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Margaret Irene Lang (1893–1983)

by Margaret Hine

This article was published:

Margaret Irene Lang (1893-1983), nursing sister and air force matron-in-chief, was born on 23 May 1893 at Oxley, Victoria, daughter of Victorian-born parents John Douglas Lang, miner, and his wife Annie, née Martin.  Following her education at Castlemaine and Creswick state schools and Creswick Grammar School, Margaret trained as a nurse at Wangaratta Hospital in 1912-15 and then joined the staff at Stawell Hospital.  After six months she was appointed matron but she resigned to join the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, on 25 May 1917.

Arriving at Suez in July 1917, Lang left six days later for Salonika (Thessaloniki), where she served in British hospitals with about three hundred other Australian nurses.  She sailed for England in February 1919 and took four months’ leave to study domestic science at the South-Western Polytechnic Institute, Chelsea, London.  In September she returned to Australia and, having been promoted to the rank of sister, was discharged from the AIF on 17 January 1920.

Lang resumed civilian nursing duties in Victoria, serving successively as matron of St Arnaud District Hospital and the Talbot Colony for Epileptics at Clayton, Melbourne.  She had a second term as matron of Stawell Hospital from 1924 to 1938, when she became matron of the Victoria Police Hospital, Melbourne.  There she met (Sir) Victor Hurley who 'knew her to be quiet, dignified and full of common sense'.  As director of medical services of the Royal Australian Air Force, Hurley secured her appointment as first matron-in-chief of the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service on 29 July 1940.

Attached to the Directorate of Medical Services at RAAF Headquarters, Lang was responsible for the organisation and development of the RAAFNS, and for advising the director general on all matters relating to nursing in hospitals, sick quarters and medical rehabilitation facilities, and on the appointments, postings, promotions and discharges of RAAF nurses.  During the formative period of the RAAFNS, Lang travelled to each State to interview and select nurses for the fledgling organisation.  She was assisted in this task by the principal nursing officers who were her representatives in each State.

At its peak, the RAAFNS had 616 nurses who were posted throughout Australia and the South-West Pacific Area.  Lang visited and inspected the nursing staff at RAAF hospitals, sick quarters, medical receiving stations and rehabilitation units.  She became well known for her untiring efforts not only for the welfare of her nursing staff, but also for the patients.  For her outstanding administration she was appointed OBE in 1950.

On the termination of her appointment from the RAAFNS on 15 November 1946, Lang was placed on the Retired List and went back to the Victoria Police Hospital.  Next she became supervisor at Airdrie, a home for retired nurses, at Canterbury, Melbourne, where she later spent her retirement.  She was active in the Returned Army Nurses’ Club, the Edith Cavell Trust and the Florence Nightingale War Nurses Trust.  Margaret Lang died on 14 February 1983 at Canterbury and was cremated.  She was remembered as 'a small neat woman with a brisk step and a ready smile', who was noted for her dedication and ability to inspire her nurses.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Medical Services of the R.A.N. and R.A.A.F., 1961
  • G. Halstead, Story of the RAAF Nursing Service: 1940-1990, 1994
  • B2455, item Lang Margaret Irene and A9300, item Lang M I (National Archives of Australia)

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Margaret Hine, 'Lang, Margaret Irene (1893–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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