Milton’s ‘Angel of Mercy’, Sister Kitty Porter
As a young Australian soldier lay dying, mortally wounded by shrapnel during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, Sister Kitty Porter stayed after her regular nursing shift on the hospital ship to care for and comfort him. Those “terrible days” early on in Australia’s participation in World War 1 marked the beginning of Kitty Porter’s four years of selfless war service in Egypt and France.
Katherine ‘Kitty’ Porter 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, to where ambulance trains were bringing back wounded men from the front, and also at the general hospital in Boulogne. She was promoted to second in command of her hospital unit. It was during this time in August 1916 that she was notified that her fiancé had been wounded.
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. Her last unit was the 1st Australian General Hospital. She was Mentioned in Despatches, gazetted 31 December 1918.
Their is a moving tribute to Kitty Porter’s war service held by the Australian War Memorial, describing how she comforted young Private Tom Whyte as he lay dying on the hospital ship HMAT Gascon after being hit by shrapnel during the Gallipoli landing. Kitty Porter later wrote to Pte Whyte’s fiancée Eileen to reassure her:
“knowing that he was engaged made me stay on duty a little longer to be what comfort I could to him. It was a terrible day for us all and I saw so much that was awful that day.”
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 36 and only a few weeks after her Milton homecoming. 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 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’.
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.
Sister Katherine(Kitty) Porter at the Australian War Memorial:
Tom Whyte’s A Last Letter from Gallipoli