Good Reading : June 2017
GOOD READING JUNE 2017 49 Barrier-breaking buddies BEHIND THE BOOK within the next year, just as World War I started. All three had left Australia determined to pursue careers, much like the heroine of Miles Franklin’s famous novel, My Brilliant Career, and they succeded in this resolution. ‘There were not many careers open to women in those days, but these three made it happen,’ Davies said, reacting to a reviewer’s comment that he had been ‘coy’ about the women’s relationships. ‘There was no suggestion anywhere in Miles Franklin’s papers that she was a lesbian. If there had been, I would have written about it. Why assume that because none of the three marr ied that they had to be gay?’ Kath Ussher was an illustrator who, after World War I, wrote about the movie stars of Hollywood for The Sydney Morning Herald, but once she arrived in London in 1915, she not only worked as a secretary for a navy engineer but also volunteered in a munitions factory, in a hospital, and as a reserve ambulance driver. All three joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH) and served in Serbia. Davies spent time in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and found that the uncatalogued SWH archives were stored there in just boxes and tins. ‘This was a unique organisation in which women filled the roles of doctors, nurses, orderlies, drivers and cooks,’ he said. Those frontline medical units were attached to the French and Serbian armies, as the British Army had dismissed an offer of help from the all-female organisation. During service with SWH, Miles worked as a cook, Kath as an orderly and Nell was in charge of one hospital’s mules and ponies. Nell stayed on after the war, helping look after Serbian orphans. Davies and his wife found that Nell’s career in Europe, caring for adults and children, echoed her days as a governess in north Queensland, where she had lived outside Charters Towers as a child. In the years after World War I, Nell looked after heiress toddler Maud Linder, who had been orphaned when her parents died in a murder–suicide. Nell and Maud remained close, and when Nell died in 1963, Maud arranged for her to be buried in the family tomb at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Davies and his wife made several trips to Paris for their research. In 2012 they accepted an invitation to the Louvre, where Maud Linder, who will be 93 this month, had arranged showings of her famous father’s silent films. When in the UK later this year, Davies will research more about the Endell Street Military Hospital in London, founded by women doctors in World War I with an all-female staff, but he’s not yet sure if there is a book in it. Three Brilliant Careers by Ross Davies is published by Boolarong Press, rrp $29.95. Kathleen Ussher c. 1907 (Courtesy of Susanna Burnett) Miles Franklin in December 1914 (State Library of NSW) Kath Ussher died in 1983 in the UK, aged 92.