The Australian & New Zealand Army Corps (or ANZAC for short) nurses played an extremely important and nearly untold part of World War I. They were often extremely close to the front lines and thus saw the very face of war while trying to heal the horrifically wounded men in sordid and sometimes terrible conditions. Peter Rees’ book “The Other ANZACS” tells the story of five of those nurses and the Australian Broadcasting Network has brought it to television. Now Acorn Media has brought it to America via a wonderful DVD collection.
The five girls are Sisters Olive Haynes (Anna McGahan), Alice Ross King (Georgia Flood), Hilda Steele (Antonia Prebble), Elsie Cook (Laura Brent), and Matron Grace Wilson (Caroline Craig.) During the series six episodes, we follow these ladies from their base in Cairo through large sections of the war via episodes in the Suez Canal to the bloody disaster of the Gallipoli campaign and into the horrors of the Western Front.
The girls meet in the relative peace of Cairo where they (and we) get to know each other, become friends, and live in the exciting times of serving their country before the blood, guts, and sheer horror of war really enter into their lives. By episode two, the gang is split into three different areas. Matron Grace and Olive find themselves on the island of Lemnos in Greece, very close to Dardanelles Campaign where they must essentially build a field hospital with no support from the Army and utter contempt from the resident commander. Alice Ross-King and Elsie remain in Cairo caring for the seriously wounded, one of whom is Elsie’s husband which forces her to make some very difficult decisions. Meanwhile, Hilda is put on a ship sent to the heart of the fighting to care for the injured just as they are taken from battle. The later episodes feature the women on the front lines in Europe around the Somme and Trois Arbes.
In each place and every episode the ladies are faced with the real life devastation of war – the actual blood and guts of it, but also the emotional toil. Not to mention the utter absurdity of it. One of the secondary characters starts out very gung-ho over fighting as he feels this will make Australia, still a relatively young country, be noticed and have a real chair on the world stage. Yet after seeing battle up close, he realized the true cost of such things.
There is also a lot of relationship nonsense. The series gets a little too soap-ish at times for my tastes. Each episode spends an inordinate amount of time having the women pine and swoon and spend way too much energy looking for love. Elsie, who starts the series as a strong, hearty sort-of character winds up spending most of her time using her husband’s social class as a way to bring him special treatment. Something so many countless other soldiers were not afforded.
But mostly ANZAC Girls brings us the endearing stories of heroism, skill, and remarkable courage from a group of women history has paid little attention to. When it pays attention to the costs of battle and the bravery of the men and women involved in it the stories, it’s really quite remarkable television.
The six episodes of the set fit on two disks. Audio and video presentations looks quite good considering its broadcast television creation. Extras include a short behind the scenes featurette, cast interviews, photo galleries and a nice little feature giving some historical context to the story.