Australian War Stories: Nurse Olive Haynes held dying soldiers in her arms in World War One

Olive Haynes was a bright-eyed 26-year-old when she signed up to serve her country. But nothing could prepare her for the horrors she saw that would haunt her a lifetime.

Exclusive: Nurse Olive Haynes signed up to Australia’s war effort as a bright-eyed 26-year-old, seeking “a bit of an adventure”.

Instead, like so many of our volunteers, she witnessed horrors which would haunt her a lifetime.

It was 1915. Gallipoli.

Soldiers were arriving at her field hospital blown to pieces. Maimed and unrecognisable. Many died in her arms.

“At first of course like everybody else she thought it was going to be a very short gig, it would all be over by Christmas … a bit of an adventure,” her granddaughter Marnie Watts, of Adelaide, told News Corp.

For the first time nurse Haynes’s commitment to the families of the men lost in combat — long after their deaths — can be revealed, through a new family history project called Australian War Stories by Memories.

Her wartime story — from enlistment and training to embarkation and action — is one of more than 330,000 featured on the website, which looks specifically at WWI.

Ms Watts explained writing to the diggers’ relatives was her coping mechanism.

“Olive found it very hard to watch the men die and she felt so very sorry about it … (writing the letters) was her way of trying to ease the pain for the mothers as well,” Ms Watts said.

“She would let them know how the soldiers’ last days or hours were … and to try and put the mothers’ minds to care for the mothers as best as she could.

“So she was caring for the boys as well as for their families.”

Ms Haynes’ WWI odyssey began in December 1914 when she sailed to Egypt, a month after the first troops left Port Adelaide.

She treated the injured soldiers brought in from the bloody battlefield of Gallipoli, before being transferred to the Greek Island of Lemnos.

“Olive and all her colleagues were receiving the wounded fairly quickly and they were quite shocked at the number of people who were wounded and what had happened,” Ms Watts said.

“Some of the soldiers were terribly wounded … just about every bone in their body was possibly broken.

“It was horrific what they were seeing.”

Away from the battlefield, she had her own brush with danger at Lemnos.

“A Turkish aeroplane came and dropped three (bombs) on Christmas Day, but missed us,” Ms Haynes wrote in her diary.

“We hoped they would miss us every time.”

Like the soldiers she diligently cared for, Ms Haynes suffered PTSD.

There was, however, a bright spark among the darkness.

In December 1916, Ms Haynes met Australian soldier Pat Dooley and within a year, they were married.

Their partnership lasted 60 years. They had seven children and 17 grandchildren.

“Olive’s caring and unconditional love, her non-judgemental way of treating everybody is something that we have all benefited from in every way,” Ms Watts said.

“I hope that we all take her values of caring for others into our lives and continue to care for other people in the way in which she did.”

To discover your ANZAC hero and receive a FREE online memorial, go to

Explore an extended Memories memorial on the wartime journey of Sister Olive Haynes.

Originally published as More than bombs and bandages: Nurse Olive Haynes held ‘dying soldiers’ in her arms

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