Air evacuation in war : the role of RAAF nurses undertaking air evacuation of casualties between 1943-1953

Dahl, Maxine Claire (2009) Air evacuation in war : the role of RAAF nurses undertaking air evacuation of casualties between 1943-1953. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Air transportation of Australian casualties in World War II was initially carried out in air ambulances with an accompanying male medical orderly. By late 1943 with the war effort concentrated in the Pacific, Allied military authorities realised that air transport was needed to move the increasing numbers of casualties over longer distances. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) became responsible for air evacuation of Australian casualties and established a formal medical air evacuation system with trained flight teams early in 1944. Specialised Medical Air Evacuation Transport Units (MAETUs) were established whose sole responsibility was undertaking air evacuations of Australian casualties from the forward operational areas back to definitive medical care. Flight teams consisting of a RAAF nursing sister (registered nurse) and a medical orderly carried out the escort duties. These personnel had been specially trained in Australia for their role. Post-WWII, the RAAF Nursing Service was demobilised with a limited number of nurses being retained for the Interim Air Force. Subsequently, those nurses were offered commissions in the Permanent Air Force. Some of the nurses who remained were air evacuation trained and carried out air evacuations both in Australia and as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. With the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, Australia became responsible for the air evacuation of British Commonwealth casualties from Korea to Japan. With a re-organisation of the Australian forces as part of the British Commonwealth forces, RAAF nurses were posted to undertake air evacuation from Korea and back to Australia from Iwakuni, Japan. By 1952, a specialised casualty staging section was established in Seoul and staffed by RAAF nurses from Iwakuni on a rotation basis. The development of the Australian air evacuation system and the role of the flight nurses are not well documented for the period 1943-1953. The aims of this research are three fold and include documenting the origins and development of the air evacuation system from 1943-1953; analysing and documenting the RAAF nurse’s role and exploring whether any influences or lessons remain valid today. A traditional historical methodology of narrative and then analysis was used to inform the flight nurse’s role within the totality of the social system. Evidence was based on primary data sources mainly held in Defence files, the Australian War Memorial or the National Archives of Australia. Interviews with 12 ex-RAAF nurses from both WWII and the Korean War were conducted to provide information where there were gaps in the primary data and to enable exploration of the flight nurses’ role and their contributions in war of the air evacuation of casualties. Finally, this thesis highlights two lessons that remain valid today. The first is that interoperability of air evacuation systems with other nations is a force multiplier when resources are scarce or limited. Second, the pre-flight assessment of patients was essential and ensured that there were no deaths in-flight.

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ID Code: 31883
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Barnard, Alan, Windsor, Carol, & Stephens, Alan
Keywords: history, medical air evacuation, nursing, military, Royal Australian Air Force, women in war
Divisions: Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 20 Apr 2010 23:50
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:56

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