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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Langham, Jessie Margaret (1902–1988)

by Ruth Rae

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Jessie Margaret Langham (1902-1988), army nurse and hospital matron, was born on 26 March 1902 at Korumburra, Victoria, second child of Victorian-born parents William Smith Langham, grazier, and his wife Catherine, née Clark.  Educated at state schools, Jessie commenced her nurse training at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital in March 1929, winning the C. L. Forrest Trust gold medal for general proficiency.  She undertook post-registration training in midwifery at Queen Victoria Hospital and then went back to the Melbourne Hospital where she was promoted to night superintendent.  In 1935 Langham joined the Australian Inland Mission at Victoria River Downs, Northern Territory.  After two years of remote area nursing, she returned to her training hospital.

Of medium height and fair complexion, with hazel eyes, Langham began full-time service with the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, on 21 May 1940 as a staff nurse but was soon promoted to sister.  Arriving in Britain in July, she worked successively with the 2/3rd Australian General Hospital and the Tidworth Military Hospital, Wiltshire.  She and her colleagues received high praise for their professionalism.  In November 1940 she accompanied the 2/3rd AGH (later reformed as the 2/11th AGH), to the Middle East, where she served at Gaza, Palestine, with the 2/2nd AGH and the 2/1st AGH.  In April 1941 as sister-in-charge of the surgical ward of the 2/11th AGH at Alexandria, Egypt, she cared for wounded soldiers from Greece, Crete and Tobruk, Libya.  Appointed a sister, group 1, in December, she sailed with her unit to Australia when Japan entered World War II.

From May 1942 Langham worked in military hospitals in Queensland.  Given the rank of captain on 23 March 1943, she went to New Guinea in September that year as sister-in-charge of the 2/3rd Casualty Clearing Station based at Finschhafen, where she witnessed the early use of penicillin.  She also saw service with the 2/1st CCS and the 106th CCS, before returning to Australia as assistant to the matron of the 115th Military Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne.  In 1945 she was appointed an associate of the Royal Red Cross ‘for great devotion to duty often in dangerous and difficult circumstances and for outstanding ability’.  Demobilised from the AIF on 21 February 1946, she transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Miss Langham was matron at Warrnambool Base Hospital, Victoria, for two years before becoming matron of Ballarat Base Hospital from 1947 to 1967.  She was actively involved in a number of nursing organisations.  In 1969 she was appointed OBE.  A sense of fun complemented her strong personality and, in Anthea Hyslop’s words, her ‘air of quiet, yet immense, authority’.  One of her greatest pleasures was fishing, a sport in which she reputedly excelled.  Jessie Langham died at Heidelberg on 12 November 1988 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.  The governor of Victoria, Sir Dallas Brooks, had commended her in 1951 as an outstanding matron who had ‘served humanity in peace and war’.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Lofthouse (comp), Who’s Who of Australian Women, 1982
  • A. Hyslop, Sovereign Remedies, 1989
  • B883, item VX8396 (National Archives of Australia))
  • Langham papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information

Citation details

Ruth Rae, 'Langham, Jessie Margaret (1902–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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