Corporal Ethel Elizabeth Maskell
Ethel was born in Shepparton, Victoria in September 1909 into a family well versed with the Armed Forces.
Members of her family were volunteers in the First World War, sadly of which two were killed in action. And again in the Second World War which included Ethel and her two brothers.
Ethel commenced her early career in the Voluntary Aid Detachment – VAD, and was given the service number of V11953.
She persevered and graduated here until the 30 March 1941 when she enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces –AIF – and given the service number VFX66209.
From here, on the 20 November 1941 she was assigned to the Blood Bank Section of Nursing.
As a VAD Ethel was posted to the 115 Australian General Hospital – 115AGH – situated in Heidelberg in Victoria. Ethel served here for ten months and was then placed on the list of the second draft to go to the Middle East. And while waiting she was relocated to the Stennington Red Cross Convalescent Home for wounded Veterans, and worked in the Blood Bank section taking on an average of fifty to sixty samples a day from the donors.
This blood was used to treat the returning wounded troops, or sent overseas to war-torn areas. Many long hours was the forte of the staff.
At the 106 AGH the staff were given training in medical wards and operating theatres, and treating the wounded who came in on the Hospital Trains, generally 150 men per train.
Ethel spent three months working in the ‘Infectious Ward ‘and was then sent to Darley Camp for her induction and further training into the Australian Army Medical Womens Service.
Eighteen months have now passed and Ethel and others recieved their orders to ‘move out.’ So after a Unit Parade they were marched to Spencer Street Station bound for Townsville.
It was here that the Unit boarded a boat bound for New Guinea, and they were attached to the 2/5 Australian General Hospital, which had recently returned from service in Greece and Crete and was now being reassigned to New Guinea. Ethel worked with distinction in the ‘Isolation Ward and Malaria Ward’, and it was here she nursed several Indian Sikh soldiers.
On the 9 March 1944 the 2/5 AGH handed over to the 128 Camp Hospital and prepared for their return to Australia. It now became known that some POWS were being released from the German and Japanese POW camps and men needed medical attention. So on the 17 March 1945 thee hundred and fifteen troops from the 2/5 AGH embarked for Morotai Island, part of which was still under Japanese control, their aim was to set up a Hospital to receive the incoming POWs.
After enjoying some home leave and working on the Troop Trains, Ethel was again ready for duty. And on the 4 April 1945 a group consisting of 242 AANS and AAMWS arrived at Morotai aboard the Hospital Ship Manunda. Ethel was with this group. By 25 April they had equipped 589 beds and already were nursing 386 patients. By June this had expanded to 1500 beds.
This included some Japanese, who were wounded and taken as POWs on the Island, so it was necessary for the female staff to work with Australian armed guards.
Unfortunately Ethel broke out with a severe case of ‘Tropical Rash’ and was classed as ‘unfit for service’ and so was listed for transport back to the mainland.
On the 15 August 1945 at 0600 hours Ethel and her friend Gwen Jones with 21 patients boarded a Douglas DC3 for the journey home. They arrived at Higgins Air Strip, a base twelve miles from Cape York to refuel, and after an overnight stopover they arrived in Brisbane, and were transported to the Greenslopes Military Hospital.
From here they travelled on to Concord Military Hospital and finally to Heidelberg Military Hospital (115AGH) for final treatment, and from here Ethel was granted 35 days leave.
On returning to the Unit, Ethel worked on the Troop Trains treating the wounded, until finally being discharged on 10 October 1946.