Looking back: The story of Pearl Corkhill

CONTINUING the story of Pearl Corkhill,  an army nurse who had served in the Great War in Egypt before being posted to France.

War heroine: At the Bega Hospital, from left: Dr Ted Blomfield, Matron Thelma Caterson, Sister Pearl Corkhill and Dr John McKee Snr.

War heroine: At the Bega Hospital, from left: Dr Ted Blomfield, Matron Thelma Caterson, Sister Pearl Corkhill and Dr John McKee Snr.

ON JANUARY 23, 1917,  Pearl went on leave to England until February 9. She then served at the Australian Hospital until July 1918, with the exception of her two leaves, in England in October 1917 and to Paris in February 1918.

On May 15, 1918, Pearl was sent to Abbeville to join the 3rd Australian General Hospital and was briefly posted to the 38th British Casualty Clearing Station on June 2. After serving in the 3rd Australian General Hospital for a further two months, she was again posted to the Casualty Clearing Station  on August 21, 1918.

Casualty Clearing Stations were deliberately sited as close to the front line as possible, since many injuries caused during battle required more urgent attention than the time to travel to a field hospital allowed.  Often within seven miles of the front line they were considered extremely dangerous, and the appropriateness of having nurses attend such stations was hotly debated in military circles. 

As a result of its proximity to the front, the station  would often come under enemy attack, as was the case of the 38th British Casualty Station on August 23. The Casualty Station suffered a heavy air raid by German forces, with the sterilising room being destroyed and the camp hit by numerous bombs. Despite the heavy attack, Pearl, who was attending to the wounded at the time, remained calm and continued to aid the patients. For her actions, she was recommended for and later awarded the Military Medal.

War office, August 23, 1918

His Majesty the King has been pleased to approve of the award of the Military Medal to the undermentioned Lady for distinguished service in the field, as recorded:-

Staff Nurse Pearl Elizabeth Corkhill , Aust. ANS.

For courage and devotion on the occasion of an enemy air-raid. She continued to attend to the wounded without  any regard to her own  safety, though enemy aircraft were overhead. Her exampled was of the greatest value in allaying the alarm of the patients.

Pearly was initially unconvinced that she deserved the award and it was the men around her who more heavily celebrated the honour she had received.

More on Pearl Corkhill next week.

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