Thursday, October 13, 2016

Matron Alice Cashin, finally a statue for grave of World War I heroine

For almost 80 years the grave on a corner of Woronora Memorial Park in Sutherland had remained unmarked. No cross, no name, no reason to linger even if you happened upon it.

On Tuesday that changed. With ceremony, flowers, speeches and words from Marie Bashir, former governor of NSW, matron Alice Cashin finally got the recognition she deserved.

Coral Levett, president of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association, and Jennifer Furness celebrate the unveiling of the statue.
With war on the horizon the St Vincent's Hospital-trained nurse decided to move to England to pursue her career. When the First World War started she signed up with the British Red Cross and in 1915 joined the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve. On her first posting to Egypt she was awarded the Royal Red Cross 1st Class medal for bravery.

She was aboard when the Australian hospital ship Gloucester Castle was torpedoed in 1917 by a German U-boat. Matron Cashin made sure 399 injured soldiers and 33 nurses were rescued before she clambered onto a lifeboat.

The British hospital ship Gloucester Castle was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1917
For coolness and devotion to duty she was awarded a bar to her Red Cross medal, becoming the first Australian to receive the honour during World War I. She also received the French heroism medal, the Croix de Guerre.

When Fairfax Media reported in June 2015 that her grave was unmarked, things started to happen. First Jennifer Furness, of Belrose, realised  Cashin might be her great-aunt. She checked a box in her wardrobe and found Cashin's six medals, now donated to the Anzac Memorial.

Lynn Ridge, of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association, also read the story and thought that Cashin ought to be recognised. Her bravery and courage was something all nurses and midwives could relate to. The association started a fund and with other sponsors decided upon the life-size bronze statue unveiled on Tuesday in honour of all nurses who served their country. The association's president, Coral Levett, donned an original nurse's uniform to pose with the statue.

Furness, standing alongside the statue of her great-aunt, said she looked very calm. "It looks as though she was looking to the future," she said. "This is something for the next generation who can see that being a nurse was a good thing."

Bashir said Cashin would forever have a place in the history of modern Australia. "She will be an inspiration, not only to nurses, but to doctors and all those who work in the caring profession," she said. "We remember all the beloved nurses who served their people so well in times of war and in peace."

When Cashin left the English hospital in 1919 the patients she affectionately referred to as "her boys" gave her a send-off, presenting her with posies of daisies. In recognition, daisies have been planted on the grave and surround the statue and memorial.

On her return to Australia, Cashin, who was a member of the Marrickville ANZAC Memorial Club, was crowned "Queen of Marrickville". She worked as a sales assistant and died of chronic nephritis in 1939.

According to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, 23,258 casualties from World War I have no known grave and from World War II there are 12,096.

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