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News > From the Archives > Recognising an era of faith and service - The SSA and the St. Martin's War Memorial Hospital

Recognising an era of faith and service - The SSA and the St. Martin's War Memorial Hospital

We have always known that our Sisters created ten schools throughout Queensland and running the Tufnell Orphanage for a time. But our Sisters were also heavily involved in nursing.
St Martins War Memorial Hospital
St Martins War Memorial Hospital

We have always known that our Sisters were responsible for creating ten schools throughout Queensland and for running the Tufnell Orphanage for some time. But our Sisters were also heavily involved in nursing from as early as 1916 when the Brisbane Diocese purchased a building near the cathedral called ‘Pyrmont’ as a Church hospital and placed it in the capable hands of the SSA. This building was demolished in 1919, and a new purpose-built hospital was planned. The foundation stone was laid in 1919 and the St Martin’s War Memorial Hospital was opened on 28 November 1922. It was dedicated to those who had died in the First World War. In 1918, the Sisters were also in charge of the Mary Sumner Maternity Hospital at Highgate Hill but relinquished this role in 1924 to concentrate solely on St Martin’s.

Under the Sisters’ guidance, St Martin’s became a well-known hospital where many of Brisbane’s top doctors operated. It was a small hospital, but many nurses passed through its doors to do their initial nurses’ training. Nearly 20 SSA Sisters were involved in its nearly 50-year history in a wide range of roles – from nursing staff, Matron, housekeeper, telephonist, secretary and general administration. The hospital had four matrons during its history and two of them were SSA Sisters.

The reputation of the hospital and the care given to patients were significant factors in its history. Many Old Girls from St Margaret’s did their initial nurses’ training there.

Sister Faith was appointed Matron in 1926 upon the resignation of Miss Macgregor. Sister Faith was the first sister of the SSA to work professionally as a nurse.

Sister Elisabeth filled the position of housekeeper during Matron Kilgour’s period of administration, starting around 1949, after her term of office as Mother Superior of the Order. She was a highly qualified woman for the era, holding a Master’s degree with Honours in Classics from the University of Cambridge.

One man was a patient at St Martin’s Hospital having a nasty gall bladder operation. He was a Returned Serviceman after WWI, having served in the Light Horse Brigade. Sister Elisabeth was working at St Martin’s at the time, and he would spend time talking with Sister Elisabeth, their conversations taking place in Latin.

Many nurses from that time still reminisce about all aspects of their nursing life – from scrubbing floors, arranging flowers, ensuring a certain doctor always had a red flower for his buttonhole, sneaking back into the nurses’ accommodation after curfew, going to the local convenience store -Porky’s – for cigarettes and bananas, TOT and BOT (top operating theatre and bottom operating theatre) but most importantly their memories are of friendship and camaraderie.

“The best start for the day was thick white bread, butter and honey, a cup of strong tea, a quick gossip and the day could then start under the watchful eye of the Sisters!”

Sister Joan, in her fourth year of nurses’ training was assigned to look after a newly arrived patient – John Proud.

He was one of two survivors of the Stinson air crash. Both men were brought to St Martin’s. Sister Joan tended to his many wounds which were listed as severe and also protected him from the many journalists who vied for any information about the crash. John Proud (later Sir John) was too badly injured to leave his hospital bed so the coronial inquest came to the hospital, and again, Sister Joan was by his side. So began a life-long friendship, which lasted until Sir John died in the late 90s.

She was appointed Matron of St Martin’s War Memorial Hospital in August 1961 and remained in this position until its closure in 1971.

Many former patients have spoken about the care and concern shown to them by the nurses and the Sisters who were in the hospital.

Sadly, the decision was made by the Anglican Synod to close the hospital, and despite overwhelming support from many of Brisbane’s leading citizens and various court cases, St Martin’s closed on 30 June 1971 – another chapter in the SSA’s long history of service coming to an end.

On November 28, this year, there will be a celebration acknowledging 100 years of service of the building, firstly as St Martin’s War Memorial Hospital and then as St Martin’s House. If you wish to attend, please click on the link

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