Puzzle over nurse

Dianne Dempsey | Bendigo Weekly | 23-Nov-2017

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Among the 52 women, children and one boy who are buried together in the St Aidans gravesite at the Remembrance Park, Quarry Hill, lies the remains of Jean Lowrie – a World War I nurse. 

Her story particularly intrigued local historian Murray Poustie who feels he has run into a roadblock with his research.

”Unfortunately I couldn’t even find a photo of her,” Mr Poustie said.

The author of Remember our Nurses: The service and sacrifice of Bendigo nurses in World War One (2014), Mr Poustie discovered that Miss Lowrie, a former nurse, was buried by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1951, aged 71.

While Mr Poustie has found much information around Miss Lowrie’s life, including her war record, there are still gaps which  remain a mystery

The most pressing question is why an obviously independent and strong woman was buried amongst the orphans and lost souls of St Aidans?

But first, the pertinent background based on Mr Poustie’s research

Jean Lowrie was born at Dunolly in 1880, the daughter of William and Catherine Lowrie, later of Barnard St Bendigo.

Her obituary, posted in the Bendigo Advertiser August 31, 1951 reads:

“In 1902 she went to Western Australia and became a nurse. She enlisted in 1914 as a nurse and saw service in Egypt and France and was invalided home to Western Australia in 1917. 

She continued her profession and was matron at several hospitals in the West. In 1943... she returned to Victoria and went to reside with her sister Mrs Collins, at Shepparton. Miss Lowrie had done considerable journalistic work.

Sympathy is extended to her brother Mr Jack Lowrie and five sisters, Eva (Mrs Ryan) Dot (Mrs Collins) Evelyn (Sister Zeta, Adelaide) and Misses Aileen and Kit Lowrie... Mr Vic Palmer of the Returned Servicemen’s League read the nurses’ ritual.”

As regards her war record Miss Lowrie was admitted to hospital “sick” in France on September 24, 1916 and transferred to England on September 28, 1916 with bronchial catarrh. 

She left England on October 16,1916 on an Australian hospital ship to return to Australia.

Mr Poustie says bronchial catarrh does not sound like the type of illness that normally would have resulted in repatriation home to Australia. 

Her death certificate lists the following as the cause of death: heart failure; cerebral haemorrhage and senility.

Mr Poustie is still left with questions such as why did Miss Lowrie return to Australia in 1917? What did she do between 1917 and 1943? What was the journalistic work referred to in the obituary? But the most compelling question is why did she turn to the sisters? 

Mr Poustie has established that Miss Lowrie was not a member of staff at St Aidans and it is the nature of her circumstances that intrigues.  Was she religious? Alone? Or deeply affected by the war? 

The Weekly welcomes any further information from our readers which will be passed on to Mr Poustie.     

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