Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pratt, Rachel (1874–1954)

by Merrilyn Lincoln

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

Rachel Pratt (1874-1954), army nurse, was born on 18 July 1874 at Mumbannar, near Heywood, Victoria, ninth child of William Pratt, farmer, and his wife Phoebe, née Ward, both from Leicestershire, England. Educated at Mumbannar State School she lived after her parents' deaths with a brother. On 18 January 1909, stating her age as 31, she began nursing training at Ballarat Hospital and received her certificate of competency in August 1912. By October she was on the staff of the (Royal) Women's Hospital, Melbourne, and remained there until 1915 when, on 10 May, she enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, as a staff nurse.

Posted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital, Pratt embarked for England on 18 May but in August was sent to Lemnos when the hospital was transferred there. Equipment for the unit had not yet arrived and Pratt recalled a 'state of chaos' when the wounded began to arrive from Gallipoli. Under the command of Colonel T. H. Fiaschi No.3 A.G.H. was soon functioning busily. One of Sister Pratt's early experiences was to dress the wounds of four Turkish prisoners—under armed guard. Dysentery was a scourge on the island and when winter came the hospital took in many patients suffering from frost-bite and gangrene. Despite the difficult conditions the hospital had only a 2 per cent mortality rate. When word came that Gallipoli was to be evacuated in December, No.3 A.G.H. was enlarged to accommodate more than 1000 patients and everything was in readiness to receive a heavy flow of wounded. The evacuation was, however, effected without casualties.

No.3 A.G.H. was transferred to Abbassia, Egypt, where Pratt worked until 25 September 1916; she was then posted to the 1st A.G.H. in England. Crossing to France on 11 April 1917 she was attached to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul where, on 4 July during an air raid, she was severely wounded when shrapnel from a bomb lodged in her lung. For her courage and gallantry during the raid Pratt was promoted sister next day and awarded the Military Medal, thus becoming one of only seven Australian nurses to win this award for 'bravery under fire'. After a period in hospital in England she was posted to the 2nd Australian Convalescent Depot at Weymouth in October and then served with the 1st and 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospitals in England. She returned to Melbourne in October 1918 and was discharged from the A.I.F. on 13 April 1919. As a result of her war service she suffered from chronic bronchitis.

In 1927 Rachel Pratt established, in partnership, a rest-home at East Malvern, Melbourne. The home was sold in the mid-1930s and in 1937 Pratt went to England for a holiday. On returning to Melbourne she lived for a time at a hotel, and, despite invitations from her family to return to Mumbannar, chose to 'paddle her own canoe'. After living at East Malvern she eventually bought a house at Upwey, and lived there until her death in the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, on 23 March 1954. She was cremated with Anglican rites.

Rachel Pratt's relations remember her fondly as 'a most charming lady, well-spoken and highly regarded by all those who came under her care'. A photograph shows a tall, dark-haired woman with an oval face, regular features and a gentle, somewhat wistful expression. Her Military Medal is on display in the Hall of Valour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914-18, vol 3 (Canb, 1943)
  • London Gazette, 16 Oct 1917
  • Australasian Nurses' Journal, 15 Dec 1917
  • Reveille (Sydney), Aug 1933
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 July 1919
  • nursing records, Ballarat Base Hospital, Victoria, and Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne
  • nominal roll, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • embarkation rolls, 3rd AGH, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Pratt, Rachel (1874–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pratt-rachel-8099/text14137, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 27 August 2014.

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

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