Matron Margaret Gray lived a life devoted to nursing

MOST of the history we have of the medical profession in our area is concerned with doctors, a limited amount on the hospitals, but little of the nursing staff.

The early hospitals were private, usually run by a local doctor and a trained nurse.

Most of these were "lying-in" rooms for women either about to have a baby or for a short time afterwards.

Public hospitals started to appear in the larger towns towards the end of the 19th century but these were usually run by the local community and were subscription based and had limited funding.

Some had a couple of beds for the poor but few could boast of good conditions.

One of the major problems was the lack of trained nurses.

Sometimes, however, if a girl showed an interest in medicine, she would be sponsored by the local doctors or some others in the community and sent to the city to train.

Margaret Gray
Margaret Gray

Such a one was Elizabeth Ann McDonald of Lismore. She was sent to the Coast (Prince Henry) Hospital in Sydney and there she met another student, Margaret Anne Gray.

They became friends and when they completed their training they came to Lismore and, with the help of Elizabeth McDonald's friends, established Dongrayald Private Hospital.

This was to become a fine establishment.

When the First World War began, Margaret Gray decided to volunteer as a nurse.

She left Sydney for England in 1914 and on arrival there was accepted immediately.

She was sent to Rouen in France where she became attached to the British Red Cross Hospital.

Although she had been used to a strict regime during her training at Sydney she found that the English nurses considered her an inferior.

For some time she was the only Australian nurse attached to the hospital but when others arrived conditions improved.

When Australian soldiers were admitted she was asked to attend to them. She was quite happy to do this and started an autograph book which recorded many of their names.

By the end of the war she had been working overseas for nearly five years.

She was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her work. On her return to Australia in 1920 she was appointed matron of Graythwaite Convalescent Hospital, North Sydney.

This facility had opened in 1915 as a result of a donation by Sir Thomas Dibbs of his historic estate. It had been given to the Crown on the condition that it be used by the Red Cross as a convalescent hospital and home for returned soldiers.

Margaret Gray never married. Like many dedicated nurses of that era she devoted her life to her profession.

Two of her sisters were also nurses and trained at the Coast Hospital. It is not known whether she ever returned to Lismore.

She had been born in Sydney in 1875, the daughter of Robert and Margaret Gray, and it seems likely that she therefore looked on Sydney as her home.

After some years at Graythwaite Margaret Gray was appointed matron at Cavell House, a rest home for trained nurses. It was this position she held until her death on January 16, 1933.

According to her obituary, many of her army nursing friends attended her funeral, as well as nurses from the Coast Hospital, including Matron McMaster.

She had been matron when Margaret Gray did her training at the Coast Hospital. Many commented on Margaret's kindness and dedication, as well as her strength of character.

No doubt Lismore lost a fine person as well as nurse when she left for war. She was truly one of the "old school".

Topics:  history nursing wwi

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