Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cashin, Alice Alanna (1870–1939)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Alice Alanna Cashin (1870-1939), by unknown photographer, c1915

Alice Alanna Cashin (1870-1939), by unknown photographer, c1915

Australian War Memorial, P03896.001

Alice Alanna Cashin (1870-1939), army nurse, was born on 26 March 1870 at Londsdale Street, Melbourne, daughter of Richard Cashin, a boot and shoe manufacturer from Sydney, and his Melbourne-born, second wife Catherine, née Meehan, who died in 1871. By 1880, with Alice and her older half-brother, Richard had moved to Sydney, and that year he remarried; the family, which soon included two more daughters, lived at Redfern.

Educated at a 'ladies private college' in Sydney, Alice trained for three years from October 1893 at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and stayed on as a certificated nurse to January 1897, then entered private nursing. She lived at the nurses' home, Dowling Street, Moore Park, and on 30 July 1901 joined the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association. Nurse Cashin left Australia in 1909 for London, where she studied massage and obtained a diploma of the International School of Therapeutic Massage. She intended to return home in 1914 but in the early months of World War I nursed in the general hospital at Calais, France. As Alice Eleanor Cashin she joined Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve on 19 July 1915. She took charge of a large surgical ward in the general hospital at Ras-el-din in Egypt.

Twice mentioned in dispatches, including a special mention from Sir Archibald Murray, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, in January 1917 Sister Cashin was awarded the Royal Red Cross. From June 1916 she was matron of the hospital ship Gloucester Castle, which was torpedoed without warning by a German U-boat in the English Channel on 30 March 1917. In her later account, now held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, she described how, having 'secured my crucifix, prayerbook and the cape that had been given me by Her Majesty Queen Alexandra', she had checked that all her sisters and the wounded were safe before she took to the boats. She was awarded a bar to the R.R.C., becoming the first Australian to receive this honour. A commendation noted that she 'showed an example of coolness & devotion to duty, and rendered invaluable service'. She also received the French Croix de Guerre. From 7 May 1917 Matron Cashin had charge of the 400-bed military hospital at Whittington barracks, Lichfield, England, where she was much loved by the patients. On leaving in July 1919 she was showered with daisies gathered by 'her boys'. She embarked to return to Australia in the Morea on 18 October.

Although Cashin was a much-decorated Australian nurse, because her service was with the Q.A.I.M.N.S. the details of her career were little known. Photographs of her displaying her medals, in uniform with a starched, matron's veil, showed a cheerful face, slightly hooded eyes and hair rolled up on her head. She described herself as 'a heavy woman'.

Back in Sydney, Cashin wrote 'The torpedoing of H.M.H.S. Gloucester Castle' for the Australasian Nurses' Journal (March 1920). She nursed her aged father then worked as a saleswoman. Miss Cashin died of chronic nephritis on 4 November 1939 in her home at Marrickville and was buried in Woronora cemetery after a requiem mass at St Bridget's Catholic Church, Marrickville.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Goodman, Our War Nurses (Brisb, 1988)
  • Australasian Nurses’ Journal, 15 June 1917, p 226, Feb 1920, p 38
  • Times (London), 2 Jan 1917, p 2
  • 14 Apr 1917, p 6
  • 7 Sept 1918, p 4
  • Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 9 Aug 1917, p 22, 15 May 1919, p 18
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Feb 1920, p 9
  • personal file, WO399/1386 (National Archives of the United Kingdom)
  • MT1487/1, item CASHIN AE and A2489, item 1920/1515 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Australasian Trained Nurses’ Association register, 1907 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Cashin, Alice Alanna (1870–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cashin-alice-alanna-12842/text23183, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 30 August 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Alice Alanna Cashin (1870-1939), by unknown photographer, c1915

Alice Alanna Cashin (1870-1939), by unknown photographer, c1915

Australian War Memorial, P03896.001