• Constance Mabel Keys

Army / Flying Corps
  • Australian Army Nursing Service
  • Nurse
  • Head Sister

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  • Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) (ARRC)
  • Mentioned in Despatches (MID)
  • Foreign award/Other
  • Royal Red Cross (1st Class) (RRC)
  • Enlistment - WW1

    Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

  • Birth

    Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia

Stories and comments
    • KEYS, Constance Mabel (Connie) – Head Sister, (MIDx2 1916 & 1918, ARRC 1916, RRC 1919, French MdesE 1919)
    • Posted by FrevFord, Tuesday, 2 December 2014

    Born on the 30th of October 1886 Mount Perry, Qld – daughter of James KEYS (F.L.S.) and Margaret PELHAM – who married in the UK James – a School Headmaster and Botonist (Fellow of the Linnean Society, London) – died on the 26/1/1916 at his residence Galloway’s Hill, Norman Park, East Brisbane, while Connie was at home on leave Margaret d.25/11/1929 Siblings (9): Isabella b.1874 Qld; Thomas Pelham b.1876 Qld (School Teacher) – marr Hilda May (3 children) – WW1: Pte 621, AN&MEF – d.1937 Qld; Elizabeth Kathleen b.1878 – d.1942 Qld; Charles Albert b.1879 Qld (Clerk) – marr Florence Elsie (1 child) – WW1: Pte 1730 / 7753, AN&MEF and 15th Bn; Neville b.1881 – d.1958 Qld; Hugh St Andrew b.1884 –d.1955 Qld; Douglas Verner b.1889 Qld (Bank Clerk) – WW1: Pte 8521, 1st AGH, 2nd ASH – d.1955 Qld; Lorna Adela Marcella b.1892; Doris Marguerite b.1895 (singer) Attended Maryborough School of the Arts – where she passed the Trinity College exam in Music Prac in 1901 Trained in nursing at the Brisbane General Hospital (winning the Gold medal for practical nursing) WW1: One of four Queensland nurses embarking in Brisbane on the HMAT A5 Omrah on the 24/9/1914 – Connie, together with Sisters E.M. Paten, J.M. Hart and B.M. Williams travelled to Egypt in the First Convoy On the day of departure from Albany, WA (1/11/14) the men were inoculated for typhoid and during the trip they experienced an outbreak of measles At Colombo, following the destruction of the German cruiser, Emden, by their escort, the Sydney – 50 of the Emden prisoners were transferred from the Sydney to the Omrah to continue the journey to Egypt, where they were transferred to the Hampshire at Suez. Egyptian Army Hospital, Abbassia No. 1 Australian General Hospital (AGH), Heliopolis Palace Hotel Embarked 4/12/1915 on the Themistocles as Sister-in-charge of wounded returning to Australia – returned to Egypt on the Ulysses, disembarking Alexandria 25/4/1916 Taken on strength of the 3rd AGH, Abbassia 8/5/1916 Returned from Leave 29/8/1916 Embarked at Alexandria on HS Karoola 25/9/1916 for England – arrived 5/10/1916 at Kitchener Hospital, Brighton for duty [3rd AGH were taking over the hospital] Rejoined Unit 4/2/1917 from furlo Marched in to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital (AAH), Southall 25/3/1917 and marched out to duty at St Albans 28/3/1917 – attached 2AAH 22/4/1917 To be Sister-in-charge of the Australian Nurses Hospital, Southwell Gardens, London 29/5/1917 – 14/11/1917 Proceeded overseas to France to re-join the 3rd AGH 14/11/1917 Posted for duty to the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station (ACCS), Abbeville 7/2/1918, arriving 9/2/18 Posted for duty to the 10th Stationary Hospital 11/3/1918 – returning to 2ACCS 5/4/1918 – 10 Stat Hosp 12/4/18 – 2 ACCS 17/4/18 Proceeded on Leave 6/2/1919 and retained in UK on completion of Leave 1/3/1919 and reported for duty at 1st AGH, Sutton Veny Proceeded on Leave 18/8/1919 – 1/9/1919 On Leave 19/10/1919 Returned to Australia on the Orvieto 1/11/1919 – 19/12/1919, with Matron-in-chief Conyers – they were the last two of the ‘originals’ to return to Australia AWM Photo: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/A01673/ 1921: Connie was Matron of the Anazc Convalescent Farm at Broadwater (run by the Dept of Repat), and Lionel the Manager. Married Lionel Hugh PENNEFATHER 3/12/1921 at her mother’s residence at Galloway’s Hill, Norman Park Guests at the wedding included the three nurses who had travelled in the First Convoy with Connie on the Omrah – Bertha Mary Williams, Eunice Muriel Paten and Julia Mary Hart Lionel Hugh PENNEFATHER was born 10/9/1891 Hay NSW [as Lionel H. P. KEMP] – son of Sholto Percival KEMP and Grace Hilda CURTIS – who married at Watson’s Bay, NSW on the 5/9/1887 Sholto (a Solicitor) and Grace divorced in 1899 and Grace remarried to John Francis PENNEFATHER on the 25/4/1900 in Toorak, Vic. John, the Police Magistrate at Wangaratta, died 24/1/1920, and Grace married John WHITING on the 21/12/1922 at Cremorne, NSW. Grace died at a private hospital in Victoria on the 11/12/1956. Sibling: Grace Daphne KEMP b.20/1/1890 Port Macquarie – Nurse – marr Frederic Mervyn BOYDELL 20/11/1915 Sth Yarra, Vic – d.20/9/1982 Dentist WW1: Enl Vic – Sgt 953, 7th Bn – Emb 21/10/1914 on the A20 Hororata – (Influenza, Shell shock, VD, desertion – sentence suspended, Pyrexia) – RTA on Port Hacking 13/12/1918 – 27/1/1919 (1914 Leave) Children (2): *James Lionel b.6/9/1923 Qld – WW2: Flying Officer, 167 Sqn, RAAF (DFC) *Margaret Grace – Nurse 1925, 1937, 1943 Electoral Rolls: Camp St, Toowong, Qld During World War II Connie trained women in voluntary Red Cross work and entertained many soldiers at her home. 1954 ER: McIntosh Island, Southport, Qld (also Margaret Grace – nurse) 1958, 1963 ERs: “Dardurr”, 43 Bauer St, Southport, Qld (also Margaret Grace – nurse) Connie died on the 17th of March 1964 in Qld – and was cremated and interred in the Mount Thompson Memorial Gardens Lionel died in Sept 1974 – late of Main Beach, Gold Coast, Qld Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette (Qld), Thur 17 Jun 1915 (p.3): Letter from a Nurse Mr James Keys, of Brisbane, has received a letter from his daughter, Sister Constance Keys, and from Sister Hart, both written from the First Australian General Hospital, Heliopolis Palace Hotel, Cairo, on 7th May last. Sister Keys, in the course of her letter, says: – “There have been sad happenings since I last wrote. We did not get in any of the wounded till Thursday, 29th April, when the hospital train came up just behind the Palace – nine long carriages painted white, with the Egyptian Star and Crescent on the side. Then the unloading commenced. Those able to walk were shown the way in, and those on stretchers were carried over in the motor ambulances, which were waiting there. These ambulances have been a great blessing, and are more comfortable and much easier travelling for the wounded than the old wagons. I never before realized the value of the A.M. Corps. I shall never forget the sad sight of those hundreds of wounded men, walking and being carried, coming in one after the other, in endless procession, without a sound except the noise of muffled footfalls. Then the wards began to fill up. The work of getting those weary men washed, bathed, fed, and their wounds dressed was a big undertaking, but it was done. Next day we were directed to make room for more cases, so those who were fit were got ready and moved on to another hospital. More trains on Friday, with even more cases, fewer men walking, and more being carried. Saturday the same again. I forget about Sunday. Then no more trains for a few days, till last night, when another arrived. It often seems hopeless trying to cope with the work, but when I think of those hundreds of men at the front, living, wounded, and dead – our own men – I just put on a fresh spurt and try to work a bit harder. The women here are very good to the wounded. One lady who comes to my ward, brings jellies, fruit, and custards. She goes round among the patients and feeds the very sick ones who are too weak to help themselves. Her daughter comes at night with a great jug holding quarts of delicious lemon and barley water. This is only one instance among very many of their goodness. The men return from the fighting line with absolutely nothing but the clothes they are wearing, and sometimes the men had only half the full complement of clothing. So now is the time for all the things which the women have made or bought for their comfort. The men are wonderfully brave and cheerful. One poor boy who has a badly smashed arm, and has suffered terribly, asked me this morning if he would be fit to return to the front in a week. One could weep all day with the sadness of it all. The poor fellows look at one with such wistful eyes, like those of some dumb animals. It would just break your heart to see them. The men say that the country on the Gallipoli Peninsula is terribly rough, with great hills, gullies, and steep cliffs – so steep that the men often have to use ropes in climbing them. The heat indoors here is not at all trying. These big stone buildings are very cool and airy. The Australians have made a great name for themselves, and we have that to be proud of. They attempted and have achieved the almost impossible, and that should be some comfort to those whom they have left behind. I never saw and never again shall see, I suppose, greater courage than that shown by these poor fellows. Leader (Melbourne), Sat 24 Jul 1915: QUAMBY CLUB THANKED BY SOLDIERS IN HOSPITAL ………………………………………………. Nurse Constance Keys writes from Egypt that every day almost she uses pillow slips marked “With best wishes from Quamby Club.” “All that Red Cross work,” she says, “is of the utmost value. The men do enjoy getting into cool, clean sheets and nice pillow slips after being for days in their old uniforms. Our men are very plucky, and we are proud to be able to nurse them. Australian soldiers have made a great name for themselves. One man said to me the other day that if the Australians had had the positions the Turks have, no enemy could ever have landed.” The Brisbane Courier, (Qld), Thur 18 Jan 1917 (p.11): WOMAN’S WORLD QUEENSLAND NURSE HONOURED [Photo] The announcement that a Royal Military Cross [sic] of the second order has been conferred by his Majesty the King on Sister Constance Keys brings an honour to Queensland, as well as to the recipient herself. Sister Keys was born in Mount Perry, and is a daughter of the late Mr James Keys, F.L.S., and Mrs Keys, of Norman Park, where the sister resided from early girlhood. Sister Keys received her training at the Brisbane General Hospital, and in her final examination won the gold medal for practical nursing. She was a sister in the Army Nursing Corps before war broke out, and was one of the first four nurses selected from Queensland, the band being Sisters Keys, Hart, Paten, and Williams, who left Brisbane on September 24. Sister Key’s first patients were from the Emden. Her destination was Egypt, where she remained 12 months, and nursed the first wounded back from Gallipoli, many of them being her personal chums. Her next duty was a return on a transport bringing wounded to Australia. Her visit to Queensland was a brief one. The call of duty was strong, and she returned to Egypt, where she completed two years’ service, and was appointed sub-matron in one of the military hospitals. Sister Keys is now on duty in a military hospital in Brighton, established in school buildings, where Mr. A.P. Payne, secretary of the hospital in which she received her training, was educated. The honour bestowed upon Sister Keys shows how nobly Queensland women who have the opportunity are doing their duty for King and Empire. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/20147756 The Brisbane Courier, Tue 3 Apr 1917: WOMEN’S WORLD QUEENSLAND NURSE HONOURED The following letter has been received from Sister Constance Keys, of Norman Park, who, as previously reported, received the distinction of the Royal Red Cross. Sister Keys received her training at the Brisbane General Hospital, and was one of the first of our nurses to leave for the Front: - “I have had a most exciting day. I have been to Buckingham Palace to receive the Royal Red Cross. Last week we each had a lengthy wire telling us to appear at the Palace on February 5, and to immediately wire reply. As the affair came off this morning, at 10 o’clock, we went to London last evening and stayed the night at the best hotel. This morning we dressed as for State occasions – serge dresses, red capes, white caps, and white kid gloves. We took a taxi from the hotel, and six of us squeezed in and in grand style told the man to drive to Buckingham Palace. There had been a heavy fall of snow, and everything was white. There was such a long line of taxis, and once inside the gates we just moved by inches, but at last we got out and were ushered into a huge room where we left our coats. Then we moved away to the left, and a man there gave us each a number and we went into a room and took a chair with the same number on. We had a wait of two hours, and oh, it was cold. While waiting we were several times given our instructions, and a hook was fixed on every one’s cape for the cross to be placed on. At last our turn came and we walked out in our order, one behind the other. We passed through several beautiful rooms. In one the walls were lined with cabinets of most exquisite china. The next room was full of beautiful pictures, and oh, the carpets – a shade of old rose – and the chairs a paler shade with gold. We gradually moved along feeling very cold and shaky, into the throne room. Each one’s name and what one belonged to was read out. Our instructions were to walk into the room, halt where the Lord Chamberlain stood immediately under a chandelier, turn to the left to face the King, who placed the cross on and shook hands. Then we stepped back two paces, curtsied, turned immediately to the right, and out. When my turn came it just seemed like a dream. I saw the Lord Chamberlain and the Indian guard, made my curtsey, advanced two steps towards the King, who placed the Royal Red Cross on my cape and said something about thanks for services and shook hands – a good firm handshake. I then took two steps backwards and made my curtsey (very creditably according to the sister behind me), turned to the right, and out. The King is exactly like his pictures, and has the kindliest eyes and smile. When we all gathered together again we got our taxi, and this time gave the order for Marlborough House. Queen Alexandra had expressed a desire to see us. It was all very simple there. We just took off our coats in one room and moved into the next, where Queen Alexandra was with four ladies. She spoke to each of us and shook hands, and presented each of us with a book and card. She was dressed very simply in black, and was not as tall as we expected. We were very hungry for our lunch, which we did not get till nearly 2 o’clock. Afterwards matron and I went to a concert, and heard Mark Hambourg play. Well, the great day is over, and knowing how nice it was I would like to go through it all to-morrow.” The Brisbane Courier, Thur 21 Jun 1917: PERSONAL NOTES Sister Constance Keys, Royal Red Cross, of Galloway’s Hill, Norman Park, in a letter just to hand, addressed to a friend, indicated that she had been in London about a fortnight. She was one of 92 sisters who were staying at a West End hotel awaiting the “route” for France. The usual hotel routine appeared to be pleasantly varied by the grey dresses and little red capes. Sister Keys had utilized the period between “boots and saddles” and “turn out” by seeing and hearing “the sights and sounds of London rounds.” She was much impressed by the venerable Abbey at Westminster and its contents. She took “keep-fit” walks in Hyde Park. The British Journal of Nursing, Jul 21, 1917 (p.39): A HOSPITAL FOR NURSES The hospital for Australian nurses at 12, Southwell Gardens, Kensington, the opening of which was notified last week, fills an urgent need in the provision of nursing and medical attendance for sick nurses who are far away from home and friends. It is located in a fine corner house, which catches the maximum amount of sun, and therefore all the rooms have a very cheerful appearance. On the ground floor is the drawing room provided with plenty of comfortable chairs and a piano. The walls of the dining room are hung with Japanese pictures, which have been kindly lent for the purpose. The wards have a varying amount of beds according to the size of the rooms. Nine in one room is the greatest number; and there are some single rooms. They are all very pleasant, and tastefully and simply furnished. Light green quilts, harmonise very well with the crimson screens. There are at present fourteen patients, but there is accommodation for twenty-six. We were introduced to one sister who inhabited a single bedroom. She had been “very sick,” but was on the road to recovery. The staff consists of the Matron, Miss C.M. Keyes (certified Brisbane General Hospital), who, since the beginning of the war, has worked in Egypt, and three Sisters. At present no operations are performed there as the theatre is not yet equipped. We were very hospitably received by the Matron, who made us somewhat envious by her description of the high nursing standards which prevail in Australia. The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld), Sat 16 Aug 1919 (p.39): PERSONAL NOTES Mrs Margaret Keys, Galloway’s Hill, has received from Base Records, Melbourne, a copy of an extract from the “London Gazette” of March 11 relating to conspicuous services rendered by her daughter, Head Sister C.M. Keys, A.A.N.s., who, besides the British Royal Red Cross, and “mention in despatches” by both General Murray (commanding the Egyptian Expeditionary Force) and General Sir Douglas Haig, has received the decoration and medal conferred by the President of the French Republic, Medaille des Epidemics (en vermeil). The Brisbane Courier, Fri 2 Dec 1921: PRE-WEDDING RECEPTION In honour of the approaching marriage of her daughter, Sister Constance Keys, R.R.C., M.M., to Mr L.H. Pennefather, Mrs Keys entertained a large number of guests yesterday afternoon at a reception and afternoon tea. Sister Constance Keys, who was trained in the Brisbane General Hospital, in which institution she latterly held the position of sister, was one of the first four Queensland nurses to be selected for active service during the war, and was attached to the 1st Australian General Hospital, going through the early portion of the Gallipoli campaign, and afterwards serving in Egypt, England and France. She was twice mentioned in despatches for her splendid services, and received the silver and later the gold, orders of the Royal Red Cross, with which she was invested by her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Sister Keys was awarded also the French decoration of Medaille Militaire. She recently resigned her position as matron of the convalescent farm at Broadwater (Mt Gravatt), at which institution her fiancee, Mr L.H. Pennefather (who is also an Anzac, having left with the first contingent) is overseer. ………………………………………………………………………….. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/20521897 The Brisbane Courier, Wed 7 Dec 1921 (p.11): WEDDINGS A wedding of interest to a large circle of friends was celebrated at the residence of the bride’s mother, Galloway’s Hill, on Saturday morning. The bride, Sister Connie M Keys, R.R.C., M.M., is the third daughter of the late Mr James Keys, F.L.S., and Mrs Keys, Galloway’s Hill, Norman Park, and the bridegroom Mr Lionel Hugh Kemp Pennefather, late of the A.I.F., son of Mrs G Pennefather, Melbourne. Both the bride and the bridegroom were among the first to volunteer for war service, the former being one of the first four nurses sent from Queensland, and the latter an Anzac from Melbourne. The bride was twice mentioned in despatches for distinguished service, the investiture of her Royal decorations taking place at Buckingham Palace. Recently Sister Keys has held the position of matron at the convalescent farm at Broadwater, the bridegroom being manager. The ceremony took place on the balcony, which was transformed for the occasion into a cool-looking conservatory. The bridal party was grouped under a flag from the transport Themistocles, given to the bride during a journey she made with the troops on the vessel, and for background there was a piece of wonderful Egyptian tapestry. They stood on a carpet of wild flowers and leaves strewed in picturesque harmonies of colouring. The Rev Dr E.N. Merrington, who accompanied the first nursing sisters on their journey, performed the ceremony. The bride who was given away by her brother, Mr Hugh St Andrew Keys, wore……….. ………………………………………………………………………………………… The gathering was unique, the guests including the three R.R.C. nurses who, with the bride, formed the first four sent from Queensland – Matrons Williams, Patten, Hart (who came from Stanthorpe for the occasion), and also Matrons Huxley, Bell, Sorensen, Sisters Andrews and Snelling, all returned nurses. ……………………………………….. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/20505401 The Brisbane Courier, Thur 27 Apr 1933 (p.17) WAR NURSE ABROAD Town and Country Club Memories of Anzac were recalled last evening in the Town and Country Women’s Club, when Mrs Lionel Pennefather (formerly Sister C.M. Keys, R.R.C.) gave a talk to members on “The War Experiences of an Army Nursing Sister.” With three other sisters from Brisbane – Sisters B.M. Williams, E.M. Paten, and J.M. Hart – the speaker left Brisbane in September 1914, with the first detachment of troops for active service abroad, and after serving at the Egyptian Army Hospital at Abbassia, they were detailed for duty at No. 1 Australian General Hospital at the Heliopolis Palace Hotel. Describing the arrival of the first convoy of wounded from Gallipoli, on April 29, 1915, Mrs Pennefather said: “They were so fine, and made no complaint; only their eyes, like those of dumb animals, betrayed their sufferings.” The speaker referred with gratitude to the kindness of the women of Cairo, who had visited the patients in hospital daily, and spoke of the value of the clothing sent by the women of Australia, for at that time “every hand-kerchief, every pair of pyjamas sent, was worth its weight in gold, the men from Gallipoli having been left with nothing but a few bloodstained rags.” After these experiences, Mrs Pennefather said, the hospital was transferred to France, and later she, with the staff to which she belonged, was transferred to Brighton, England, to take over Kitchener’s War Hosptial. In 1917 Mrs T. Hall (formerly of Mt Morgan) equipped and gave to the authorities a hospital for Australian sick sisters, and for a time Mrs Pennefather was in charge of this. Later, when the four Sisters from Brisbane were enjoying a reunion at a London café, they found themselves in the midst of an air raid. Afterwards, the speaker was attached to Abbeville Hospital, France, and later to No. 2 ACCS at Steenwerck, outside Bailleul, when the sisters and their patients went through some terrifying experiences, and were in St Omer when it was heavily shelled by the Germans. “Now,” concluded the speaker, “eighteen years after the original Anzac Day, we can look back on the glorious deeds of our men and women, and trust that the coming generations will never forget.” …………………………………………………………. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/22152223?searchTerm The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld), Mon 24 Sept 1934 (p.18): DINED IN AIR RAID Four Omrah Sisters Memories of their last meeting which took place in a London café during one of the worst raids that the city knew in 1917, were recalled by Mrs C.M. Pennyfather, R.R.C., Misses E.M. Paten, A.R.R.C., J.M. Hart, R.R.C., and B.M. Williams A.R.R.C., last Saturday night, when they attended a reunion held in McWhirters’ Café to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the sailing from Queensland on the troopship Omrah on September 24, 1914, in which they were the four sisters. The occasion was the first meal shared by the quartet since their little reunion in 1917. In that year they all chanced to be in London at the same time, and arranged to have dinner together at a café. So busy were they in talking and bringing each other up to date in their personal news, however, that they did not notice the air raid alarm, and suddenly discovered that all the other diners had fled from the café! In several respects the lives and careers of the four sisters have run along the same lines. They were all born in Queensland and all trained at the Brisbane Hospital, although they did their midwifery courses at different hospitals. Before the war they all were members of the volunteer establishment of the 1st Military District, and during the war each did service in Egypt, England, and France. On their return to Australia in 1919 they all became members of the staff of the Military Hospital at Enoggera. BORN IN BRISBANE …………………………………………………………………………………….. Better known in the nursing world as Sister Constance Keys, Mrs Pennyfather had casualty clearing and transport work included in her war service, and she was also on the staff of the Australian Sick Sisters’ Hospital in London for some time. On her return to Australia she went to the Repatriation Farm at Mt Gravatt. Toowong is now her home, and she is the mother of a son and a daughter. The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld), Mon 25 Sept 1939 (p.3s): 25th Omrah Anniversary …………………………………………….. Three of the four nursing sisters who accompanied the troops were present. They were Matrons E.M. Paton [sic], C.M. Pennefather, and B.M. Williams. The fourth, Matron J.M. Hart, who is matron at the Prince of Wales Military Hospital, Randwick, Sydney, sent a letter. ……………………………………………….. The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld), Mon 3 Jul 1944 (p.4): Nurses Meet To Celebrater Anniversary ………………………………………………………….. Mrs L.H. Pennefather told of a wardmaid in her hospital in the last war who refused to take shelter during an air raid, because if she were about to die she “might as well die patriotic.” ………………………………………………………………. The Australian Women’s Weekly, Wed 19 Apr 1972 (p.22-23): [Photo] “Dear Mum….Don’t forget how to make flapjacks” Amid the horrors of World War 1, a little nurse kept up her courage with her letters home In a grim casualty clearing station in France in World War 1, King George V was touring the wards packed with wounded soldiers. Suddenly a young, pretty Australian nurse thrust an autograph book in front of him, and he smiled and picked up a pen. His aide tried to stop him. “Sir, the royal family doesn’t give autographs,” he said. “That rule doesn’t apply on foreign soil,” said the King, and signed the book of Sister Connie Keys, of Brisbane, who was one of the first four nurses selected from Queensland to go to that war. Sister Keys went on to win the Royal Red Cross Medal and was twice mentioned in dispatches. She returned to Australia at the end of the war to take charge of the Anzac Convalescent Farm at Mt Gravatt, and married Lionel Pennefather, a returned soldier. Eight years ago she died in Brisbane and Mr Pennefather went to live with his son-in-law and daughter, Mr and Mrs Arthur Thorsborne, in Southport. Recently the royal signature came to light in a book containing many other famous wartime names, along with the nurse’s diaries and letters to her family. They contain a grim yet gay account of a women’s view of the war. From a hospital in Egypt, where she found a piano, she wrote, “I wish I had brought my music.” From France: “I am only afraid of being afraid.” From England: “I bought the loveliest pair of buttoned boots today.” From Belgium: “What I should like just now would be a big piece of K’s passionfruit cake.” Before the war broke out Connie Keys was a sister in the Army Nursing Corps and was nursing at Brisbane General Hospital, where she won the gold medal for practical nursing. She sailed in the troopship Omrah, attached to the 9th Battalion, 3rd Brigade of the 1st A.I.F. Her first patients were survivors from the crack German cruiser Emden, sunk while raiding Allied shipping lanes in the Southern Hemisphere. In her diary she scribbled in pencil on November 9, 1914: “Got word this morning that the Sydney had destroyed the Emden. Great enthusiasm on board. Heard we were in danger last evening. Emden only 40 miles away and only that we went the wrong side of Cocos Islands would surely have been destroyed. All lights out this evening….Hart and I powdered our noses by my little torch.” On November 16: “36 sailors and 14 officers of Emden came on board this afternoon. Strong guard. Big fat German officer watched as steward screwed porthole as tightly closed as possible with iron bar. Officer asked what for – pointed to his dimensions and asked did they think he’d get out through the porthole.” On December 18 she wrote: “German prisoners left this morning on Hampshire. Sorry to see them go. Think they were very happy here. Jacob Geibit – one of them – presented me with his capband.” (Mr Pennefather still has the capband.) Sister Keys served first in the Australian military hospitals in Egypt, and with a few months she was nursing Anzacs wounded in the Allied attempt to unlock the gates of the Black Sea. That campaign ended with the evacuation of Gallipoli; and in August, 1916, she mentioned seeing wounded soldiers arrive from clashes with the Turks on Egyptian soil at Katia, not far from the Suez Canal. To her mother back in Queensland she wrote: “The Turks are very good friends with our men and do not like fighting them. They say they are always fair… “An officer today was telling me of the wonderful accuracy of the German aeroplanists. One dropped a message about ten yards in front of Colonel Chauvel’s tent telling him to mark his hospitals properly. He got an awful shock, I believe, but took the hint.” On leave at Rasr-el-Bar: “DearK. - ….Part of this morning I spent making mud pies with a little French kid. She and I never spoke a word. It would not have been any use, but solemnly made pies. You should have seen the table we arranged. All the shapes made in patty tins and pink matches stuck in them…” Back at No. 3 Australian General Hospital: “Dear Mum - ….I wish I had a few spare pounds. There is so much I could do. Now yesterday, at the Barrage, after such a thirsty drive, I wanted to shout lemonade to all the patients, but the stuff is 5d a bottle. I shouted about ten men, but felt mean not treating the lot. Then I took their photos and each man, of course, would like one as a memento. These little items run away with the money. The £1 you gave me for them I spent in various ways. Rumors are still very persistent about our going on…” A few days later, September 24, 1916: “Dear Mother, K, and L – We shall entrain this evening for Alexandria. We do not know where we are going, but it will probably be to England. “Yesterday afternoon Matron and I went around Cairo leisurely looking at things. We glued our noses to the shop windows like bushies. It will be many a long day, if ever again, before we see these exquisite oriental things…We have to wear stars on our shoulders now and feel wild about it. It is such a silly, stupid idea aping the officers.” Now at sea, six days later: “Dear Mum – We are well on our way to England and will reach Gibraltar tomorrow…I was laid low last night, but I was one of the best, missed no meals, so I can reckon I am a fair sailor. We go with full lights, the Karoola being a hospital ship. There is practically no danger to us. There are 88 sisters. Imagine a great room of women sleeping, and imagine the 99 seasick…” No. 3 Australian General Hospital was rapidly set up in England, at Brighton, on the Channel coast. She wrote on November 11: “Dear Mum – There is such a dense fog today. This weather is good for the complexion – I am developing pink cheeks. You don’t see a single healthy man in civilian clothes. All the men are either too young or too old or else not strong. Don’t worry about me. Apart from the constant feeling of loss, I am quite well. “The other day I came across a sister in a ward writing to two of her patients. The poor boys had no mail and were feeling lonely so she addressed the letter to ‘two lonely Australians.’ I found a funny post-card and wrote something on it and sent it along also. The boys were so pleased and next day sent me a return card. They are fine boys and have been in Gallipoli and France. I’ll give them each a pair of Mrs Stewart’s socks and get her to write to them.” Twelve days later: “Dear Mum – I am taking a guinea course for my hair. It came out a great deal in Egypt. We are having a great deal of trouble with our mess. You know we are allowed 2/6 a day for that. Food is very dear here and we have such big appetites and now we hear we are to pay for the maids, so living will be costly… “Matron’s maid thinks she has reached the height of her ambition now she is waiting on the matron. She keeps bobbing in and out of the room the whole time with her cap on the side of her head. I heard her ringing up the butcher ordering meat: ‘A nice piece of mutton to roast for the matron, then I want a small piece of mutton to make soup for the matron. Oh, only just 3-pinorth or 6-pinorth. Of course, you know I have vegetables for the soup. Just a nice little bit of mutton to make a nice little bit of soup for the matron.’ She says she has always risen in life. First she married into the Navy and then into the Military, and now she is Matron’s maid. You want to see her to appreciate her…” Sister Keys later came back to Australia on a transport bringing wounded men home. She returned to Europe, and for the rest of the war was moved to casualty clearing stations and military hospitals in Egypt, France, Belgium, and England. Her letters contain accounts of her presentations to King George V and Queen Alexandra to receive the Second Order of the Royal Red Cross Medal and, later, the First Order “in recognition of here valuable services with the armies in France and Flanders.” She also received the Medaille des Epidemies for “great devotion to the sick” from the French Government. She was mentioned in dispatches by General Sir A.J. Murray in 1916 and Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig in 1918. A letter from France on October 30, 1918, the Great War nearly over: “Dear L – I still like this life, it is so free and open. This part of France is not pretty. The houses, what are left, are all in ruins. Not one building left whole. There is not a civilian for miles, only troops. “I don’t know how we will manage about the fashions when we come home. We are such bushwhackers. We went to Ordnance one day for some clothing and the man there told us that a Portuguese officer asked for a pair of gloves. On being asked what size, he thought for a while and then said, ‘Half past seven.’ Another day one wanted a coat with fleece lining. He asked for the coat, then paused a moment, then as a brilliant effort pointed to the inside of the coat and said, ‘Mutton’.” Then on November 11: “Dear Mum – Isn’t the news glorious. Peace. We cannot realize it. We have always been saying what we would do when peace came, but here we are and cannot do anything. Our MOs and orderlies have gone on and we are to follow. I can just see your excitement and joy over the wonderful news. We shall soon be home. Love from Connie.” On December 14: “The room that we use as our mess is a long one with the loveliest old Louis XIV furniture, carpets, and the sweetest toned of pianos. One half of the room we use as a drawing-room and the other (as I said) as a mess-room. The kitchen is just off this and everything is so compact. Every room opens on to the conservatory, where palms, etc., grow. We ought to build that way in Australia.” On December 19: “We have moved again, this time to Ath, a little town about 40 miles from Brussels. Soap and starch are practically unprocurable. Our clothes are a dreadful color. Washing is a big item and was so badly done at the last place. “It will be great to be home again. We cannot realize it all, even yet…I have forgotten the taste of mango or a passionfruit. What I should like just now would be a big piece of K’s passionfruit cake. I have not touched my birthday cake, I am saving it up for Xmas. Many thanks for it. I shall surely be home soon.” On January 13, 1919: “Dear Mum – I was very interested in your Armistice excitement. I should love to have seen it all. I fancy I can see it now. They say London and Paris went quite mad. Although we are quite in the heart of things we had no excitement at all. We were not quite sure if it were true or not… “Dancing is still cut out for us, Xmas week as a great concession we were allowed to dance. It is pretty hard…There is nothing to do here in the evenings, so we play old ping-pong. “The next place we go to will be very different from this. We have had queer homes. One time it is a tent and we paddle around all day in the mud, and another time we are in a shell-smashed asylum…We surely will be home soon. Feel too unsettled to write more.” Then from France on February 17: “Dear K – I have been a bad correspondent lately, but I’ve felt very tired. Even the simplest task was a worry to carry out. But now I’m on leave at Cannes. Imagine me on the Riviera. It is simply delightful, and to think that such a short time ago we were nearly frozen… “The first morning when I awakened, looked out of my window and saw the whole hillside covered with wattle in full bloom and gums. I just lay in bed for hours and gazed out and drowsed and dreamed. I am almost ashamed to say that what I enjoy more than the palm, orange, and olive groves are the hot baths. I haven’t had one for a year – just a sponge-over in a basin, and during the cold weather a very hurried sponge.” Months later, on September 5, 1919, she was writing from England again, from No. 1 Australian General Hospital. “Dear Mum – Our stay here is still indefinite. Do hope we will be home for Christmas. Have set my heart on that…Don’t forget how to make flapjacks and K.K. her passionfruit cakes. You don’t know how I have boomed them up over here…” Sister Keys returned to Australia soon afterward. After her marriage she retired from nursing and lived at Indooroopilly with her husband and son, James, and daughter. During World War II she trained women in voluntary Red Cross work and entertained many soldiers at her home. [Audrey Chapman] [various photos at beginning of text, page 23] [also on p.22-23]: The wounded came At the time of the Gallipoli landing Sister Keys was nursing in Egypt, and in a reminiscence 20 years later for an RSL journal, the “Queensland Digger,” she told of events in April, 1915: “We sisters of the No. 1 Australian General Hospital were stationed at Heliopolis Palace, that magnificent structure built by the Belgians to outrival Monte Carlo. The Australian authorities requisitioned this palace for a base hospital, and when we took it over it had been stripped of most of its glory. But well do we remember coming down those gorgeous staircases to meals carrying out kit – enamel plates, cups, etc. “Life for the troops in the desert must have been pretty awful at times, especially when these khamseens were blowing. Only a tent for protection, sand in and on everything. In April, after months of training, of which they’d grown weary, they marched away, destination unknown… “To all those departing we waved goodbye. So many, many goodbyes. Far into the night we heard them, company after company, singing as they went ‘Don’t Take Me Home,’ ‘Tipperary,’ ‘Who’s Your Lady Friend,’ cheering, cooeeing again and again. “Grand to hear, but, oh, so sad. Alas, how many would come back?...News came that the troops had gone to Lemnos, with the taking of the Dardanelles as their objective. “On April 28 all leave at the hospital was stopped and that night two hospital trains with 200 sick patients from Lemnos arrived, and late the next afternoon, four days after the memorable landing, the first trainload of wounded from Gallipoli arrived. The train drew up right behind the palace, long white carriages with the Egyptian star and crescent painted in red on the side. “Then the work of unloading began, walking cases being directed across to the hospital, stretcher cases conveyed by motor ambulance. The sight of those wounded men, walking and stretcher cases in endless procession, was one never to be forgotten. No noise, no bustle, no sound, only footfalls. “Poor worn-out souls, almost too weary to smile, with only a few rags of clothing (mostly bloodstained) left to them. So quiet, so brave, but their eyes (like those of dumb animals) betrayed their suffering. We were so ill-prepared for such numbers that the work of getting those men to bed, washed, fed, wounds dressed seemed hopeless; somehow it was accomplished. “Everyone worked on till all hours of the night, and the night staffs carried on as best they could till morning. “Next day more trains came in with more cases, fewer walking and more stretcher cases. For weeks the work was appalling. Medical men, Australia’s best, sisters, AMC men working to their limit. “Work in the operating theatre (formerly the King of Belgians’ suite) never ceased, day or night. Relief staffs carried on. And I write only of one of the hospitals. “The stories the patients told were terrible; of how they landed, how the country was so hard to scale, great hills and cliffs, and how often ropes had to be used for climbing, and all the time under heavy fire. We were so busy, though, we only heard snatches of the tales. “Every article sent and every article of sewing done by the women of Australia was now of the greatest value. Every handkerchief and ever pair of pyjamas worth its weight in gold. For most of the men came back clad only in a few blood-stained rags, having lost all their possesions. “We should never cease to be grateful to the women of Cairo for their wonderful kindness to those sick, wounded men. How we sisters would have managed without them during those terrible weeks I cannot imagine. They came daily laden with dainties: fruits, custards, etc., and delicious cool drinks for every man, and fed those unable to feed themselves…” http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/51273545 Notes: Mother’s death and detail on family: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/21472178 Father’s death: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/20080989 [James was Headmaster of the Mount Perry Primary School until 1887, when he was transferred to Bundaberg South. In 1900 he was appointed Headmaster at the newly built Norman Park State School]