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Parry, Annie Bertha (1886–1959)

by Ian Howie-Willis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Annie Bertha Parry (1886-1959), nurse and health training administrator, was born on 27 July 1886 at Hill End, New South Wales, second surviving child of Scottish parents, Lloyd Davenport Parry, surgeon, and his wife Annie, née McCormack. After her mother died in 1897, Bertha boarded at Abbotsleigh girls' school, Sydney, for seven years and passed the senior public examination in 1903. She worked as a governess to save for her training at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, which she entered as a student nurse in June 1907. She passed the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association's examination in December 1910. After leaving the hospital next June she nursed privately until appointed one of five nurses in the Department of Public Instruction on 19 July 1912.

When World War I broke out Parry joined the Australian Army Nursing Service on 14 November 1914, and sailed for Egypt in the Kyarra on 28 November. She served at No.2 Australian General Hospital in Egypt and returned home in the Themistocles in August 1915. At Scots Church, Melbourne, she married a divorced planter Aubrey Airlie Warden on 10 September. She was appointed matron at Penrith, New South Wales, in 1916 and later in Gippsland, Victoria. In 1918 she undertook postgraduate training at Lane Hospital, San Francisco, United States of America. During the 1919 pneumonic influenza epidemic she took charge of a Red Cross relief depot in the city's Italian slums, then led a party of twelve American nurses sent to care for Inuit (Eskimo) communities in Alaska, some of whom were suffering 90 per cent mortality from influenza. After three months she returned to San Francisco, studied social work briefly, was matron of the Arequipa Sanitorium, then joined the editorial staff of the Nurses' Journal of the Pacific Coast.

Returning to Sydney in 1920, Parry divorced her husband, reverted to her maiden name and nursed privately until appointed first full-time secretary of the St John Ambulance Association in New South Wales in 1921. It prospered under her guidance: she energetically travelled throughout the State organizing first-aid classes and promoting its work to industrial and commercial firms, government agencies, schools and sporting clubs; she wrote a succession of practical first-aid and nursing booklets. She was quick to exploit radio and film for teaching and publicity.

Her innovations occasionally caused problems for the conservative St John leadership in London: the course which she devised in 1923 in emergency childbirth procedures for residents of remote areas was omitted from St John classes for decades as it was considered both unseemly and fraught with possible dangerous medical and legal consequences if non-professionals were taught midwifery. Parry had a special talent for publicity. Much of her success stemmed from a St John fund-raising auxiliary she formed in 1925 into which she enticed people prominent in Sydney society to organize balls, card parties, pageants, and even the making of a profitable film.

Assisted by the St John association, Parry travelled overseas in 1926 to study industrial first-aid in British factories. She worked her passage home as matron to a large group of migrants. On a second visit to Britain in 1932 she studied anti-gas precautions. Returning to Sydney certain that war was coming, she urged State and Federal governments to begin public training in anti-gas measures. In 1939 she became State supervisor of women's training for the National Emergency Services.

Retiring in 1945 Sister Parry worked voluntarily among returned services personnel and the elderly and enjoyed gardening at her Chatswood home. She was appointed commander sister in the Order of St John of Jerusalem and in February 1954 was invested as M.B.E. by the Queen. She died of heart disease on 29 July 1959 at Chatswood and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Howie-Willis, A Century for Australia (Canb, 1983)
  • People (Sydney), 28 July 1954.

Citation details

Ian Howie-Willis, 'Parry, Annie Bertha (1886–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/parry-annie-bertha-7964/text13867, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 31 August 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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