On Friday morning, Australia’s oldest surviving WWII nurse will wait outside Alfred Carson Lodge in Claremont for her lift to the Anzac Day march in the Perth CBD.
Her driver of 10 years will arrive with a morning tea of Anzac biscuits, a thermos of coffee and small flask of whisky ” just in case.
After finishing her nursing training at Royal Perth Hospital in 1940, then 26-year-old Mrs Leach enlisted to serve with the 2/7th Australian General Hospital in the Middle East.
‘I wasn’t frightened at all, I never even thought of being frightened,’ she said.
‘My father was very cross with me when I volunteered and said my place was at home with my mother, but she said: ‘Don’t you listen to him’ so off I went.
‘I don’t think I was brave because I was doing the job I loved the most.
‘It was my chance to see the world.’
Mrs Leach said she was fortunate to be a ‘natural-born nurse’ when faced with the challenge of caring for soldiers coming ‘from the dirt and mud in the trenches’.
‘The Australian boys were wonderful patients and they just adored us, they almost didn’t mind going to hospital.
‘I remember the mateship was wonderful, they couldn’t wait to get back to their mates.
‘It was inspiring to see, but war is a dreadful thing, a terrible thing. It was a long time ago now.’
Mrs Leach’s son Geoff Leach said his parents met in Palestine and married after the war back in Australia.
‘Mum tells the story that the army guys were taking the nurses out one night and her colleague said: ‘Well, I don’t feel like going out tonight, why don’t you take my place?’ and that was Dad,’ Mr Leach said.
‘She also nursed Jim MacKenzie (WA’s oldest WWII veteran at the time of his death in January) when he was shot in the arm.
‘His grandson and one of our daughters met at university and made the connection.
‘Jim would reminisce and claimed to have given her the nickname Smiler, because when she would rip the bandages off she would smile.’
Mr Leach said after his father died, his mother worked at Hollywood Private Hospital to put him and his three siblings through school and belonged to ‘an ‘endless list’ of groups and committees including the Guides WA, Australian Red Cross and Silver Chain.
‘I often think: ‘How could one person have time to fit all this into one lifetime?’ he said.