DE MESTRE, Margaret Augusta
Sister Margaret Augusta De Mestre (NFX70211) was born in Kalang via Bellingen, New South Wales, on 16 November 1915 to James Augustus and Alice Isobel De Mestre (nee Morey). Her parents owned and operated a dairy farm and she was the first of six children, four girls and two boys.
Sister De Mestre trained at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney in 1935. Her Aunt Sarah Melanie De Mestre had also trained at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and served in World War I. In 1940 Sister De Mestre enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Corp with other nurses from the hospital and sailed twice to the Middle East on the 2/1 Hospital Ship, HMAHS Manunda. While the ship was being reconditioned in 1941, she served at the 113 Australian General Hospital at Concord. She rejoined HMAHS Manunda in January 1942.
HMAHS Manunda was anchored in Darwin Harbour near the merchant ship Zealandia and the oil tanker British Motorist when it was first hit by shrapnel and then a bomb during the first Japanese air attack on Darwin, 19 February 1942. Twelve members of the crew and hospital staff were killed, including Sister De Mestre, and forty-seven others were wounded. The medical and nursing staff quarters were destroyed, B and C decks were severely damaged and fires started on board. Despite the chaos, Manunda continued to treat incoming wounded and staff manned the life-boats rescuing injured men from the sea.
Sister De Mestre died of shrapnel wounds received to her back and abdomen. She was twenty-six and the first Australian Imperial Force nurse to be killed in action on Australian soil.
Compiled with assistance from May Wiseman (niece).
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