Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jean Nellie Miles Walker (1878–1918)

by Jan Bassett

This article was published:

Jean Nellie Miles Walker (1878-1918), nursing sister and army matron, was born on 16 November 1878 at Port Sorell, Tasmania, daughter of Alfred Miles Walker, farmer, and his wife Louisa Mary Glover, née Wilkinson. Privately educated until 1893, she enrolled at the Collegiate School, Hobart, then trained at Hobart General Hospital in 1903-06. Having stayed on as staff nurse and later sister, in 1908 she entered private nursing. In early 1913 she completed six months training in obstetrical nursing at the Women's Hospital, Melbourne, following which she served as matron of private hospitals at Tallangatta, Victoria, and Darlinghurst, Sydney.

Joining the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve in 1906 and becoming principal matron in 1909 of the 6th Military District (Tasmania), Miles-Walker (as she sometimes styled herself) was one of twenty-five nurses who sailed for Egypt with the Australian Imperial Force in November 1914. After several weeks with the British in Alexandria, she joined her own unit, the 2nd Australian General Hospital, at Mena House, Cairo. During the first rush of wounded from Gallipoli she took charge at Mena House while the matron was at the Ghezireh Palace Hotel, also run by the 2nd A.G.H. 'Never Matron had better assistance', Ellen Gould later wrote of Jean and her counterpart at Ghezireh. From September 1915 to January 1916 Sister Walker worked in the British hospital ship Gascon which carried patients from Anzac Cove, Cape Helles, Mudros and Salonika to Malta, Gibraltar, England and Egypt. She was next attached as temporary matron to the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital at Ismailia, Egypt, where wounded from the battle of Romani were treated.

When the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital opened at Dartford, England, in October 1916, she had been promoted matron. In the following July she became matron with the A.A.N.S. staff of the 5th British Stationary Hospital at Dieppe, France; from September 1917 to April 1918 she acted as matron of the 3rd A.G.H. at Abbeville, replacing Grace Wilson. While the allies retreated towards Amiens in April, the hospital was used as a casualty clearing station: its remaining twenty-four nurses cared for some 1800 patients—many of whom were badly wounded—as bombs fell in the area. After a further term at Dieppe, Matron Walker went to London and on 19 October was attached to the 2nd A.A.H. at Southall. When working in the 1st Group Clearing Hospital at Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, she fell ill during the Spanish influenza epidemic.

Jean, who had never married, died of influenza on 30 October 1918 in the British military hospital, Sutton Veny, and was buried in the graveyard of nearby St John's Church. She had been mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Royal Red Cross (1st class) in 1916.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Tilton, The Grey Battalion (Syd, 1934)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vols 1-3 (Melb, 1938, Canb, 1940, 1943)
  • Australasian Trained Nurses' Association Register of Members, 1916
  • London Gazette, 1, 29 Dec 1916
  • Collegiate School Magazine, Dec 1916, p 10, Dec 1918, p 2
  • Australasian Nurses' Journal, 15 Jan 1917, p 7, 15 Mar 1918, p 88, 15 Mar 1919, p 75
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Dec 1918
  • Butler papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • honours and awards, 1914-18 war, Australian Army (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jan Bassett, 'Walker, Jean Nellie Miles (1878–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Miles-Walker, Jean Nellie

16 November, 1878
Port Sorell, Tasmania, Australia


30 October, 1918 (aged 39)
Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, England

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.