Elizabeth McMillan
Life and Letters 1882-1943


Nurse training for Florence Elizabeth (Betha) McMillan was a far cry from her previous training at Parisian art schools. The daughter of Sir William McMillan, a prominent political figure in New South Wales, her life changed dramatically when she became one of the first Australian-trained nurses to go to War in 1914.

This book provides a glimpse into the life of an independent woman whose war experience, while terrible, provided an uncomfortable paradox for Betha’s sensitivity, creativity and intelligence. Her letters reveal a unique story of an Australian nurse who, despite the distressing circumstances in hospitals overseas, successfully exercised her creative care and professional skills to help the endless stream of injured survive their trauma for another day.

After the War, Betha trained as a mothercraft nurse in London, where she met Dr Frederic Truby King, founder of New Zealand’s Plunket Society. In 1921 she was the matron of the Plunket Society’s Hospital in New Zealand, before becoming the first matron of Sydney’s Tresillian Mothercraft Home and then founding director of the Australian Mothercraft Society. Today’s mothers and babies are still supported by that organisation, now known as Karitane.

Loss is a personal theme throughout Betha’s life, but through nursing she gained independence and agency. Her letters are a wonderful insight into the thoughts of women in war and have been carefully interpreted by Clare Ashton.

About the author

Clare trained as a nurse and midwife in New Zealand hospitals before setting off to discover something of her English heritage and nursing on ships taking European migrants to Australia. She started academic studies in the 1970s, completing degrees in business, information systems and public health while involved in organisations working to conserve the built and natural environments. Clare is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, dividing her time between Sydney and her garden on the remote West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

ISBN 9780648835011 Category