The following article provides a fascinating insight into the careers of two great Australians that had their origins in the late-19th Century around the birth of the Australian Federation.  For a time their lives would take quite separate directions: one a soldier, the other a nurse.  In time, their destinies would converge on the great campaign in the Middle East against the Ottoman Army.  While the life of Harry Chauvel has been documented in some detail, the achievements of Rose Creal need to be explored and discovered so her remarkable contribution to the Light Horse campaigns during World War One can be celebrated further.  Ruth Rae provides us with some background and calls for further contributions from readers to build Rose Creal's story.

Harry Chauvel and Rose Creal: Leaders in their own right

by Ruth Rae

Henry George (Harry) Chauvel, the man who led the Australian Lighthorse, and Rose Creal, the woman who led the nurses who …nursed them back to strength, or softened the close of their soldier life… came from vastly different backgrounds.[1]  Both were born in the colony of NSW in 1865 and grew up in the polyglot of colonial life, at a time of tempest and trouble, but this is where the similarities end.


Harry Chauvel, the grandson of a retired Indian army officer and son of a cattle breeder and grazier, was born at Tabulam in northern NSW. He developed a love of horses and in his youth was an amateur jockey, riding at race meetings. He attended Sydney Grammar but completed his final year at Toowoomba. Although Harry did not have a reputation for being a scholar, he was a keen reader of military history and would have attended Sandhurst had drought not intervened, diminishing the family’s financial reserves. In 1885 his father raised the Upper Clarence River Light Horse and the following year Harry was commissioned. By 1896 his family had moved to Queensland and Chauvel gained an appointment with the Queensland Permanent Military Forces. In 1897 he was in England as a member of the Queensland Jubilee Contingent and remained for a year, learning as much as he could about military matters. Chauvel went on to serve with distinction during the South African War (1899-1902).[2]

Rose Creal’s early life was anchored to family, religion and gender responsibility. The discovery of gold in the 1850s changed the entire demographic profile of the young colony; Rose’s maternal grandparents worked the Lambing Flats (present–day Young, NSW) area during the notorious riots (1861). Her 39-year-old father, John Creal married 24-year-old Ann Brady on the 31st March 1862 in the Catholic Church at Young. They endured the tragedy of their firstborn, Elizabeth, dying the same year she was born. The peripatetic lifestyle of the gold miner is reflected in the locations of the births, baptisms and deaths of the Creal children (Young, Forbes and Parkes).  William was born in 1864 and Rose Ann Creal arrived on the 3rd November 1865 at a place called ‘Five Mile Rush’; she was baptised into the Roman Catholic Church at Young, a month later as both her parents were Irish Catholics.  Three younger siblings were born:  John Thomas (1867), Elizabeth Francis (1868) and Jane in 1870.  Tragically, Ann Creal and her newborn son, Hugh, died in 1872. Rose was just seven years old but her position as the eldest daughter rendered her numeric age an irrelevance; she had a responsible position within the family, and she learnt what hard work was at an early stage of her life.

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Unlike Harry Chauvel, Rose Creal did not attend a formal school but, as was often the custom at this time, she was home-schooled. The educational merits of her father are not known but she was sufficiently competent to gain a position at a hospital in Parkes in about 1881.[3]  While working, probably as an untrained assistant, the …surgeon in the operating theatre struck trouble, great trouble. Not enough assistance, so he says, ‘tell Rose to come to the theatre and scrub up, she is a very sensible girl and will do as she is told. Rose did so and acquitted herself so well that she was sent to Sydney Hospital to train.[4]  The details of how this rather serendipitous incident resulted in Rose Creal gaining access to a nurse training course at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the colony is not clear, but once she was given the chance to train she took full advantage of every opportunity.


The founder of secular nursing in Australia, Lucy Osburn, was one of Florence Nightingale’s earliest trainees. Nightingale, a protestant, was dogmatic in her non-secular approach to modern nursing; the concept of proselytising while nursing in a Nightingale hospital was anathema.[5]  Osburn, who arrived at Sydney Hospital at the request of Sir Henry Parkes and with the imprimatur of Nightingale herself, suffered criticism for her ‘catholic’ tendencies: no ‘Sisters’ at Sydney Hospital because the title was associated with nuns.  Despite constant political undermining of her role Osburn was admired and respected by the community she served which carried weight when life was harsh for most of the colonies’ inhabitants.


Despite low wages, the conditions for women in Creal’s social position were good.  Sydney Hospital offered her an education, an income, safe accommodation and a community of like-minded women. The ex-convict, Irish-Catholic population had been sent to the colony for a variety of crimes and misdemeanours; some civic and others from political dissidence borne from religious distrust.[6]  Like many ‘isms’ the bigotry was not overt but Rose Creal was, no doubt, aware that those who had made it to the highest position in nursing were protestant. There are examples of other colonial hospitals embroiled in controversy which were attributed to ‘sectarian bigotry’.[7]  Despite her strong Catholic family history Rose Creal became a practising protestant while at Sydney Hospital, regularly attending the St James Church just across the road in Macquarie Street; the reason for her decision is unknown.[8] John Creal died when Rose was 22 years old (1887) and her youngest sibling, Jane, was only seventeen. Rose’s decision to remain in Parkes, working, until she commenced her training in 1891, aged 26 years, suggests that she was financially responsible for her younger siblings. The death of her father, however, may have made the decision to convert somewhat easier.  It ultimately enabled her to assist her siblings financially as she was able to earn a respectable income as a nurse leader.


Nursing was the great equaliser, similar to the army, in that your competence, not your social background, was central to promotion. Rose Creal trained under Matrons McKay (1885-91) and served as a deputy to Matron Julia Ellen (Nellie) Gould (1891-98); when Gould resigned Creal was confirmed as matron in February 1899. [9]  Her rise to the position was achieved at the age of 34 (the age of her mother at the time of her death). Rose Creal enjoyed a solid reputation among her peers, the medical fraternity and the community she served. Tragically, her younger sister, Jane, died the year after Rose ‘qualified’ as a nurse. The qualification of nurses in the colonies was inconsistent, so after federation a standardised training programme was instituted throughout Australasia: the Australasian Trained Nurses’ Association (ATNA) was established in 1902 and Rose Creal was a founding member. [10]


Nellie Gould, like Chauvel, served in the South African War and the success of colonial nursing contingents confirmed the worth of the civilian trained Australian nurse in a military hospital.  By the time the conflict was over in 1902, the disparate colonies had been federated, placing Matron Nellie Gould in an excellent position to develop complementary policies between ATNA and the Australia Army Nursing Service (AANS).[11]  Gould took on the position of Principal Matron of 2 Military District (NSW) and Creal was one of the earliest members. Meanwhile, Harry Chauvel married Sybil (1906) and they had two sons and two daughters and established a family in Queensland.  His career in the army had been established, and he was renowned as a trainer of men who rode horses.


Creal could not marry if she wanted to continue as a nurse and her thirty-six years was an advanced marriageable age at this time. There is no evidence that she wanted anything less than a continuation of her career at Sydney Hospital, which was also her home and her community. Her commitment to the education of her trainee nurses and the supervision of her qualified nurses was paramount, however, and she was also responsible for all other staff (except medical) and the rosters had to provide 24 hour a day, seven days a week ward coverage. This was a time when the allied health professionals were a fledgling group. There were no physiotherapists, but nurses were able to undertake a ‘massage’ course. Psychology was in its infancy and there were minimal lectures on the psyche. It was not considered appropriate for a female nurse to be in attendance during a surgical procedure on a male patient because unmarried women should not be exposed to the entire male anatomy.  Prior to the First World War this policy was thankfully addressed as their exposure to the horrific wounds and diseases destroyed any of their female sensitivities.[12]  The war brought with it outstanding advances in medicine, surgery and psychology as the medical profession rushed to deal with the technological changes in warfare. Nonetheless, the basic components of military nursing, such as providing sufficient nourishing food and fluids, was a priority for Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War.  So ‘invalid cooking’ was an integral topic of the ATNA course.[13]


When the First World War was declared in August 1914 Harry Chauvel and Rose Creal were decidedly middle-aged (both were forty-nine): Creal was at Sydney Hospital and Chauvel was on his way to London to ‘act as Australia’s representative on the Imperial General Staff at the War Office’.  On his arrival, he requested deployment to France but instead he was to command the mounted force of an Australian Division of infantry and a Light Horse Brigade in Egypt.[14]   Meanwhile, Nellie Gould was appointed Principal Matron of 2AGH in Egypt leaving open the position of Principal Matron 2MD, which Rose Creal occupied from October 1915.


Creal’s role was to interview prospective AANS nurses prior to their embarkation for overseas duty, thus ensuring they met the prerequisite ATNA registration. As the matron of an important civilian hospital she was acutely aware that many of her current trainee nurses would seek enrolment in the AANS once they had completed their course, passed their ATNA examination and that their first post-graduate nursing experience would be in a war zone.  An often forgotten workforce issue was that the AANS recruitment depleted the available qualified nursing workforce in Australia. Every time Creal approved another graduate for the AANS she was reducing her own staff and that of the Australian community generally.[1]  Conversely, the diversity of occupations and motives for men who joined the AIF meant that a cross-section of male-dominated professions and trades were affected by military enlistments, rather than any one in particular.[16]


Chauvel remained with the three brigades of light horse in Egypt when the ANZACs landed at Gaba Tepe on the Gallipoli Peninsula on the historic 25th April 1915. When infantry reinforcements were urgently needed Chauvel insisted the Light Horse go but as complete units. Given the terrain at Gallipoli, they deployed dismounted. Chauvel and his Light Horse took control of the sector which incorporated Pope’s, Quinn’s and Courtney’s posts from the time of their landing on 12 May.  It was during a visit to Chauvel, who had ‘taken over Monash’s old sector’, that Major-General William Throsby Bridges was hit by a sniper. [17]


At this time Creal was the PM 2 MD AANS as well as matron of a large civilian city hospital where she had to contend with an exodus of her most senior staff when they sailed with the first contingent in November 1914. These included her deputy, (Adelaide) Maud Kellett and the Head Sister of the operating theatre, Clem Marshall. It was Sister Marshall who nursed Bridges on the Hospital Ship (HS) Gascon after he was mortally wounded.  Chauvel ‘became known for his coolness and courage … spent much of his time walking his trenches and closely observing the state of his troops and their positions’.[18]  Chauvel enjoyed the respect and affection of his men as well as the esteem of his seniors; he took command of the 1st Division (6 November 1915) and led it through the evacuation in December and was promoted to Major General with a CB being gazetted in January 1916.


While Australians were focused on the war as it played out on the Turkish peninsula there had been significant changes on other fronts. The execution of British nurse Edith Cavell in Belgium had ramped up the war propaganda machine and there were early signs that the allies were having trouble containing the spread of the war.[19] The fall of Serbia in 1915 gave the Germans a direct supply line to the outposts of the Turkish Empire which created a serious threat to the security of the Suez Canal.[20]  Allied recruitments were thwarted by the brutal suppression of the Irishmen and women who, during the Easter Uprising, tried to assert their independence from Britain and many Catholics were disinclined to volunteer to fight for Britain. The situation in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) was at first considered an allied victory when the British captured Turkish-controlled Basra (November 1914) thus enabling the Allies to protect the Abadan oil supply.[21] By April 1916, however, Kut el Amara fell to the enemy resulting in just over 97,000 British and Indian casualties from this ill-conceived campaign. As a consequence, Australian nurses were dispatched to India.[22]


For Chauvel and Creal it was a decision following the evacuation of Gallipoli at the end of 1915 which affected their war. The AIF was reorganised into 1 Anzac Corps, which went to France in March 1916, and II Anzac Corps which primarily remained in Egypt.[23]  The decision to ‘spread the hard-won AIF experience around the expanded force resulted in the sixteen battalions involved in Gallipoli from the outset to be divided into two’.[24]  The thought of being separated from the men who had become family was too much for some to bear with one Light Horseman committing ‘…suicide by shooting himself at Heliopolis a couple of days ago, as he was not allowed to rejoin the Regt’.[25]  The reorganisation of the AIF saw Chauvel being offered (and refusing) command of an infantry division bound for France; instead he opted for command of the ANZAC Mounted Division and other forces including the 1st Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, which was used to good effect throughout the desert campaign, especially for reconnaissance.[26]


Because the reason for Chauvel and his men to remain in Egypt was to defend the Suez Canal, his troops moved toward Romani with a view to creating a defence and destroying water cisterns which were enticing to the enemy.  It is necessary to consider that at a local level the Young Turks had called to arms the diverse tribes of Arabia: It was not necessarily in their interest to see the Turks or the British fight a war on their land.  Sherif Hussein, an influential Arab of the people of Hejaz approached the British for arms and gold which he believed would shore up their support against the Turks, if and when, the war entered their tribal boundary.  It would have been foolhardy, however, for the Allies to believe this would ensure the loyalty of the Arabs who wanted to be left in peace and to get on with their tribal lifestyle.[27] There was an uneasy relationship between Chauvel’s men and the local Arab tribesmen during the allied occupation of their land and the nurses were aware of the need for discretion regarding any planned attacks.


Table 1 clearly shows that the Battle of Romani was a success for Chauvel and that it changed the course of the entire campaign. Chauvel believed it was no longer a war of defence and that it was possible to attack the enemy and push them into the desert.  Referring to the defensive battles of the Western Front Bean writes ‘the task of attacking … was far more difficult than that of defending it, since the attacking troops and their supplies and munitions had continuously to be brought forward with great difficulty and danger … whereas the defenders were all the time being driven back on their stores, reserves, and communications’.[28]  The constant ‘store’ in short supply for the men and horse of the Light Horse was water.



Table 1: Significant battles during the Desert Campaign, Anzac Mounted Division, 1916-1918

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As indicated in Table 1 Romani occurred before the 14 AGH was established but once it was decided that Chauvel and his men would be part of a wider allied campaign of attack the importance of a permanent AGH was obvious.   The 1st, 2nd and 3rd AGHs, which had already been established in Egypt, and the latter subsequently on the Greek Island of Lemnos by Matrons Bell, Gould and Wilson respectively, were needed by 1 Anzac Corps. Ultimately, these three main AGHs and their auxiliary hospitals, the Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS), were transferred to England and eventually to Europe (mainly France). Chauvel was aware that he needed sound medical contingencies to support his sick and wounded as they made their way through the Sinai Desert and that a permanent AGH was essential; It was decided that the 14 AGH would be established in Egypt and that Rose Creal would be matron.  In the interim Grace Wilson and the nurses of 3AGH remained in Egypt from March until Creal arrived on 20 September 1916.[30]

The author is aware of the contribution Rose Creal made to the health and welfare of her staff and her patients during the next three years but she seeks help in finding any reference to Creal in the letters, diaries, postcards or memorabilia of patients and staff who served in Egypt (1916-1919) and England (1919-20). Please contact (Dr) Ruth Rae at if you can help bring this remarkable woman to the forefront of history.





[1] H. S. Gullett, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Sinai and Palestine (12th ed), Vol 7, Angus and Robertson Ltd, Sydney, 1944, p.645.


[2] A J  Hill  'Chauvel, Sir Henry George (Harry) (1865 - 1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp. 624-8.


[3] NSW Pioneers Register Index 1788-1888, Births, Deaths and Marriages; I am indebted to R. Griffiths, The Young and District Family History Group, for her assistance in providing this information from the local Parish records.


[4] Letter, Alisha Baird Omar, 53 Carcoar Street, Blayner (previous Deputy Matron of Sydney Hospital),received at Sydney Hospital 19 January 1961, Nightingale- Lucy Osburn Nursing Museum, Sydney Hospital, Historical file: The Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary underwent a number of name changes but will be referred to as ‘Sydney Hospital’  for ease of narrative and given the enactment of  the Sydney Hospital Act 1881, By-Laws, Rules and Regulations, Sydney,1914.


[5] C. Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale 1820-1910, Constable and Company Ltd, London, 1950,  p.118.


[6] Frederick Watson The History of the Sydney Hospital from 1811 to 1911, Government Printer, Sydney, 1911,  p.140.


[7] Hobbs, But Westward Look, p.55.


[8] Creal was Sydney Hospital’s fourth matron when the first population census for Australia (1901) was taken: 98.1% of Australians identified as Christian and within that [8]group 40.5%  Anglican; 23.2%  Catholic and 34.4% were other Christian denominations.


[9] Frederick Watson The History of the Sydney Hospital from 1811 to 1911,  p.202.


[10] R Lynette Russell, ‘We worked hard, but we enjoyed it!  General Nurse Training in NSW -The First 50 Years’, The Lamp, 1981, p.60. Note: The Royal Victorian Trained Nurses’ Association ([10]RVTNA), a sister organisation to ATNA, was established in Victoria.


[11] For a detailed history of the development of the AANS and ATNA see Ruth Rae, The History of Australian Nurses in the First World War: An Australian College of Nursing Centenary Commemorative Trilogy, Canberra, 2015 with special reference to the third book Veiled Lives.


[12] Jane Bell (matron of the (later Royal) Melbourne Hospital) was instrumental in assigning female nurses to the operating theatre. She also appointed an operating theatre tutor sister so trainee nurses could gain supervised experience in their first year - A. Gregory, The Ever Open Door: A History of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, p.241. Furthermore, the changes resulted in financial savings which encouraged other hospitals to adopt the same practice -J. A. Williams & R. D. Goodman, Jane Bell, O.B.E. 1873-1959, The Royal Melbourne Hospital Graduate Nurses’ Association, Melbourne, 1988, p.98.


[13] C. Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale 1820-1910,  pp.126-8.


[14] A J  Hill  'Chauvel, Sir Henry George (Harry) (1865 - 1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp. 624-8; Gullett  Sinai and Palestine, p.61.


[15] R Rae A Nominal Roll of Australian Nurses who Served in the First World War, The History of Australian Nurses in the First World War: An Australian College of Nursing Centenary Commemorative Trilogy, Canberra, 2015 – the author has identified 2468 Australian nurses who served overseas during 1914-18: ‘The Lady Superintendents Reports No.1 (Miss Jane Bell)’, Royal Melbourne Hospital archives, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne (reviewed by author February 2003).


[16] R McMullin Farewell, dear people: Biographies of Australia’s Lost Generation, Scribe Publications Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 2012: J Beaumont (ed) Australia’s War 1914-1918, Allen and Unwin, Sydney,1995, p.5.


[17] The sniper had severed the profunda femoris artery and femoral vein resulting in an enormous loss of blood which resulted in gangrene. Bridges was wounded on 15th and died on 18th May.  Bean claims that ‘At his age, in those days before blood transfusion, an amputation would have been fatal’.  This was not exactly accurate as a great deal of progress had already been made regarding the identification of the four blood types (Dr J Jansky, Prague, 1907) and the transfusion of blood via hypodermic syringe (Dr Alexander Wood, 1853) was accepted. During the 1914-18 war the ‘on the hoof’ (person to person directly) transfusion was commonplace but the use of sodium citrate as a safe anti-coagulant (Agote, Buenos Aires & Lewisohn, NY in 1914) was established and the Robertson Bottle (Dr Oswald Hope Robertson, USA, 1917) as a storage unit was a  great wartime innovation – R Rae, Veiled Lives, pp. 44-6; CEW Bean, Two Men I knew; William Bridges and Brudenell White: Founders of the AIF, Angus and Robertson Ltd., Sydney, 1957, pp74-5: R Rae, Scarlet Poppies, p.89; Sydney Hospital Annual Report 1914, printed 1916, p.24: Sydney Morning Herald, Nurse Honoured, 14 January 1916,p.3.


[18] A J  Hill  'Chauvel, Sir Henry George (Harry) (1865 - 1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp. 624-8.


[19] Cavell was executed on 12 October 1915[19].


[20] Gullett  Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Sinai and Palestine, p.26.


[21] S.Pope & E.A. Wheal Dictionary of the First World War, pp.315 & 599.


[22] B.H. Liddell Hart History of the First World War,  pp.154-5;  S.Pope & E.A.Wheal Dictionary of the First World War, p.317; Ruth Rae, Veiled Lives,pp.240-41.


[23]A. J. Smithers, Sir John Monash: A Biography of Australia’s Most Distinguished Soldier of the First World War, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1973, pp.139-140; Bean, Anzac to Amiens, pp.192-3; In October 1916 the 5th Division of Godley’s corps (II Anzac) were sent to France. Earlier in 1916 when Birdwood requested the Camel Corp and part of the Light Horse for France General Murray (Commander in Egypt) replied that the Anzac troops were the ‘keystone’ of the country’s defence: Bean, Two men I knew, pp.144-5.


[24] Ross McMullin, Pompey Elliott,  p.179.


[25] R Rae Fred Tomlins: The Biography of a Lighthorsemen., (e-book). The service record for a soldier of that name who died in Egypt at this time was not located by the author. Fred Tomlins (1 ALH) may have intentionally changed the name or misheard the name. National Archives of Australia, Service Record (on-line).


[26] A J  Hill  'Chauvel, Sir Henry George (Harry) (1865 - 1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp. 624-8.


[27] H. S. Gullett, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Sinai and Palestine (12th ed), Vol 7, Angus and Robertson Ltd, Sydney, 1944, pp. 74-76.: Bio of a LHM. p277, Amazon.


[28] Bean ‘Two men  I knew', p135.


[29] This table has been developed from the following sources: L. Hart, History of the First World War, p.432; Gullett, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, vol.7,  pp.xv-xvi. Originally published by the author in Book One of the trilogy From Narromine to Now,  p.115.


[30] H. S. Gullett, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Sinai and Palestine (12th ed), Vol 7, Angus and Robertson Ltd, Sydney, 1944, p.645.