Sketches from the Infirmary

A Very Different War Record

Between the covers of this album are nineteen drawings completed between March and September 1917on HMHS Takada and at the Victoria War Hospital (VWH), Bombay (Mumbai) during the First World War (WWI).

The Victoria War Hospital was established in the Taj Mahal Hotel and staffed by Australian nurses including Violet Hazel Lowrey (1889–1964) of Stroud. Hazel, as she was known, and three of her four sisters enrolled in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) with Bessie (1882–1964) also serving in India in Poona (Puna) and Naini Tal.

The artists were servicemen injured in the Mesopotamia Campaign and evacuated to Mumbai aboard the Takada, a P&O liner converted to a hospital ship and staffed by Australian nurses. Interestingly only one drawing illustrates the war with the rest covering an interesting and wide array of subjects including an intricate glass rose bowl, an English village scene, and the nursing staff themselves. One very detailed sketch depicts ‘Big and Little Australia’ on a ship’s deck trying to survive the monsoon, a clear reference to the Australian nurses who staffed the hospital ship.

Although the album’s provenance is unknown, it is similar to others owned by WWI nurses containing sketches, notes and poems completed by those they nursed. Although ownership cannot be attributed to Hazel Lowrey, the album and her war experience reminds us of the more than 2,000 women who enlisted in the AANS, eighty of whom like Hazel and her sisters were from the Hunter Valley. Ownership is secondary though to the stories that are contained within each of the drawings, the experiences of the servicemen artists and the women who nursed them.