Milton’s ‘Angel of Mercy’, Sister Kitty Porter
Australian nurses served with great distinction during World War 1. Although they were often initially not welcomed by officers who thought that the theatre of war was no place for a woman, even a trained nurse, women like Sister Katherine ‘Kitty’ Agnes Lawrence Porter of Milton were soon looked upon as ‘Angels of the Battlefield’ who helped save many lives.
Katherine ‘Kitty’ Agnes Lawrence Porter ‡ (see Note below) was born in Little Forest in 1882. She trained as a nurse at Sydney Royal Hospital and then worked as a sister at Sydney Hospital until she decided to enlist in the Australian Army Nursing Service in 1915 to serve during World War 1.
Kitty Porter served in Egypt during the Gallipoli campaign and also in France, working at the No 2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station (ACCS) near Ypres during the Somme campaign, and on ambulance trains which brought back wounded men from the front. She also spent time at the general hospital in Boulogne. She was promoted to second in command of her hospital unit.
During her service she narrowly escaped capture in April 1918 by the advancing German army in the French town of Roye on the Somme and it was here that she had to abandon her diaries and personal effects in the rush to leave. For her tireless work in the evacuation of the injured she was Mentioned in Despatches, by General Sir Douglas Haig, gazetted 31 December 1918. Her last unit was the 1st Australian General Hospital.
Kitty returned to Australia in April 1919 on SS Medic and was honoured with a large public welcome-home celebration in Milton in June 1919.
After returning to Sydney to become Matron at Randwick Military Hospital, Kitty Porter contracted influenza during the 1919 worldwide epidemic and died in Sydney on 16 July 1919, aged only 35 and only a few weeks after her Milton homecoming. Two close friends with whom she had trained and served nursed her in Randwick Military Hospital until she died. She was buried in Waverley cemetery with full military honours.
Just after her death, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross for services to the injured which was presented to her mother and brother at a ceremony in Milton. The RRC is a decoration, not a medal, instituted by Queen Victoria in 1883 as a British Military Order solely for women and given to those ‘recommended for special devotion and competency in their nursing duties with the Army’. Kitty’s RRC was accompanied by a handwritten note from King George V, wishing her a safe trip home to Australia.
She is remembered on several memorials in the Milton District, including the Milton War Memorial, the RSL Honour Roll, and on honour rolls at Milton Public School and Yatte Yattah.
You can learn more by watching ‘Angels of the Battlefield‘, an excellent documentary about Sister Katherine ‘Kitty’ Lawrence Porter and a fellow nurse, Sister Nellie Morrice.
Sister Katherine (Kitty) Lawrence Porter at the Australian War Memorial:
‡ NOTE that there were two women called Katherine ‘Kitty’ Porter who served as nurses during WW1. Kitty Minnie Porter also served with distinction in Egypt and France.