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Shippen, Elizabeth Frances (1894–1982)

by Ruth Rae

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

Elizabeth Frances Shippen (1894-1982), matron and army nurse, was born on 24 November 1894 at Collingwood, Melbourne, second of four daughters of London-born William Yeomans John Johns, hat manufacturer, and his Victorian-born wife Jessie McKinley, née Taylor.  In 1921 Frances commenced her nurse training at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, following which she completed a midwifery course at the Women’s Hospital in 1925.  As a double-certificated sister she gained varied nursing experience at the Melbourne Hospital, eventually becoming a tutor sister.  Early in 1940 she took up the appointment as matron of the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, where the sub-standard living conditions of the nurses resulted in her making 'vigorous and forthright' representations on their behalf.

Johns joined the Australian Army Nursing Service on 11 July 1940.  She was a woman of striking determination with a fair complexion and an aura of competence; her leadership skills were apparent and on 18 October 1940 she was appointed matron of the 2/7th Australian General Hospital.  In February 1941 she embarked for the Middle East, where she took charge of the 1200-bed unit at Rehovot, near Jerusalem, Palestine (Israel).  From June her staff nursed casualties from the Syrian campaign and then provided continuous service during the siege of Tobruk, Libya, that lasted until November.  From April 1942 she had the additional role of matron, AIF, in the Middle East.  In mid-year the 2/7th AGH was relocated to Buseili, Egypt, caring for casualties from El Alamein in October and November.  Johns returned to Australia in February 1943.  She was awarded the Royal Red Cross (1st class) in April for 'gallant and distinguished service in the Middle East' and was promoted to major in August.

In October 1943 Johns departed with the 2/7th AGH for Port Moresby, Papua.  At Basu River, near Lae, New Guinea, from February 1944 the hospital nursed casualties from the Huon Peninsula campaign.  Her commitment to the morale of her staff and her co-operative nature earned the respect of personnel from all ranks.  In July-October she was principal matron, New Guinea Force, with the rank of temporary lieutenant colonel.  She returned to Australia in December and on the 20th transferred to the Reserve of Officers, with the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel.  On 19 July 1945 she was mentioned in despatches for 'outstanding devotion to duty in dangerous circumstances'.

On 15 January 1945 Johns resumed her position as matron at the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, where she continued to improve conditions for her nurses.  She promoted nurse education, including postgraduate courses, by appointing the hospital’s first tutor sister in 1950.  Despite chronic nursing shortages, 'her courage, ingenuity and administrative skill' resulted in improvements in nursing services at VEEH.

Following her resignation in early 1953, Johns married John Mitchell Shippen, a widower and grazier, on 21 February at St Mary’s Anglican Church, Caulfield.  Her husband died later that year.  Patroness of the 2/7th AGH Association, she was active in its affairs for many years.  She died on 3 June 1982 at Caulfield and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gardiner, The Eye and Ear (1968)
  • R. Goodman, Our War Nurses (1988)
  • J. Bassett, Guns and Brooches (1992)
  • Sisters records (Royal Melbourne Hospital Archive)
  • B883, item VX47779 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Ruth Rae, 'Shippen, Elizabeth Frances (1894–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/shippen-elizabeth-frances-15487/text26702, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 August 2018.

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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