Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kathleen Hope Barnes (1909–1981)

by Melanie Oppenheimer

This article was published:

Kathleen Hope Barnes (1909-1981), nurse, was born on 19 May 1909 at Cottesloe, Perth, fifth daughter of James Barnes, an Irish-born storekeeper, and his wife Agnes Kirkwood Burns, née Patrick, who came from Scotland. Educated at Methodist Ladies’ College, Kathleen was head prefect in 1925. She commenced her nursing training at the Children’s Hospital in July 1928 and graduated as a general nurse in February 1932.

On 20 December 1939 Barnes joined the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force. The army recorded that she had blue eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. Posted to the 2/2nd Australian General Hospital as a staff nurse, she embarked for the Middle East in April 1940. She served at Gaza Ridge and Nazareth, Palestine, where she was seconded to a British hospital. Later rejoining the 2/2nd at Kantara, Egypt, she nursed casualties from the fighting in Greece, Crete and North Africa. From October 1941 to January 1942 she was attached to the 2/4th Field Ambulance at Tripoli, Syria. She returned to Australia in March and initially worked at the 109th AGH, Adelaide.

Sent to Port Moresby in October 1942, Barnes served with the 105th Casualty Clearing Station. A talented and experienced nurse, she was appointed lieutenant in March 1943 and promoted to captain in August. In February 1945 she took charge of the nursing contingent at Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. For her `outstanding devotion to duty and solicitude for soldiers’ she was appointed (1947) an associate of the Royal Red Cross. She was also mentioned in despatches.

Back in Australia in September 1945, Barnes worked at the 110th Military Hospital, Perth. After five years of continuous active service, she was placed on the Reserve of Officers on 27 March 1946. She was a prominent member of Western Australian war-nursing organisations, including the returned sisters’ sub-branch of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. Treasurer of the War Nurses’ Memorial Association from its formation in 1958 until her death, she was involved (from 1979) in the establishment of the war nurses’ gallery in the Army Museum of Western Australia.

From 1947 the Silver Chain District and Bush Nursing Association employed Barnes as a district nurse. Within a year she was made assistant-superintendent and supervisor of the Cottage Homes. The Alfred Carson Hospital was added to her responsibilities in 1950 and in 1955 she was appointed metropolitan nursing superintendent. Under her guidance, the organisation grew substantially. In July 1965 she resigned after a disagreement with management. Known for her leadership qualities and ability to inspire those around her, she had been appointed MBE in 1963 for her `outstanding and meritorious service in the nursing profession, both in wartime and in peace’ and was invested by Queen Elizabeth II during a royal visit to Perth. That year she was made a fellow of the College of Nursing, Australia. Unmarried, she died on 4 July 1981 at her Nedlands home and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Stewart, Little but Great (1965)
  • R. Goodman, Our War Nurses (1988)
  • Silver Chain District and Bush Nursing Association (Western Australia), Annual Report, 1948-65
  • West Australian, 1 Jan 1963, p 8, 27 Mar 1963, p 24, 3 July 1965, p 22
  • Listening Post (Perth), Spring 1981, p 43
  • Premier’s Dept (Western Australia), AN 2/10 Acc 1704, box 1, file 335/61 (State Records, Western Australia)
  • series B883, item WX1543 (National Archives of Australia)
  • War Nurses Memorial Association (Western Australia) records (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Melanie Oppenheimer, 'Barnes, Kathleen Hope (1909–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 May, 1909
Cottesloe, Perth, Western Australia, Australia


4 July, 1981 (aged 72)
Nedlands, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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