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Olive Dorothy Paschke (1905–1942)

by Janice McCarthy

This article was published:

Olive Dorothy Paschke (1905-1942), by unknown photographer

Olive Dorothy Paschke (1905-1942), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, P02426.001

Olive Dorothy Paschke (1905-1942), army matron, was born on 19 July 1905 at Dimboola, Victoria, third daughter of Australian-born parents Heinrich Wilhelm Paschke, stock-and-station agent, and his wife Ottilie Emma, née Kreig. Educated at Dimboola State School (where she was a pupil-teacher in 1921), Dorothy helped on her parents' farm, attended the Presbyterian church, and played tennis and golf. In Melbourne in 1930 she began training at the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital for Women and Children and its allied institutions, gaining her nursing certificate in 1934. She also qualified for certificates in midwifery and infectious diseases.

Back at Dimboola, Miss Paschke was matron of Airlie Private Hospital for four years before returning to Melbourne as assistant-matron of the Jessie McPherson Community Hospital. She joined the Australian Army Nursing Service on 23 July 1940 as a staff nurse. In January 1941 she was promoted matron and posted to the 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital. Next month the unit travelled by ship to Singapore and thence by train to Malacca, Malaya. The first Australian troops sent to the area experienced a high incidence of sickness; largely due to the efforts of its matron, the 2nd/10th coped efficiently with the resulting admissions. Paschke was popular with her staff, patients and medical officers. She led by example, often working long hours beside her nurses. In November 1941 she learned that she had been selected for promotion to principal matron, Malaya. On 1 January 1942 she was appointed a member of the Royal Red Cross.

Advancing Japanese troops forced the 2nd/10th A.G.H. to withdraw south. On 13 January Paschke was sent to Singapore where she and two nurses began converting an abandoned school, Oldham Hall, into 'a spotlessly clean 200 bed hospital'. As the number of casualties increased, nearby buildings were requisitioned. By 31 January the 2nd/10th was caring for more than six hundred patients. Throughout this time Paschke's spirit remained undaunted.

Against their wishes, groups of A.A.N.S. personnel were sent back to Australia from 10 February 1942. On the 12th of that month Paschke, Matron Irene Drummond and sixty-three nurses sailed in the ship, Vyner Brooke. The vessel carried some three hundred passengers, mostly women and children. Paschke helped to cook meals, gave instruction in lifeboat drill, distributed life-jackets, and ordered the nurses to prepare dressings and bandages. On the 14th Japanese aircraft bombed and machine-gunned the Vyner Brooke, which sank in Banka Strait. After ensuring that those around her abandoned ship without panic, Paschke jumped overboard and managed to climb into a life-raft in which there were seven nurses and some civilians. Strong currents prevented them from reaching Banka Island. Two nurses and two civilians entered the water and swam to safety on the 15th, but Paschke and the others in the raft were swept out to sea and were presumed to have drowned. She was posthumously awarded (1951) the Florence Nightingale medal.

In 1949 a sundial was placed in the grounds of Dimboola Memorial High School to commemorate Dorothy Paschke. Each year, about Anzac Day, a pupil at that school tells an assembly of students the story of Paschke's life.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Jeffrey, White Coolies (Syd, 1954)
  • C. Kenny, Captives (Brisb, 1986)
  • R. Goodman, Our War Nurses (Brisb, 1988)
  • J. Bassett, Guns and Brooches (Melb, 1992)
  • Dimboola Banner, 2 May 1949
  • Australian Army Nursing Service records (Department of Defence, Canberra)
  • Nurses Board of Victoria records
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Janice McCarthy, 'Paschke, Olive Dorothy (1905–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Olive Dorothy Paschke (1905-1942), by unknown photographer

Olive Dorothy Paschke (1905-1942), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, P02426.001