** Please note to reserve your seat at this screening please register at miltontheatre.com.au/Sticky Tickets, otherwise entry will be available on the day (assuming seats still available) via gold coin donation, with all proceeds to go to the Milton Historical Society. **
Angels of the Battlefield - new documentary film on the nurses of WW1
Long overdue recognition for the ‘Angel of Milton’ and the ANZAC girls who also served
To mark the 103rd anniversary of her passing, a film featuring the life and wartime service of Milton’s own Sister Katherine “Kitty” Porter will be screened at the Milton Theatre. Featuring historian Tom Keneally and narration by ABC’s Jane Caro, Angels of the Battlefield, tells the stories of Sisters Katherine (Kitty) Porter and Nellie Morrice, who both received the Royal Red Cross (Second Class) and the brave and distinguished service of the some 3,000 ANZAC nurses who also served in World War.
All volunteers from Australian hospitals, nurses sailed with the First Contingent in November 1914 and nursed them on their return home in 1919. Often working near the front-line on hospital ships, casualty clearing stations and hospital trains, 25 were killed and 388 were decorated with 8 receiving the Military Medal and many more mentioned in dispatches.
The release for the film on ANZAC Day was the culmination of a five years work by TAFE NSW’s Film & TV Section. What surprised Nick Bleszynski, one of the teachers from who helped guide students through the production process, was that it took a century for a film to explore the female contribution to ANZAC.
‘I told the students to find a fresh angle and they came back with the nurses.’ Recalls Nick.
‘I was astounded that no documentary had been made previously, especially given the rich vein of history and the incredible personal stories we found. What was to be a 30 mins short quickly turned into a 90 mins feature.’
‘For example, we feature the story of Sister Kitty Porter from Milton on NSW’s South Coast who lied about her age, so that she could serve in Egypt and then on the hospital trains in France. General Haig mentioned her twice in dispatches, the second time for evacuating a field hospital under fire. Sadly, she never received the Royal Red Cross she was awarded, passing away on 16 July 1919 from the ‘Spanish Flu’ - just six weeks after her return. She was buried at Waverly cemetery and was the only female to receive a full military funeral. You just couldn’t write that.’
Angels of the Battlefield, made with the kind assistance of the Department of Veteran's Affairs and the NSW Government,follows two young women, representing the generation who will keep the ANZAC tradition alive for the next 100 years, on two Who Do You Think You Are style journeys of discovery.
Family secrets are uncovered, historical errors are corrected, stories of heroism and tragedy are revealed and precious memorabilia re-discovered through interviews with relatives, archivists and historians. These discoveries are illustrated by diaries, unseen archive, artefacts and dramatic re-enactments, which bring their wartime experiences to life.
‘What emerged from the stories of Kitty and Nellie is that the ANZAC nurses had to fight two battles’, said Susan Partidon-Gordon, a Producer on the film.
‘One was the physical and emotional hardships they faced in dealing with overwhelming numbers of badly wounded men often in poorly equipped field hospitals. The other was with the officer class who felt that the battlefield was no place for a woman. They preferred untrained male orderlies with no concept of hygiene or organisational skills to properly run a field hospital.’
‘We made this film because we don’t consider that the nurses weren’t given their due during the war or after it – the right to march, healthcare and pensions only coming decades after their service.’
Although nurses didn’t fight in the trenches what struck fellow Producer, Vivien Le, was the special kind of courage they displayed.
‘It was the first mechanised war, featuring innovations like hand bombs, machine guns and gas, and the damage was horrific. These women had to try to save those young men, or help ease their passing. Sister Nellie Morrice worked with the victims of burns and gas attacks. Nursing men with ‘Spanish Flu,’ as she returned home, is what cost Kitty Porter her life.’
‘I think historian Tom Keneally says it best at the start of the film “….They deserve to be up there on the monuments with the ANZACS”. ’
‘It was the wounded soldiers who called them ‘Angels of the Battlefield’ and I think the stories of Nellie and Kitty show just how extraordinary these ordinary girls were in this nation’s hour of need.’
For Nick Bleszynski and the students who made the film this moment has been a long time coming. ‘Producing a film of this length and quality was no easy task on a very small budget and the release has been hampered by COVID.’
‘However, finally bringing Kitty’s story to her home town will be immensely satisfying. Hers story that unfolded in a most unexpected way and touched all of us. The community should be very proud.’
To reserve your seat at the screening please RSVP at miltontheatre.com.au/Sticky Tickets, otherwise entry will be available on the day (assuming seats still available) via gold coin donation, with all proceeds to go to the Milton Historical Society.
More information and media materials from Angels of the Battlefield is available at: