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Hateley, Martha Madge (1906–1950)

by Helen Boxall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Martha Madge Hateley (1906-1950), air force matron, was born on 13 May 1906 at Murtoa, Victoria, eldest of six children of native-born parents Harry Charles Hector Hateley, farmer, and his wife Ethel, née Woodland. Educated at Murtoa State School, Madge helped on her parents' farm and was prominent in local community life. During the Depression she trained as a nurse at Horsham Base Hospital, then studied midwifery at Ballarat Base Hospital.

Following the outbreak of World War II, in June 1940 the minister for air J. V. Fairbairn approved the formation of the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service. It was to comprise 616 nurses by December 1945. Hateley applied for entry in September 1940 and was appointed staff nurse on 21 October 1941. She served at No.2 R.A.A.F. Hospital, Ascot Vale, Melbourne, before transferring to No.1 R.A.A.F. Hospital, Laverton (later relocated at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales). Promoted sister, group II, on 1 April 1942, she joined No.1 Medical Receiving Station, Daly Waters, Northern Territory, on 6 May. She assisted in major operations performed by the mobile surgical unit; by the end of that month she had helped to care for 131 patients, among them Australian and American armed forces personnel, and Aboriginal and White civilians. In September the station was moved to a new site at Coomalie Creek where canvas marquees were used until new wards were built of bush timber and iron.

Japanese bombers attacked nearby Batchelor in October and the Coomalie airstrip (adjacent to the medical receiving station) in November. The nurses had been ordered to dye their white uniforms in tea to produce a drab colour for camouflage. Heat, insects and electrical storms added to the miserable conditions of the North-Western Area, but the nurses found some relief by occasionally visiting an open-air picture theatre or by attending dances in Darwin, 50 miles (80 km) to the north: due to the scarcity of women as partners, they were on their feet for most of the night. In August 1943 Hateley returned to No.2 R.A.A.F. Hospital where, as senior sister (from 1 December 1944), she had charge of the isolation block. She was posted to No.4 R.A.A.F. Hospital, East Sale, Victoria, in April 1946 and to No.3 R.A.A.F. Hospital, Concord, Sydney, in August. Promoted temporary matron in January 1947, she became provisional matron in September 1948.

Matron Hateley was of slender build and middle height, with fair hair and slightly angular features. Her appearance was immaculate. In 1945 she had been appointed an associate of the Royal Red Cross for her 'outstanding service' in working 'tirelessly and with the utmost cheerfulness' under trying circumstances. Next year she attended Government House, Melbourne, for the investiture. On 12 August 1949 in Sydney her air force appointment was terminated because of ill health. She died of cancer on 11 June 1950 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. Her sister Doris served as an army nurse before working in infant welfare.

Select Bibliography

  • They Wrote it Themselves (Melb, 1946)
  • AWM 64 item 53/3, AWM 137 item 2.1 and 2.6, AWM 88 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Boxall, 'Hateley, Martha Madge (1906–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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