Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Doig, Edna Nell (1915–1988)

by Janette Bomford

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

Edna Nell Doig (1915-1988), army matron-in-chief, was born on 21 June 1915 at West End, Brisbane, youngest of three children of Joseph Lindsay Doig, labourer, and his wife Jessie Margaret, née Clark, both Brisbane born. Although a Presbyterian, Edna was educated at All Hallows’ convent school. In 1937 she completed her general nursing training at Brisbane General Hospital.

Joining the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, as a staff nurse on 15 December 1939, Doig embarked for the Middle East in May 1940 but the convoy was diverted to Britain. She was sent to the 2/3rd Australian General Hospital at Godalming, Surrey, which was in the path of German bombers attacking London during the Blitz, and she later recalled the difficulty of sweeping floors while wearing outsized ‘tin’ helmets.

Doig arrived at the 2/2nd AGH at Kantara, Egypt, in December 1940. She was promoted to sister, group I, in December 1941. Returning to Australia with her unit in March 1942, she served in Queensland at Watten and on the Atherton Tableland. She was appointed as a lieutenant in March 1943 and promoted to captain in August. Her fondest memory of her nursing career was repatriating Australian prisoners of war from Singapore in September-November 1945 with the 2/14th AGH.

From 1946 to 1949 Doig served in Japan as deputy-matron of the 130th AGH, nursing Australian members of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force and their families. Back in Australia, she transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 23 April 1949. She trained in midwifery at the Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, and in infant welfare at the Berry Street Foundling Hospital, East Melbourne, before working at the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg.

On 3 December 1951 Doig ‘surprised herself’ by joining the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps, Australian Regular Army, as a major. Her first appointment was matron of the 1st Camp Hospital, Yeronga, Brisbane. Her experience and skills ensured rapid promotion. Rising to temporary lieutenant colonel in May 1956 (substantive August 1960), she was assistant-director, army nursing service, of Northern Command, Southern Command and Eastern Command successively. In 1959 she gained a diploma in nursing administration at the College of Nursing, Australia. Succeeding Ethel Bowe, she became matron-in-chief and director, army nursing service, on 23 May 1961 with the rank of honorary colonel. That year she was made honorary nursing sister to Queen Elizabeth II. Appointed an associate of the Royal Red Cross in 1953, she was elevated to member in 1963 for her ‘outstanding ability as an administrator’ and for being ‘devoted and untiring in her efforts’ as a nurse. In November 1964 she was promoted to colonel. On overseas duty tours she travelled widely, visiting seven countries in 1967 and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) three times. On 21 June 1970 she retired.

Five ft 1 in. (155 cm) tall, of medium complexion with brown hair and green eyes, ‘Teddy’ was praised in a citation for her ‘tact and devotion to duty’, while her sound judgment, dignity and friendliness won the affection of those with whom she served. In retirement she was involved in many returned nurses’ and ex-service organisations; she was president of the Returned Nurses’ Club, Melbourne (1973-76), and the returned sisters’ sub-branch of the Returned Services League of Australia (from 1987). She had been awarded the Florence Nightingale medal and elected a fellow of the College of Nursing, Australia. She died on 24 November 1988 at Manly, Queensland, and was cremated. The Colonel Edna Doig Memorial Trust Fund contributes to cancer research.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Goodman, Queensland Nurses (1985)
  • J. Bassett, Guns and Brooches (1992)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 May 1961, p 17, 20 June 1970, p 2
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 21 May 1970, p 14
  • J. Bassett, taped interview with E. N. Doig (1986, Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Janette Bomford, 'Doig, Edna Nell (1915–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/doig-edna-nell-12428/text22345, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 16 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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