My grandad Joe, WW1 nurse


Registered nurse Mark Quealy has only recently discovered the story of his grandfather’s nursing work during World War One. Mark’s grandad Joe was not a trained nurse but we reckon his experience definitely comes under the category of ‘nursing’. Mark reflects on his story.

In November 1915 my grandad Joe Banney landed as part of the ANZAC invasion forces in Turkey amongst the snow-covered hills. He left six weeks later during the withdrawal suffering from dysentery and influenza. He was hospitalised and recuperated in Egypt.

He then trained as a stretcher bearer before moving to the Western Front in France. His training and duties included Advanced First Aid, triaging and dressing of wounds.

dressing station

Australians at an Advanced Dressing Station 1917

April 1917 saw Joe transferred to Wimereux Hospital as a hospital assistant. Two thousand patients were processed per month!


Wimereux Stationary Hospital, France, where Joe Banney was stationed in 1917.

In February 1918 Joe began training as a surgical assistant. His three-month training enabled him to assist the surgeon, anaesthetist and nurse with complex surgical procedures in the operating theatre. He was assigned to mobile field hospitals as a member of Wimereux Hospitals First Surgical Team.


 Joe Banney.

Artillery shells from both sides thundered around them at Pozieres, shaking the ground. The landscape was without any shapes other than corpses, clods of earth and bomb craters. The noise death and fear made them sick in all their senses.

operating theatreWW1

Operating Theatre at Wimereux , France.

Armistice Day, 11/11/1918, saw the end of conflict but medical treatment was far from over. Joe returned to Australia on the steamer Durnham in May 1919, working on board as nursing staff for the two-month journey.

In 2005 I began training as a mature recruit in perioperative scrub / scout nursing. I failed to see it at the time but thanks to my brother Chris and his recent research, I now understand this historical coincidence. Joe would have performed similar duties to me during his four-year involvement in WW1.

Mum was only five when Joe died so our family history was a bit scant. I sometimes reflect on my surgical set up and wonder about our similar roles. I can’t begin to imagine the tragedy, trauma and feelings of futility in those wartime operating theatres.

My cousin Kerry (Joe’s granddaughter) is also a nurse and Joe’s great-granddaughter Monique is currently training. I wonder how many other treasured stories from descendants from all nations involved in this tragic conflict exist.

Photo credits: Operating theatreWimereux StationAustralians at an Advanced Dressing Station



  1. Enjoyed reading about Mark’s granddad Joe Banney and his experiences during WWI. Something special brought both of them into highly skilled roles caring for others, despite years separating their stories! I had the pleasure of meeting Mark early in his nursing career when he was a student of mine in the PEPEN Program in the perioperative services of SESIAHS in Sydney. As an educator, there is no greater thrill than to see students like Mark continue to learn and to develop their nursing skills and experience. These days, Mark and I occasionally work together as perioperative colleagues. Having read about Joe Banney, I now know that Mark was destined to succeed in his nursing career and aren’t we all luckier for that!?
    As it happens, I will be travelling to Gallipoli in September as part of a cruise from Athens to Turkey commemorating the nurses of the 3rd AGH (depicted in the mini-series ANZACS Girls) who cared for allied troops on the Greek island of Lemnos. I will be thinking about Joe and Mark, as well as those nurses who endured such hardship during the Gallipoli campaign. For those interested in hearing more about this cruise, please post a reply or simply search for ‘Aegean nurses WWI’ or check out this site:


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