Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Women and war and why the pelican pierces her breast.



My artwork of the stained glass window of Devotion. Enamel paint on canvas on wood. Painted in honour of my wife, Sharon Bown, former RAAF Nursing Officer, it is currently hanging in my living room!


Above the stained-glass window of the Australian nurse in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial is the symbols of each state of Australia as found on our Coat of Arms.
The Pelican in its Piety above the symbols of the states of Australia sits above the image of Devotion in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial
Above that is the image of a pelican piercing its breast and feeding its young.
It may sound incongruous, but the symbology is quite striking for it depicts a symbol which shows piety – devotion – in the legend of the pelican.

It was said that the pelican, devoted to its young, would pierce its breast to allow the blood to feed its young. This pious act would nourish the weak chicks but would cost the life of the mother pelican.

Sister Fanny Hines from Victoria was the first woman to die on active service for Australia. During the 2nd Boer War, she was the only source of comfort for 26 wounded soldiers in Bulawayo, Rhodesia.

Left alone to tend to these wounded soldiers in the days before anesthesia or penicillin, she worked tirelessly until she herself contracted pneumonia and with no-one  to care for her, she worked until she died. Just as the pelican suffered to save her young, so did Fanny to save her patients with both dying.

Napier Waller. He lost an arm at the Battle of Bullecourt but learnt to write and draw with his left hand and went on to create the amazing mosaics and stained glass windows in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial.
Piety is another word for devotion. The artist of the stained-glass windows, Napier Waller, deliberately made each stained glass window a grey/blue theme. Devotion is the only window with a stark red colour – the cape of the nurse. He lost an arm at Bullecourt and for the better part of a year was cared for by nurses. His use of red is an homage to their devotion.

As we come to Anzac Day, there will be many female veterans marching amongst the thousands of men. They will wear their medals on their left breast signifying that they earnt them themselves in the service of their country. While the bulk of our soldiers, sailors and airmen may be male, we have thousands of sisters-in-arms in our ranks and who were formally in our ranks… and they all started with the nurses of the Boer War.

Lest we Forget.

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