DE MESTRE, Margaret Augusta
|9 August 1940
|2/1 Hospital Ship
|Bellingen, New South Wales, Australia, 16 November 1915
|Bellingen, Bellingen, New South Wales
|Not yet discovered
|Killed In Action, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, 19 February 1942, aged 26 years
No known grave - "Known Unto God"
|Adelaide River Northern Territory Memorial, Augusta Australian Army Nursing Sisters Monument, Australian Military Nurses Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Bellingen St Margaret's Anglican Church WW2 Roll of Honour, Bellingen St Margaret's De Mestre Memorial, Bellingen War Memorial, Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital Memorial Rose Garden, Kapunda Dutton Park Memorial Gardens Nurses Plaques
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The eldest of four girls and two boys born to James Augustas de Mestre and his wife Alice, nee Morey.
Sister De Mentre was killed in action when the Hospital Ship "Manunda" was bombed by the Japanese in the raid on Darwin Harbour of 19 Feb 1942.
"KILLED IN ACTION. Death of an A.I.F. Sister
Sister Margaret de Mestre of Victoria has been killed as the result of enemy action. Her death occurred when the Japanese bombers attacked the hospital ship Manunda which, with its big red cross clearly showing, was lying in Darwin harbour when that town was raided. Her name will appear on the Honour Roll of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital as the first A.I.F. nurse to be killed in action in this war. Ever since her school days Margaret de Mestre had wanted to be a nurse and had worked to accomplish that aim. Her aunt, Sister Sarah de Mestre, then a senior sister at the Royal Prince Alfred, had been awarded the Royal Red Cross for her nursing services during the great war. When she was 19 Margaret entered the hospital as a probationer, graduating four years later as a sister. When the war came she was one of the first nurses to enlist and made many trips on the hospital ship Manunda. On the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific she was sent to Darwin. Although Tokio radio has claimed that their airmen spared the hospital ship in harbour at the time of the raid, photographs already published show that the bombs which caused the death of this 26-year-old sister did extensive damage to the ship." - from the West Australian 13 Mar 1942
Margaret Augusta De Mestre was a nurse during WW2, who worked on the HMAS Manunda which was an AIF hospital ship. On the 19th of February 1942, Manunda was moored 2.5km southwest of the Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin Harbour. That day, started off like any other, the harbour was calm and there was a clear, sunny sky with the temperature around 26 degrees. As it was a hospital ship, the doctors and nurses including Margaret were onboard training, doing their rounds and attending to the many sick and injured patients on board.
At quarter to ten, the buzz of a large number of Japanese planes approaching from the southeast could be heard in the distance. The noise was gradually getting louder and then at 9:58 am, all hell broke loose. Air raid sirens were set off and wailing loudly. Then soon after, bombs were raining like hail stones and going off all over the harbour. The noise was horrendous. The crew, doctors and nurses on the Manunda quickly rushed to grab their helmets and respirators. People were screaming, watching in shock and running to take cover. At 10 o clock, a bomb narrowly missed the ship and exploded nearby. Shrapnel pieces were sprayed across the deck of the Manunda, killing 4 people, including Margaret who was hit in the back and abdomen dying instantly from her injuries. She was only 26 and unfortunately became the first AIF nurse killed in action. This is the story of Margaret Augusta De Mestre.
Margaret was born on the 16th of November 1915 in Bellingen, New South Wales, which is located 4 hours from Brisbane or 5 hours from Sydney. From an early age, she was interested in nursing because her aunt was awarded a Royal Red Cross for her service during WW1. During 1935, Margaret began her training as a probationary nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. In 1940, a year after WW2 broke out, she wanted to play her part and was one of the first nurses to enlist in the Royal Australian Nursing Corp. Throughout this role, she began working on Manunda. With the outbreak of war in the Pacific and increasing tension in the top end of Australia, Manunda was ordered to sail to Darwin Harbour, to provide medical aid to the large amounts of military forces that were based there.
Margaret could have stayed in Sydney at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and continued to work as a dedicated nurse. She would have been safe amongst her family and friends and still fulfilled her passion to help others. But as the Pacific war broke out, Margaret chose to enlist as an AIF nurse, knowing full well that she would be sent to active war zones and her life would be in danger.
She knew that all her skills and everything learnt would be put to the test and she would be dealing with lots of trauma and challenging times. No one would have questioned her if she had stayed behind as nurses were just as needed in Sydney. But she made the decision to enlist and willingly sacrificed her life to help Australia’s war effort. That day HMAS Manunda lost a kind, dedicated and compassionate nurse.
Australian royalty: Genealogy of the colony of NSW (no date) Margaret Augusta de Mestre 1916–1942 – Australian Royalty: Genealogy of the colony of New South Wales. Available at: https://australianroyalty.net.au/tree/purnellmccord.ged/individual/I30900/Margaret-Augusta-de-Mestre (Accessed: April 7, 2023).
Warmemorialsnsw (2019) Sister Margaret Augusta de Mestre Memorial, NSW War Memorials Register. Available at: https://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au/memorials/sister-margaret-augusta-de-mestre-memorial (Accessed: April 7, 2023).
Killed in action. - death of an A.I.F. sister. - the West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954) - 13 Mar 1942 (no date) Trove. Available at: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/47184579 (Accessed: April 7, 2023).
Margaret Augusta de Mestre (no date) Margaret Augusta De Mestre | Australian War Memorial. Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1709850 (Accessed: April 7, 2023).
De Mestre Margaret Augusta NX70211 (no date) Aviation Heritage Museum. Available at: https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/afcraaf-roll/de-mestre-margaret-augusta-nx70211/ (Accessed: April 7, 2023).
Margaret Augusta de Mestre (no date) Virtual War Memorial | Margaret Augusta DE MESTRE. Available at: https://vwma.org.au/explore/people/625596 (Accessed: April 7, 2023).
From the SA Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize Blog. Completed by a student who travelled to Darwin as a winner of the 2022 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize