More than a century ago the world saw the Great War – World War I. Triggered by an assassin, a Serbian nationalist, who killed the heir to the throne of Austria as he visited Sarajevo. This act was the catalyst for a massive conflict that would last four years from 1914-1918. 

More than 65 million soldiers were mobilised by more than 30 nations including 416, 809 Australians, of which 334,000 served overseas. 

When Australia joined the war in August 1914, the reaction was one of excitement, especially among young men. Australian men answered the call to war with a sense of adventure, duty and enthusiasm.

Separated by 20,000 kilometres, Australians at home were encouraged to support the troops in any way they could. Even with its remote location, young men living in Cairns, Far North Queensland, also met this call to arms.

Sadly, industrialisation brought modern weapons, machinery, and tactics to warfare, vastly increasing the killing power of armies. Battlefield conditions were horrific, typified by the chaotic, cratered hellscape of the Western Front or Gallopi, where soldiers in muddy trenches faced bullets, bombs, gas, bayonet charges, and more.

 

Capt J F Walsh killed in action Gallipoli

Harry Doyle, an Indigenous serviceman

John Gordon Hides, who was killed in action

Members of the Aquatic club who enlisted

Peace procession along Abbott Street

Peace procession

Welcome to enlistment march 'cane beetles'

Cenotaph in its orginal location on Shields and Abbott Street

After the First World War ended, communities searched for ways to remember the sacrifices of local people and to commemorate their service.

The Cairns cenotaph was unveiled on Anzac Day 1926. On it are the names of 146 people including, unusually, two women. The cenotaph was built at the intersection of Abbott and Shields Streets.

It was later relocated to the Esplanade opposite the RSL.

Women from the Bungalow Red Cross

Lydia Grant VAD, who died of measles

Monica O'Callaghan, a nursing sister who served in India

Credit: Written by Anne Scheu for the State Library of Queensland  

Monica Margaret O’Callaghan, daughter of Callaghan O’Callaghan and his wife Margaret (nee Finlay) was born in Irvinebank, 2 December 1887. Monica completed her nursing training at the Cairns District Hospital, graduating on 2 August 1915 aged 27.

By September 1917, Monica enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service in Brisbane as a Staff Nurse. On 16 November 1917, she sailed for India on the Canberra and was posted to the King George Hospital at Poona arriving in January 1918.

Nurses posted to India experienced difficulties. India was not considered a war zone and many nurses, including Monica, were not awarded the Victory Medal even though they cared for Turkish prisoners of war and British and Indian soldiers.

It is said many nurses had great difficulty in coping with the climate, the lack of facilities and the venomous snakes.  They received no training in cultural or religious protocols and there were language difficulties with patients and the Indian servants.

During her time in India, Nurse O’Callaghan was hospitalised for a month with measles and later with pneumonic influenza. She returned from the front in September 1919 and went back to work at the Cairns Hospital. 

In January 1921, the Cairns Sub-branch (RSSILA) Executive unanimously agreed to elect Sister O’Callaghan as an Honorary member of the League, in recognition of her extensive service overseas during World War One.

Monica married William Kevin Aloysius Collins in 1924. Collins was a local pharmacist elected Mayor of Cairns from 1927 until 1949. Mrs W. She donated land to the Cairns RSL Sub branch for the building of retirement homes for local returned servicemen. Mayor Collins died in 1959 and Monica in 1960. They are buried in a family plot in the Martyn Street Cemetery.

 

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