Edith Blake’s War

Krista Vane-Tempest

In the early hours of 26 February 1918, the British hospital ship Glenart Castle steamed into the Bristol Channel, heading for France to pick up wounded men from the killing fields of the Western Front. On board was 32-year-old Australian nurse, Edith Blake. Unbeknown to the ship’s company, a German U-boat lurked in the waters below.

When Edith Blake missed out on joining the Australian Army, she was one of 130 Australian nurses allotted to the British Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in early 1915. Her first posting was in Cairo where she nursed soldiers wounded at Gallipoli. In Edith’s remarkable letters to her family back home, she shares her homesickness and frustration with military rules, along with the savagery of the injuries she witnessed in the operating theatre. Later, at Belmont War Hospital in Surrey, she writes of her conflicted feelings about nursing German prisoners of war even as battles on the Western Front raged and German aircraft bombed England.

In Edith Blake’s War, her great niece, Krista Vane-Tempest, traces Edith’s gripping story, from training in Sydney to her war service in the Middle East, England and the Mediterranean, and her tragic death in waters where Germany had promised the safe passage of hospital ships.

It reminds us of the love, beauty and wonder in the world, even amidst disaster. And how we all have a touch of epic hero in us.

‘Beautifully written and an engaging read, Edith Blake’s War opens a window on unsung areas of Australian nurses’ service at war.'

- — Janet Butler


Krista Vane-Tempest

KRISTA VANE-TEMPEST worked as a lawyer before starting to write. In her spare time, she is a volunteer guide at the Australian War Memorial. She lives in Canberra with her husband and three children.

NewSouth Publishing

NewSouth Publishing is the publishing division of UNSW Press Ltd, a leading Australian university press.