Home' Independence : Independence Vol 43 No 1 May 2018 Contents 32 INDEPENDENCE VOL 43 NO 1 MAY 2018
AMONG the alumni of MLC School, one
WWI story stands out -- that of Elsie
Cook (nee Sheppard). Perhaps because
of her marriage to Syd Cook, son of
Australia's sixth Prime Minister, Joseph
Cook, and perhaps because Syd and
Elsie served together in Europe during
the war, their story has received wide
publicity. It has been immortalised in
Thomas Keneally's The Daughters of
Mars and the Shift Theatre's The Girls in
Grey; and, in the most comprehensive
account, in Peter Rees' book The Other
Anzacs. Rees' book also formed the basis
for the ABC mini-series Anzac Girls,
which tells the stories of six Australian
nurses serving at Gallipoli and the
Western Front, one of whom was Elsie.
Baulkham Hills, Parramatta, (Source:
Trove, Wedding Announcements) had
been engaged to Elsie Sheppard for a
few months when his father declared
the colonials would throw their support
behind Mother England and go to war.
The couple quickly married, enlisted
and set off on transport ships to Egypt.
Syd left first, as an officer, and then
Elsie, who joined the Australian Army
Nursing Service (AANS) under her
maiden name to get around a rule
requiring nurses to be single. She
enlisted on 5 February 1916 at Cairo,
Egypt, aged 24 years.
Syd was shot in the leg at the Gallipoli
landing on 25 April 1915. He recovered
and, still walking with a limp, he led
a battalion into the Battle of Lone
Pine, where he was shot in the head.
Incredibly, he survived. Elsie transferred
to Syd's ward to be at his bedside.
The grim realities of War are evident
in diaries kept by Elsie, which are
displayed at the Australian War
Memorial in Canberra. In the beginning,
her diaries looked for beauty and hope
amid the horror of war.
On 1 January 1915, she wrote:
New Year's Day dawned ... a
gloriously moonlit morning, calm and
beautiful, everyone bright and happy,
and so begins 1915. It seems a good
Over time, however, her entries became
shorter as conditions became harsher,
the intensity of work overwhelming,
and the reality of how few nurses there
were to meet the needs of hundreds of
wounded and dying became obvious.
Just five months later, as the wounded
trickled back from the failed Gallipoli
landing, Elsie wrote:
Hundreds of Australian wounded back
from the landing at the Dardanelles.
Frightfully busy, getting off their
bandages and dirty blood-stained
clothes, washing them, the wounds
to be dressed. Some had not been
touched for days. We have got 700
badly wounded men and six sisters
The following article is based on archival material supplied by MLC
School, Sydney, NSW. Thank you to Barbara Hoffman, MLC School
Archivist, for collating this material.
LEST WE FORGET -- WOMEN AT WAR MLC NSW SCHOOL ARCHIVES
Elsie Sheppard, born 1890, enrolled
at MLC School (then called Burwood
Ladies' College) on the 31st of January,
1905, at the age of 15. Her father
was Michael Sheppard, the Mayor of
Burwood in 1902, and the family lived
in 'Kassala' on Comer Street, Burwood,
just east of MLC School, now part of the
campus of the Southern Cross Catholic
Her sisters Iberia and Leila Sheppard
also attended MLC School, while their
brother, Harold Sheppard, attended the
school for a few years from 1906 at a
time when boys attended the nursery
and junior years.
After completing her Leaving Certificate
in 1907 at MLC School, Elsie went to
the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where
she did her nursing training, finishing in
1914 just as the War broke.
On 31 December 1914, she wrote in her
What an eventful year! My
engagement, marriage (19 September
1914), finishing my training and old
life at Prince Alfred Hospital, the
outbreak of the Great War, my joining
the Army Nursing Service and leaving
home and Australia for the first time.
Lieutenant George Sydney (Syd) Cook,
eldest son of Australia's sixth prime
minister, Joseph Cook, of 'Koro-Vo',
SYD and Elsie Cook during
their time serving in WWI.
Australian War Memorial
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