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Series / ANZAC Girls

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L to R: Grace Wilson, Olive Haynes, Alice Ross King, Elsie Cook, and Hilda Steele

"If only we could do more, and had more to give."
Matron Grace Wilson

ANZAC Girls (2014) is an Australian miniseries detailing the lives and exploits of five real-life members of the Australian Army Nursing Service during World War I. Based on the nonfiction book The Other ANZACs by Peter Rees, it was made for the centenary of the war's outbreak and details the harsh, brutal, and bloody work of wartime nursing.

The five "girls" in question are:

  • Matron Grace Wilson (Caroline Craig) — a warm, nurturing, firm-but-fair woman who serves as a Big Sister Mentor to the girls under her charge, and becomes incredibly beloved by them because of it.
  • Sister Alice Ross King (Georgia Flood) — a lively, somewhat coquettish young woman who nevertheless has the true nurse's gift and comes into her own as the war progresses.
  • Sister Elsie Cook (Laura Brent) — née Sheppard, an incredibly sweet and devoted woman who hid her marital status in order to serve on the front lines near her husband.
  • Sister Hilda Steele (Antonia Prebble) — a New Zealander who joined up with the Australians at war's outbreak, she is sweet, shy, and lacking self-confidence at first; she too comes into her own during wartime but never loses her gentle spirit.
  • Sister Olive Haynes (Anna McGahan) — a perpetually cheerful and extroverted sort who loves music and singing, she also proves to be incredibly resilient and incredibly good at helping to keep up morale even when she is feeling her lowest.

All five were real women, with Wilson and Ross King in particular seen as giants in the history of Australian military nursing. The series covers their lives from their first deployment at war's beginning all the way through to Armistice Day, and details what happened to them afterward.

Tropes seen in this series include:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Several.
    • Olive and Pat call each other "Patski" and "kiddo".
    • Sid calls Elsie "old girl".
  • Ain't No Rule: Australian High Command forbids its nurses to work as anaesthetists — but distinctly fails to say anything about New Zealand nurses, much to Hilda's delight.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The British derision for "colonials" is definitely not shied away from. In a way, the ANZAC nurses are fighting a war on three fronts: the war against the Germans, the war to earn respect for their profession, and the war to overcome British anti-colonial prejudice.
  • Awesome Aussie: Grace, Alice, Elsie, and Olive. They just won't give up. Grace and Alice in particular are practically royalty in the history of Australian nursing; Alice won the Military Medal, and Grace ultimately became a CBE and earned the Royal Red Cross.
  • Based on a True Story: While some elements were changed for dramatic purposes, the miniseries is based heavily on Peter Rees' book The Other ANZACs, which in turn was heavily researched from the diaries and papers of the women portrayed.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: This is how Olive informs Pat Dooley that she does, in fact, return his affections.
  • Big Sister Mentor: Grace takes all the girls under her wing, treating them with a blend of warmth, firmness, discipline and care that earns her their enduring respect and affection. She seems to develop an especially close bond with Olive in particular, relying on her more than the others and serving as a source of comfort and strength to her, largely thanks to their time together on Lemnos.
  • Broken Pedestal: Hilda idolized the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (Q.A.I.M.N.S.) and is heartbroken when she finds herself derided by one of their matrons simply for doing things a bit differently. Fortunately, Grace makes damned sure it never happens again.
  • Career Versus Man: If the nurses marry, they are no longer allowed to serve overseas in the Army's nursing corps. This results in several characters marrying and returning home before war's end. Elsie, who had been given special dispensation by Matron Gould to stay on as she was already overseas, is forced to resign when she returns to Australia to help her husband recuperate, and gets around this by joining the Croix Rouge after he returns to the fighting and begins working in a French military hospital as the Red Cross doesn't care.
  • Dare to Be Badass: On Lemnos, Colonel Fiaschi tells Grace, "If you are looking to change the Army's opinion of your profession, Lemnos is your challenge." Grace rises to said challenge so spectacularly she winds up with the Royal Red Cross.
  • Death Notification: Grace doesn't even have to open the telegram before her hands start shaking, because she knows exactly what she's looking at. (Unfortunately, she isn't wrong — her brother was killed at the Dardanelles.)
  • Embarrassing First Name: Pat Dooley's real first name is, of all things, "Norval". No wonder everyone calls him Pat! (When he isn't "Mr Dooley", that is.)
  • Endearingly Dorky: Bespectacled lawyer and budding Anglican priest Pat Dooley first gets preacher's daughter Olive's interest by pinpointing where in the Bible exactly Paul recounts his visit to Egypt — Second Acts, for the record — and is generally a dork of the first order. She marries him.
  • First-Name Basis:
    • True to the time period, it marks a significant moment in their friendship when Sister Ross King and Sister Sheppard start calling each other "Alice" and "Elsie".
    • Olive calls Pat Dooley "Pat" for the first time about two seconds before she unceremoniously and very enthusiastically answers his earlier Love Confession with a rather dramatic snog.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Averted, surprisingly enough. While men in whom the nurses have a romantic interest will occasionally wind up under their care as patients, they do not become involved with anyone they first meet as a patient.
  • From Dress to Dressing: Faced with a critical shortage of supplies, Grace gets her nurses on Lemnos to rip up their white petticoats for bandages (including her own) — but she makes sure the strips get sterilised first.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Though Grace is a bit older than the usual example, they perfectly symbolise her gentility and sweetness of character.
  • Leitmotif: The old standard "Song of Australia" serves as something of a recurring leitmotif for Pat and Olive.
  • Love Confession: Pat Dooley gets one of the most adorable on television.
    Pat: Sister Haynes. Olive. I have thought of nothing but you ever since I first saw you on Lemnos. And at risk of being laughed at, I believe I am altogether hopelessly in love with you.
  • Meaningful Name: The meaning of Grace Wilson's first name isn't exactly subtle, but no less accurate for all of that; she conducts herself with impeccable grace at all times and generally lives up to her namesake beautifully.
  • Nerves of Steel: Instead of panicking when she's faced with a catastrophic lack of anything resembling proper facilities or adequate supplies, Grace not only keeps a cool head but keeps her nurses calm as well, then sets about fixing the problem to the best of her ability and making do with what she's got. On Lemnos, she winds up with an unheard-of 2% mortality rate — almost miraculous given the era and circumstances.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Most of the matrons, though Grace gets by far the most screentime.
    • Grace is incredibly protective of her girls and, though firm and cognizant of her authority, is always fair and has their best interests at heart.
    • Matron Finlay, who takes over while Grace is seconded to London, is also fair and compassionate with the welfare of her nurses in mind.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Elsie has no reservations about doing this if she thinks it will get her husband — the son of Australia's former Prime Minister and current member of the Privy Council — better care while he's in the hospital. It's hard to blame her.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Grace is eminently pleasant, eminently reasonable, and eminently adamant about getting her way. By politely steamrolling everyone in her path, she managed a 2% mortality rate at the Lemnos hospital — unheard of even when you don't take into account the extremely limited supplies and primitive facilities. In real life, it got her the Royal Red Cross.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • Olive pretends to be cheerful and exuberant even when she most decidedly isn't, largely as a coping mechanism. She finally breaks down one night, winding up in Grace's tent in tears. Grace, as ever, soothes her through it.
    • Grace herself hides her own fears and heartbreak no matter what, exemplifying the saying "keep calm and carry on".
  • The Stoic: Grace Wilson loses her brother at Gallipoli but barely even blinks until she is finally alone in her tent and can break down crying.
    Olive: She just kept going.
  • Sweetie Graffiti: In a platonic example, Olive carves the initials of the five "ANZAC Girls" who have essentially been together since the start of the war (Grace, Alice, Elsie, Hilda, and Olive herself) on a tree in France.
  • The Maiden Name Debate: Elsie sails from Australia and begins nursing under her maiden name of Sheppard, as Army nurses are supposed to be single or widowed. When it comes out that she is actually married to a lieutenant in the Army, Matron Gould shouts a bit before allowing her to stay — on the condition that she henceforth be known as Sister Cook, so the AANS can't be accused of immorality (canoodling won't destroy your reputation if you're canoodling with your husband, after all).
  • Trying Not to Cry:
    • Grace, twice; upon receiving the news of her brother's death (she ultimately breaks down in private, but not before soldiering on through nursing a whole convoy of wounded), and at the ANZAC Day memorial service (she can't hold back the tears then either, but she refuses to break down sobbing, keeping it to a few tears falling down her face).
    • Olive, several times — most notably when Grace is seconded to London, as the two developed a particularly strong bond on Lemnos.
    • Hilda, after being roundly scolded by one of the Queen Alexandra's nurses simply for doing things differently. She manages to hold back most of the tears — at least until Grace turns up to comfort her, at which point all bets are off.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: Pat Dooley proposes to Olive by singing "Peg O' My Heart" to her and getting the cafe to cook an omelette in the shape of a heart. It suits them perfectly.