Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kathleen Patricia (Kath) Bonnin (1911–1985)

by Ruth Rae

This article was published:

Kathleen Patricia (Kath) Bonnin (1911-1985), army nurse, was born on 17 March 1911 at Hindmarsh, Adelaide, second of seven surviving children of Australian-born parents James Atkinson Bonnin, medical practitioner, and his wife Winifred, née Turpin, a trained nurse. Kath was educated at Creveen School, North Adelaide. Four of her five brothers were to become medical practitioners, but while she expressed a desire to also enter the medical profession, it was deemed more appropriate that she train as a nurse.

Completing her training at Ru Rua Private Hospital, North Adelaide, Bonnin qualified as a registered nurse in 1936. Soon afterwards she travelled to London, where she attended a midwifery course at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital, becoming a registered midwife in January 1938. As a double-certificated sister, she returned to Australia and joined the staff of Australian National Airways Pty Ltd as an air hostess.

On 15 July 1940 Bonnin began full-time duty as a sister in the Australian Army Nursing Service. She was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force on 12 August. Initially stationed at the 52nd Camp Hospital, Wayville, Adelaide, she sailed for the Middle East in February 1941 with the 2/7th Australian General Hospital. She was attached to the 2/1st AGH at Gaza Ridge, Palestine, in March-May and later assigned to transport duties. In December she was made sister, group I. She served with the 2/11th Field Ambulance at Tripoli, Syria, in April-July 1942 before rejoining the 2/7th AGH at Buseili, Egypt, where she nursed casualties from the battle of El Alamein. A senior sister from December, she attained the rank of captain in March 1943.

Back in Australia in February 1943, Bonnin was sent to Port Moresby in October. Her unit moved to Lae in February 1944. She worked tirelessly and cheerfully, observing that `the boys were so glad to see us, and so grateful for what we did, that no one minded working long hours’. The nurses needed to retain a sense of humour, especially when they received `visits from all sorts of creatures, including rats, centipedes, and spiders’. Bonnin found that living under such conditions created `a spirit of camaraderie and friendship’ that more than compensated for `the loss of the comforts and amenities of a more civilized existence’. She was admitted to hospital a number of times after she acquired sandfly fever in the Middle East and dengue fever in New Guinea.

In December 1944 Bonnin returned to Australia and joined the 105th Military Hospital, Adelaide. She was awarded the Associate Royal Red Cross (1945) for her `devotion to duty and outstanding ability’ and was mentioned in despatches. When hostilities ceased, she was posted to the 2/14th AGH and sent to Singapore to nurse returning prisoners of war. She transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 10 January 1946. That year she represented South Australian army nurses at the Victory March in London.

Becoming a senior sister (1947-64) in the cardiac unit at Royal Adelaide Hospital, Bonnin developed an expertise in interpreting electrocardiographs. One of her lifelong pleasures was fishing and she reputedly had a high level of success in the sport. Suffering from multiple sclerosis, she died on 14 September 1985 in North Adelaide, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • South Australian Trained Nurses’ Centenary Committee, Nursing in South Australia (1946?)
  • R. Goodman, Our War Nurses (1988)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 Sept 1985, p 11
  • series B883, item SFX500278 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ruth Rae, 'Bonnin, Kathleen Patricia (Kath) (1911–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 April 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]


17 March, 1911
Hindmarsh, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


14 September, 1985 (aged 74)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.