Catherine ‘Kitty’ McNaughton, 1884-1953
Catherine (known as Kitty) was born in 1884 into one of the earlier white settler families of the Little River district, the daughter of John and Anne McNaughton
From 1909 – 1912 Kitty trained as a nurse at Geelong Infirmary and Benevolent Asylum and later worked as a private nurse and then at Bairnsdale Hospital.
Nurses were the only Australian women officially permitted to serve overseas during the First World War and Kitty enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service in June 1915. She embarked for Active Service on the ‘Orsova’ on July 17, arriving in Egypt in time to nurse the flood of wounded from the August offensive on Gallipoli.
It was the aim of all our nurses to serve their “boys” as close as possible to the front. After a month at No.2 Australian General Hospital (2AGH) in the converted Ghezireh Palace Hotel in Cairo, Sister McNaughton volunteered for service on the Greek island of Lemnos off the coast of Gallipoli. Here, she served for 4 months in a hospital camp at No. 2 Australian Stationary Hospital. She and her fellow nurses proved their worth in the normally male-only camps, despite inadequate food, clothing, shelter, a heavy work load and disease.
After the evacuation of Gallipoli, Kit returned to her original hospital placement at Ghezirah Palace, Egypt, before embarking for the Western Front in March 1916. In Marseilles she nursed quarantined soldiers as the troops streamed through the port on the way to the front. In June 1916 she was sent to Wimereux near Boulogne, to reinforce No. 8 (British) Stationary Hospital in time for the operation on the Somme.
For her work nursing severely wounded German prisoners from these battles, Sister McNaughton was mentioned in Despatches by Sir Douglas Haig “for distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty”
In August 1917 Kit was sent to No.2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station at Trois Arbres near Steenwercke on the Belgian border. Here, just over 6 km from the front line, with shells passing over the hospital, she took charge of the operating theatres during Paschendale.
Retained in England after leave in January 1918 Kitty served in No.3 Australian Auxilliary Hospital in Kent until August and was then transferred as Theatre Sister to the Queen’s Hospital, Sidup. Plastic surgery was being pioneered at this hospital and Kitty became the first nurse in the Australian Surgical Section.
Kitty McNaughton returned to Australia as Sister-in-Charge of the hospital section of the troopship ‘Wiltshire’. In the Peace Despatch, announced as she travelled, she was awarded nursing’s highest honour: the Royal Red Cross First Class.
She arrived in Melbourne in August 1919, her health affected like so many of the nurses, after four years of almost uninterrupted service.
Kit married Little River farmer Joseph Ryan in 1921 and they raised 3 children.
She never missed an ANZAC Day Service until late in life.
Kit retired to Werribee in 1946 and died in 1953 at the age of 69.