State Library recently acquired a collection of 180 photographs, taken by Queensland nurse, Marion Winifred ‘Winnie’ Croll, who served in Egypt during the First World War. This collection holds considerable significance for State Library, as Winnie was the wife of a Brisbane doctor David Gifford Croll, whose extensive papers are also held in the John Oxley Library collection.
Both Winnie and David Croll served in Egypt – Sister Croll with the 1st Australian General Hospital, and Colonel Croll as the commanding officer of the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance, and later as ADMS of ANZAC Mounted Division.
Winnie enlisted on the 11 November 1914, and her service record reveals that her husband was her attesting officer, and her enlistment medical certificate was signed by Dr. Lilian Cooper. She embarked for Egypt on the 21 November 1914 on the S.S. Kyarra. This ship contained a vast medical contingent – the staff and equipment of the 1st Australian General Hospital, the 2nd Australian General Hospital, N°s 1 & 2 Aust. Stationary Hospitals and N° 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station.
The Kyarra arrived in Egypt on 14 January 1915, and the 1st A.G.H. was quickly established in the palatial Heliopolis Palace Hotel, a large building in a suburb of Cairo. On 24 January the hospital opened, and began to receive patients of every rank, ailment and injury. Sister Croll and her nursing colleagues settled quickly into the routine and challenges of caring for wartime wounded.
As casualties began to flood in, the hospital expanded, taking over some additional premises for the treatment of different classes of cases. These premises included Aerodrome, the Luna Park, the Atelier, the Heliopolis Sporting Club buildings and grounds, and the Artillery Barracks at Abbassia Depots. Eventually these premises became separate units – the Australian Auxiliary Hospitals.
As part of her duties, Sister Croll attended to A.I.F. soldiers wounded in the various desert operations of the Sinai Campaign, and along with her colleagues, she braced herself in the face of horrific wounds and debilitating illnesses suffered by those shipped back to Egypt from the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Despite these grim realities however, there was still time for leisure. Winnie Croll’s photographs are a delightful window into a different time and place. Most of the images show scenes of Egyptian life, as Winnie and her husband and various friends and colleagues, toured around Cairo and surrounds on leave.
Lovely snapshots of buildings and street scenes and gardens reveal the Crolls as tourists in a foreign land, enjoying precious time together away from the demands of their medical duties. Some of the photos are captioned and Winnie identified the Aboukir Rest Home for Nurses, and some of her nursing colleagues – Gertrude Jessie Andrews, Louisa Snelling, and Constance Mabel Keys – all Queensland nurses appointed to the 1st Australian General Hospital. Other photos include candid snapshots of the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance around Ma’adi, and a few unmistakeable images of her husband David.
Unfortunately, Winnie developed pleurisy in Egypt and was invalided back to Australia, embarking at Suez on 28 January 1916. She arrived home on 10 March 1916 on the Kanowna, and was discharged as medically unfit on 6 June 1916.
After her return, Winnie became the first secretary of the Queensland War Nurses’ Fund, which provided assistance to First World War nurses. Colonel Croll also finally arrived home in August 1919, and established his medical practice at Sherwood in Brisbane. Both became staunch supporters of the RSL, and Colonel Croll served again in World War 2, as commander of both the 112th Australian General Hospital and the 101st Australian Convalescent Depot. They had no children, and Mrs Croll involved herself in community work, and became a dedicated Queensland Guides Commissioner and Red Cross Society member.
Dr. David Croll died in 1948, and in a tragic ending, Winnie Croll was killed aged 67 in the BOAC Lockhead Constellation plane crash at Kallang Airport, Singapore on 13 March 1954. She was on her way to Japan to join her sister for a six-week tour.
Dr and Mrs Croll bequeathed their Sherwood home and surgery to the Sherwood sub-branch of the RSL in 1954. The house became the sub-branch headquarters, and was dedicated as The Croll Memorial Centre. When the sub-branch moved to new premises at Corinda in 1967 this name was transferred. On 6 August 2006, after various property alterations, the sub-branch designated the site in front of The Harry Dalziel VC Centre as The Croll Memorial Precinct.
On Thursday 4 June, the ABC published an article about the acquisition of the collection. Once digitised, Winnie’s beautiful photographs will be made available via State Library’s One Search catalogue.
Robyn Hamilton – QANZAC100 Content Curator