DAVIDSON, Ethel Sarah

Service Numbers: Matron, Nurse
Enlisted: 26 September 1914, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Matron
Last Unit: Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1)
Born: Tenderton, South Australia, 19 June 1872
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia
Occupation: Nursing Sister
Died: Cardiovascular and renal disease , Semaphore, South Australia, 21 April 1939, aged 66 years
Cemetery: AIF Cemetery, West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide, South Australia
Path 1 A, Grave 6 E. Section: LO, Road: 1AN, Site No: 16
Memorials: Adelaide Corporation WW1 Honour Board, Keswick South Australian Army Nurses Roll of Honor, Payneham District Council Roll of Honor, Penola Scholars Roll of Honor, Prospect Roll of Honour A-G WWI Board, Prospect St Cuthbert's Church Honour Board
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World War 1 Service

26 Sep 1914: Enlisted Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Adelaide, South Australia
5 Dec 1914: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Matron, 2nd Australian General Hospital: AIF, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1,

--- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '23' embarkation_place: Melbourne embarkation_ship: HMAT Kyarra embarkation_ship_number: A55 public_note: ''

5 Dec 1914: Embarked Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Matron, 2nd Australian General Hospital: AIF, HMAT Kyarra, Melbourne
5 Dec 1919: Involvement Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1), Matron, Nurse, Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1)
5 Dec 1919: Discharged Australian Army Nursing Service (WW1)

Distinguished war nurse and matron at Keswick Repatriation Hospital for 15 years.

Ex -Matron At Keswick Dies

Distinguished war nurse and matron at Keswick Repatriation Hospital for 15 years.

Miss Ethel S. Davidson, C.B.E., R.C., died today. She was in her sixty sixth year. Her death, almost on the eve of Anzac Day, has cast a gloom over Keswick Hospital. She will be mourned by large numbers of patients and hundreds of returned soldiers with, whom she came in contact when on active service and in South Australia. She had a most distinguished war record. The Deputy Repatriation Commissioner (Mr. James) said that during her period of service' she was held in the highest esteem by the Repatriation Commission and by those who served with her overseas and at Keswick. Many of the patients at Keswick had expressed gratitude for her activity.

War Record

Miss Davidson enlisted soon after war bloke out. and served in Egypt until 1916 She was mentioned in despatches and was awarded the Royal Red Cruss second class. She subsequently served in administrative headquarters and Australian hospitals in London, but in 1917 went to France and for several months worked in the field. Later for services in Italy she was awarded the Royal Red Cross First class, and was appointed a matron. In June 1919 she was awarded the C.B.E. for meritorious service. Returning to Australia she was appointed matron of the Military Hospital at Keswick and subsequently the Repatriation Hospital. She retired in June 1933, having reached the retiring age. Miss Davidson was left an orphan at five. Her father Capt. Davidson mother two brothers and sister were drowned in the wreck of the Emily Smith near Kangaroo Island. She had been left at home with friends when the Emily Smith went on it's ill-fated trip.

News Adelaide Friday 21 April 1939 page 1


Sister Davidson at the Adelaide Corporation

Sister Davidson at Corporation of the City of Adelaide (ACC)

In September 1913, Sister Davidson was appointed to the position of Trained Nurse with the ACC Local Board of Health at a salary of £135 per annum.
She was responsible for managing reported cases of infectious diseases and supervising the women's sanitary conveniences in the City Baths, private girls schools, kindergartens and crèches.

On 26 September 1914, Sister Davidson enlisted as a Sister in the AANS, AIF and was called upon to accompany the Expeditionary Forces to WWI. As with all enlisting ACC staff, leave was granted and her position kept open until a reasonable time had expired after returning to Australia, generally three months.

A collection was organised and her fellow staff presented her with a ladies dressing case embossed with her initials as a token of their esteem.

Sister Davidson returns to Australia

Sister Davidson returned to Australia and on 24 September 1919 wrote to the ACC Local Board of Health advising she would return to her Trained Nurse duties following the anticipated closure in a few months of the Keswick Military Hospital.

On 18th February 1921 she wrote to the Town Clerk tendering her resignation as she had accepted the position of Matron of the Keswick Military Hospital and would be demobilised on 31st March 1921.

Sister Davidson is listed on the Adelaide Corporation Employees Honor Roll in the Adelaide Town Hall foyer.

Source: Adelaide City Council Archives: TCDKT1914/4082 and TCDKT1919/2963


5 December 1914 - A letter from Great-Aunt Ethel Davidson to my mother (by Helen Heggie)

On 5 Dec 1914 Great-Aunt Ethel sent a postcard to my mother.
She wrote – “You will see by this we have landed at Egypt and are to work at the Military Hospital, Abassa. Left Alexandria at 12 o’clock today and came to Cairo by train. We are staying at the Heliopolis Hotel – don’t expect we will stay here long – only while our troops are here. We are very lucky to be first here. Will write when I have time. Love to you all. E.S.D.”

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From How We Served

Matron Ethel Sarah Davidson CBE, RRC (1st & 2nd Class), MID of Semaphore, South Australian had been on the reserve of the Australian Army Nursing Service since 1904 and was one of the first nursing sisters from South Australia to volunteer for service with the 1st AIF, joining up on the 26th of September 1914, and embarked with the 1st Australian Contingent for Egypt in October.

From the time of her enlistment her duties would be many and would see her serve in Military Hospitals and Convalescent Depots in Egypt, England, France and Italy. Whilst serving with the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Egypt she was promoted to Temporary Matron, and for her ongoing administration skills during her service in Egypt until she was sent to England on the 7th of July 1916, she had been Mentioned in Despatches and was awarded the Royal Red Cross (2ndClass).

Whilst serving with the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital (Southall), and then after being sent to France on the 28th of February 1917 to join the 2nd Australian Central Hospital (Wimereux) and from here she was then transferred to the 2nd Australian Army Clearing Station (Trois Arbres). Ethel was officially promoted to the rank of Head Sister in June 1916, & where by July 1917 she was again made Temporary Matron. Her War Service would continue and by January 1918 having been posted to the 38th British Stationary Hospital serving in Italy based at Genoa she was officially promoted to Matron.

Ethels’ dedicated service to the sick and wounded would cause her to be decorated on several more occasions. Following her time in Egypt for which she had already been recognised for, she would receive further awards and promotions whilst serving in England, France and Italy. Matron Davidson would further receive the Royal Red Cross (Class1), and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), as well as being again Mentioned in Despatches.

Following Ethel’s return to Australia and her demobilisation from the 1st AIF on the 5th of December 1919 she was appointed Matron in Chief at the Keswick Military Hospital and this appointment she would hold until her retirement in 1933.

On the 21st of April 1939, at the age of 66, Matron Ethel Davidson prematually died due to cardiovascular and renal disease. and with her death she was laid to rest within West Terrace Cemetery, South Australia, amongst the many military patients she had tendered to for over two decades.



Born:  19/6/1872 in Tenderton, South Australia
(Birth records: South Australian 1842 - 1906 Book: 111 Page: 80 District: Ade.)

Father: William DAVIDSON (Scottish born master mariner)  and
Mother: (2nd wife) Elizabeth Jane (nee GREEN).

Ethel was orphaned at the age of five, when her Father, Capt. William Davidson, her mother,
2 younger brothers and baby sister, drowned near Kangaroo Island in the wreck of the
Brigantine “Emily Smith”, of which her father was master and owner.

Ethel was not on board the vessel, as she was left with three grown half-brothers and three
grown half-sisters from her father's first marriage, all resident in Adelaide.

No details of her early schooling are known.

After the completion of her nursing training at the Adelaide Hospital, she then became District
Nurse at Prospect.  She worked as a District and Private Nurse and for some time was on the
Central Board of Health.

In 1904 Ethel joined the Reserve of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS).

Prior to enlisting Ethel lived with her brother T Davidson at South Terrace, Semaphore, SA.

Described on enlisting as    years old; single;
Roman Catholic

Whilst still working as the District Nurse of Prospect  Ethel enlisted into the AANS on 26/9/1914
as a Sister.

Sister Davidson left Australia with the first contingent, one of the first 3 nurses from South Australia,
embarked from Australia on the troopship HMAT A9 Shropshire.

5/12/1914  Embarked from Melbourne onboard the HMAT A55 Kyarra, as a Matron with the
                 Second Australian General Hospital (noted from AWM).

On arriving in Egypt in December 1914, she was appointed to the Convalescent Depot, Mena.
From August 1915 to January 1916 she was  Acting Matron.

She was then made Temporary Matron of the 3rd Australian Auxillary Hospital at Cairo, and for
Distinguished Service there was Mentioned in Dispatches, and awarded the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class.

On 24/6/1916 Ethel  relinquished this position, reverting to the rank of Head Sister, embarking for London
for a six month appointment in the medical section, AIF HQ.

Then briefly served in postings at 2 AAH Southall [London], before posting to France on 28/2/1917 with
2nd Australian Central Hospital, Wimereux.

In March 1917 Head Sister Davidson was transferred as Acting Matron wo the 2nd Australian Casualty
Clearing Station at Trois Arbres, near Steenwerck.

July 1917 Sister Davidson was sent to Italy as Temporary Matron of the 38th British Stationary Hospital
near Genoa.

In January 1918 she was appointed Matron, 38th British Stationary Hospital Genoa [Italy].

During 1918, for distinguished service and devotion to duty, she was again Mentioned in Dispatches and
awarded the Royal Red Cross, 1st class.

Returned to England in January 1919, serving briefly as Matron of the 2nd A.A.H. at Southall.

In June 1919, she was again Mentioned in Dispatches.

3 June 1919  was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the King's Birthday
honours  for meritorious services to Army Nursing, and was highly praised by the Matron-in-Chief,
British Expeditionary Force.

5/12/1919  Matron Davidson was demobilized and that month appointed Matron of the military hospital
at Keswick, Adelaide.

From 1924 she was also Principal Matron of the 4th Military District.
The hospital was taken over by the Repatriation Commission in 1921 but Ethel remained Matron there
until she reached retiring age in June 1933.

She was President of the Returned Army Nurses' Association of South Australia in 1922-26
and was largely responsible for obtaining the charter which made the association a sub-branch of the
Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League in 1924.

After a three-month illness Matron Davidson died of cardiovascular and renal disease on 21/4/1939
at her home at Semaphore.

Matron Ethel Davidson was admired and remembered fondly by her family.

Matron Ethel Sarah Davidson was buried in the:-
AIF Section, Path 1 A, Grave 6 E,  West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide, South Australia

Army nurses marched before the hearse and returned soldiers from Semaphore and Port Adelaide
acted as Pallbearers. Remembrance Poppies were thrown into the open grave by ex-servicemen and women.

The Adelaide News reported:
'Her death, almost on the eve of Anzac Day, has cast a gloom over Keswick Hospital.
 She will be mourned by large numbers of patients and hundreds of returned soldiers
 with whom she came in contact when on active service and in South Australia'.

The Rising Sun described her as
'a woman of outstanding character'  and  'an exceptionally able leader and organiser'.

Thank you to Great-niece Helen Heggie of Hastings, Victoria; and Jane Ratcliff for their research.

Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan.  22/1/2015.  Lest we forget.


Biography contributed

Refer to attached biographies winning entries of the Premier's Anzac Spirit School Prize.