as a nurse at Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1913. In 1917, Strom enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service as a staff nurse. On 12 June 1917 she and almost 100 other nurses embarked from Melbourne for Egypt, writing in her diary of the moment the ship cast off:
The memory lingers – a crowded wharf – our own dear friends faces among the throng – coloured streamers of all shades; the grey clad nurses, the khaki boys …
Like many who enlisted and sailed on overseas service, Strom was soon suffering from seasickness. Her diary records the unpleasant experience over several entries: 'Oh my! Very sick all day – lay up in deck chair', being typical of the worst days.
During the voyage, Strom formed close friendships with other nurses. Together they explored the ports where the ship docked on the way.
the beautiful tropical trees, all so vividly green and cool and fresh are everywhere … we shopped in the afternoon – all the natives in the street surround us on every expedition …
full moon over hills on one side – hospital ships and shores well lighted … on the other
Great gaunt barren rocks everywhere – on vegetation whatever … The heat – the baking and unwinking sun … the dust, the smells, the dirty streets with dirty natives in dirty clothes.
After arriving in Egypt – 'the hills of Suez, the canal entrance, the wee boats around, the glorious tints of sky and sea', the nurses in Strom's contingent were sent across the Mediterranean to Salonika which she was soon calling 'Sal' or 'Salonique'. They arrived in July 1917, greeted by the sight of:
a low rocky coastline … the tints of water, sky and land merging into one another – and all pastel shades … we passed little fishing boats, buoys … large barques, 2 hospital ships and numerous other craft – some decidedly foreign – some quite familiar.
Strom was posted to the 66th (British) General Hospital:
The hospital consists of tents – crowds of them – our quarters separate – great tents, 4 sisters in each.
She shared hers with close friends Norma Scott and Constance Horwood until the pair were transferred, and Ellen Melville who remained with Strom. She wrote of all the British sisters at the hospital with a note of pleasure that 'we are under our Victorian matron and are glad of it.'
When she climbed a hill near the camp, Strom saw the extent of the Allied medical presence in the area:
many camps and many hospitals – we could see the red crosses on the ground afar off.
In November 1917, the 66th General Hospital was evacuated, and Strom and Melville were transferred to the 42nd (British) General Hospital. Strom described her arrival at the 42nd, 'dusty and pensive' and found to her displeasure that she would be working on a convalescent ward, 'which won't suit this child at all!'
Also difficult for her to cope with were the extreme heat and malaria of the summer months, writing one day, 'very hot – lay and sweated – sorry, perspired I mean' and a few days later, 'caught 17 mosquitoes in the ward and bell tent.'
When the heat gave way to the extreme cold and pneumonia of the winter months, soldiers and nurses alike were affected. Not long after arriving at the 42nd, Strom wrote:
Bitterly cold – we crept into bed as soon as we were off tonight, with bedsocks, blankets, dressing gowns. Plenty mud …
It was so cold that thermometers froze along with stocks of quinine. She wrote:
The boys sat round the stove all day – poor lads they can't keep warm.
As 1918 wore on, Strom could hear the sound of guns and by the latter months of the war as the fighting intensified the 42nd was overwhelmed with patients. She wrote:
All transport stopped for the sisters till the stunt is over. Guns go continuously some nights. Men down from the line … Very busy wards all over the Hpl (hospital) – the staff all going sick … they say the wounded are dying by dozens … with pneumonia.
Not long afterwards she was able to write:
Peace declared here – great rejoicing.
The war in the Balkans was over but nurses and patients remained vulnerable to disease.
On 10 October 1918, a colleague, staff nurse Evelyn Munro, died from pneumonia and malaria, 'a hopeless combination', wrote Strom.
After the war, in January 1919, she and the other nurses were transferred to England. Strom took a last look as her ship pulled away:
Salonique looks very pretty from the distance
The ship sailed to Marseille, where the nurses travelled by train to Paris before crossing to Southampton. Strom was then posted to the 3rd Australian Auxilliary Hospital at Dartford from where she took leave to travel around the United Kingdom. She left England in July 1919 and reached Australia on 11 September 1919.
On 21 February 1920, Strom was discharged from the army. In 1924, she married fellow veteran, Walter Bonwick, who had been an infantryman during the war.
In the years after the war, Strom made regular overseas trips to provide nursing assistance at various Save the Children Fund camps. She also had poetry published in newspapers and in books under her married name, Christine Bonwick, the proceeds from which were donated to the Save the Children Fund.
Christine (Strom) Bonwick died in 1984 at the age of 91.