Honoured Army Nurse
Jean Nellie Miles Walker (16 November 1878 to 30 October 1918), nursing sister and army matron, was born at Port Sorell, Tasmania, daughter of Alfred Miles Walker, farmer, and his wife Louisa Mary Glover, née Wilkinson. Louisa Walker was a daughter of prominent northwest coast surgeon Frederick Belmore St George Wilkinson, “the only regular medical practitioner between Deloraine and Emu Bay.” Jean was one of 10 children born to Alfred and Louisa, of whom five died in their youth. Her father died when Jean was three years old.
Privately educated until 1893, she was enrolled at the Collegiate School, Hobart, then trained at Hobart General Hospital between 1903 and 1906. Having stayed on as staff nurse and later sister, in 1908 she entered private nursing. In early 1913, she completed six months training in obstetrical nursing at the Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, following which she served as matron of private hospitals at Tallangatta, Victoria, and Darlinghurst, Sydney.
Jean joined the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve in 1906, becoming principal matron in 1909 of the 6th Military District (Tasmania). Miles-Walker (as she sometimes styled herself) was one of twenty-five nurses who sailed for Egypt with the Australian Imperial Force in November 1914. After several weeks with the British in Alexandria, she joined her own unit, the 2nd Australian General Hospital, at Mena House, Cairo. During the first rush of wounded from Gallipoli she took charge at Mena House while the matron was at the Ghezireh Palace Hotel, also run by the 2nd Australian General Hospital. ‘Never Matron had better assistance’, Ellen Gould later wrote of Jean and her counterpart at Ghezireh. From September 1915 to January 1916 Sister Walker worked on the British hospital ship Gascon which carried patients from Anzac Cove, Cape Helles, Mudros and Salonika to Malta, Gibraltar, England and Egypt. She was next attached as temporary matron to the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital at Ismailia, Egypt, where wounded from the battle of Romani were treated.
When the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital opened at Dartford, England, in October 1916, Jean had been promoted matron. She had been mentioned in dispatches and was presented with the Order of the Royal Red Cross (1st class) in February 1917 by King George V. Later postings included the 5th British Stationary Hospital at Dieppe, France and the 3rd Australian General Hospital at Abbeville, replacing Grace Wilson.
After a further term at Dieppe, Matron Walker went to London and on 19 October was attached to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Southall. When working in the 1st Group Clearing Hospital at Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, Jean, who had never married, died of Spanish Influenza on 30 October 1918 at the age of 39, and was buried in the graveyard of nearby St John’s Church.
Although Jean was not killed on the battlefields of WWI, her service has been commemorated on a memorial in the St Nicholas Chapel in York Minster, along with 1,399 British and Commonwealth women who died serving their country in WWI.