Born near Elmore in Victoria in 1879, Louisa Bicknell was the daughter of John and Eliza Bicknell. She had five sisters and three brothers.
After school, Bicknell undertook three years of nursing training at Mooroopna Hospital in Victoria. She went on to work at the Women’s Hospital and the Melbourne District Nursing Society. She then established a private hospital in Bairnsdale, Victoria.
Bicknell enlisted in the AIF’s Australian Army Nursing Service in March 1915, at the age of 35. More than 3,000 Australian civilian nurses volunteered for active service during the First World War. They were posted to Britain, France, Belgium, the Mediterranean, India, and the Middle East, where they worked in hospitals, on hospital ships and trains, or in casualty clearing stations closer to the front line.
Embarking for overseas service in April 1915, Bicknell was posted to No. 1 Australian General Hospital in Heliopolis, Egypt. Her patients included Australians wounded during the landings on Gallipoli.
After just a few weeks, Bicknell became ill with a septic infection in her right arm. She died of pyaemia, a type of septicaemia, on 25 June 1915.
It was widely reported that Bicknell was the first Australian nurse to die in Egypt.
Reverend Young of St John’s Anglican Church in Bairnsdale said Bicknell was also “the first resident of the town to give her life for her country; and this she has done as really as if she had fallen on the field of battle”.
Further tributes flowed for the experienced nurse, who was said to have “never knew a day’s sickness in her life” before the septic poisoning. A reporter for the local newspaper wrote:
“[She] was a most capable nurse. Her great success and popularity were no doubt due in a large measure to her bright and inspiring personality, and in addition to this she always set herself to realise a high professional standard.”
Fellow nurse Mabel Pilkington wrote that Bicknell had died within a week of becoming ill:
“She was as brave as any fighting soldier, and said when she was dying, ‘How hard it is to die with so little accomplished, but I would go through it again to help, and it is all in the game.’”
She added that Bicknell had been “one of the brightest, healthiest and most unselfish nurses I have ever known.”
Staff Nurse Louisa Bicknell is buried in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt.
Emma Campbell, Researcher, Military History Section
Image: "Graves of the Australians that died in Egypt. All Australian and other troop [sic] are buried here. Note the nurses graves." The grave at the centre (front) is that of Staff Nurse Louisa Annie (Louie) Bicknell, 1st Australian General Hospital, who died of illness at Heliopolis, Egypt on 25 June 1915.