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Corkhill, Elizabeth Pearl (1887–1985)

by Richard E. Reid

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Elizabeth Pearl Corkhill (1887-1985), nurse, was born on 11 March 1887 at Tilba Tilba, New South Wales, second of three children of William Henry Corkhill, grazier, cheesemaker and photographer, and his wife Frances Hawtrey, née Bate. Samuel Bate was her great-grandfather. Pearl grew up on her father’s property, Marengo, received her early education from a governess and later attended Tilba Tilba Public School. After training at Burilda private hospital, Summer Hill, Sydney, she graduated as a general nurse in 1914. On 4 June 1915 she joined the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, as a staff nurse. She was 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, with grey eyes and brown hair.

Posted to the 1st Australian General Hospital, Corkhill arrived in Egypt in July 1915. From August to January 1916 she was at the Choubra Military Infectious Hospital, where she tended sick troops from the Gallipoli campaign. Reaching France in April, she served at the 2nd British General Hospital, Le Havre. A notable occasion for her was the AIF’s first celebration of Anzac Day. To mark the event she and two other Australian nurses wore green gum leaves with the inscription ‘Dardanelles 1915’. She rejoined the 1st AGH at Rouen in June 1916.

In June-August 1918 Corkhill was attached to the 38th British Casualty Clearing Station, near Abbeville. On one night in July the CCS suffered an air raid during which Corkhill ‘continued to attend to the wounded without any regard for her own safety’. For her ‘courage and devotion’ she was awarded the Military Medal, becoming one of only seven Australian nurses to receive that award during World War I. Her only comment was that she would have to face ‘old George and Mary [King George V and Queen Mary] to get the medal’ and that it would cost her a new mess dress as her old one was worn out. Transferred to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield, London, in August, she was promoted to sister in October.

Corkhill returned to Australia in March 1919 and her AANS appointment terminated on 22 June. She held various private nursing positions both in Australia and overseas until, in 1951, she was appointed as senior sister at Bega District Hospital, New South Wales. In 1961 Sister Corkhill, as she was always known, retired to Akolele, overlooking Wallaga Lake. Greatly respected in the district, she was often asked to preside at local occasions. A skilful horsewoman, she also led the parade for the centenary of the Cooma Show in 1975.

A major achievement of Corkhill’s old age was the donation to the National Library of Australia of about one thousand glass plate negatives of photographs taken by her father in the Tilba Tilba area between 1890 and 1910. Apart from family photos, William Corkhill’s images documented with astonishing clarity the people and the social and economic life of this remote dairying area. The library was able to print some 840 of the plates and in 1976 produced an engagement calendar, Coast and Country, using fifty-three of them. In 1983 the library published Taken at Tilba, a selection of seventy-eight of these photographs. Pearl Corkhill’s knowledge of the history and people of Tilba Tilba assisted greatly with the captioning of the collection and she took much satisfaction in knowing that her family had added to the nation’s historic collections.

Corkhill died on 4 December 1985 at Dalmeny and was buried with Anglican rites in Narooma cemetery. She had never married. Her MM and other service medals are held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Goodman, Our War Nurses (1988)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Apr 1984, p 7
  • series B2455, item Corkhill P E (National Archives of Australia)
  • PR88/165 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Richard E. Reid, 'Corkhill, Elizabeth Pearl (1887–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/corkhill-elizabeth-pearl-12358/text22203, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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