Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Australian WWI nurse's uniform - A visit to the Australian War Memorial

Photo from AANS Uniform & Service Requirements

I've been asked to create a pattern for the Australian WWI nurse's uniform, both the ward dress and the dress uniform. Some serious research was required and first stop was the interwebs and I found a number of examples, such as the one above, and have pinned them to my WWI board.

I then contacted the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and asked them what was available in their collection and if I could organise a visit as I was already there for the Jane Austen Festival Australia last weekend. Sadly there aren't many uniforms left and the AWM only had a Norfolk jacket and dickie of the dress uniform. Still n' all, they were marvellous and let me view it and take as many photos as I needed.

It was wonderful to see a uniform worn by a serving women who worked to heal soldiers injured in the battles. She would have worn her dress uniform with pride, and deservedly so!

The Australian Army Nurse Service (AANS) WWI outdoor uniforms changed during the war to adapt to changing fashions and I am very thankful to the AANS Uniform & Service Requirements for the following information.
P04233.0011914 Outdoor Dress
An ankle length grey serge dress with a long sleeved, loose fitting blouson bodice, a six gore skirt ( its more likely to be a 5 gore skirt) and a self fabric belt. ( noted that there are 3 horizontal tucks at mid calf level on the skirt). The bodice had a yoke at the back but not at the front. This was fastened with 5 buttons (in front) from the neck to the waist and the belt had two buttons. The stand collar and cuffs were edged with narrow, linen liners. On the right sleeve, just above the elbow there was a raised embroidered AANS Badge.
AANS Uniform & Service Requirements
As noted in the above quote, the first outdoor uniform jacket was based on a Gibson style shirtwaist. Then, it changed in 1916  to the very popular Norfolk jacket style, with a front dickie that shows as the undershirt. The jacket was also worn with the 5-6 gore skirt of the period, which started at ankle length and rose to mid-calf by the end of WWI. It is this later jacket that the AWM holds and is the one I saw.
P03253.004The 1916 Outdoor Dress
In 1916 the AANS Outdoor Dress was changed and army officer’s rank was given to all nurses. The outdoor uniform itself changed to a grey serge suit consisting of a Norfolk jacket and a 5 gore skirt.

Oxidized rank insignia and “AUSTRALIA” titles were worn on the shoulder straps of the jacket.
Army unit color patches were worn on the upper sleeves.

In working dress rank insignia was worn on shoulder straps of the red cape. Nurses who served in the forward hospitals on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign were awarded the Anzac “A” like other AIF veterans of the Dardanelles

On the 1916 Outdoor Jacket the shoulder straps were most commonly detachable and chocolate colored. On some photos the shoulder straps are clearly grey. AANS Uniform & Service Requirements
Images from my visit to the AWM
The garment was made in a beautiful grey flannel (wool) and lined in cotton. The jacket is machine stitched, with hand stitching for the silk collar of the dickie.

The curator was marvellous, extremely helpful and encouraging. It was a great visit and I have learned a great deal that will inform my pattern making for the client.

its a shame they didn't have a working uniform, but here are its details:
P07989.003Working Dress for the entire war
The Working Dress remained the same for the entire war, except for a slight shortening of the skirt to keep in line with the current fashion.
This was a grey zephyr cotton dress similar in pattern to the 1914 Outdoor Dress, with a detachable starched white collar (photos show both stand and stand-and-fall collars,) and cuffs.
White cotton armband with a red felt Geneva cross sewn in the centre. The armband is curved - wider at the centre and tapering to either end, forming straps. The band is fastened by a two-clawed metal buckle sewn into one end of the armband. 'A. [broad arrow symbol] S' is stamped on the back of the armband.
There was a starched white apron with a bib front and cross over straps at the back (this could also be unstarched grey zephyr for extremely dirty work). The apron sometimes had a cotton embroidered Red Cross center top. AANS Uniform & Service Requirements


  1. I have been looking for a WW1 Nurses' Uniform pattern so I could make one for the 1915 centenary. Nice to hear you are going to make it easier for non-pattern makers like me.

    1. Thx Rosie, it will be inexpensive as well, my patterns only cost $A9.95 and can be downloaded immediately. This will take a while but it needs to be ready for my client in September.

  2. Hi Ingrid,do you only supply patterns ,or can an item be made to order for non sewing people. Thanks Daryl Bach.(We met briefly at the ww1 Goulburn event run by John Potter)


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