The life of nurse Annie Egan, a key player in Australia’s efforts to contain the Spanish Flu pandemic, will be honoured with two memorials, thanks to the efforts of a group of retired servicemen.
The first memorial, to be unveiled in Ms Egan’s hometown of Gunnedah, New South Wales, on her birthday (22 August), will be presented by former Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, with a military guard of honour and more than 25 members of Egan’s family in attendance,
Later in the year (5 December), loosely coinciding with Ms Egan’s death on 3 December, a remembrance service will take place at North Head Quarantine Station, which neighbours the cemetery Ms Egan was buried at.
Alan Miles OAM, a member of Operation Pilgrimage, the network of retired veterans responsible for the memorial for the initiative, said he was drawn to Ms Egan’s account after viewing Australian Story, which focused on the Australian Quarantine Service’s efforts to contain the Spanish Flu.
The documentary touched on how Ms Egan, at the age of 27, died of the Spanish Flu while caring for returning servicemen with the deadly condition but was refused Last Rites due to the risk of infection she posed.
While she was only briefly mentioned in the documentary, Mr Miles said the story paralleled the current COVID pandemic, which he said could not be ignored.
This spurred Mr Miles and Operation Pilgrimage to highlight Ms Egan’s service to the country.
“We’re ex-military blokes, and whenever there’s been a conflict, disagreement or war… the Australian Nursing Corps have always had our backs and always had someone there to provide the medical back up to treat us,” Mr Miles explained.
“There isn’t a soldier that I know that doesn’t have the highest regard and absolute love of these people.”
While Operation Pilgrimage has paid tribute to a range of Australian pioneers and service people nationally and internationally, this isn’t the first time they have paid tribute to nurses.
The group has mounted memorial plaques in London, Marseille, Wellington (New Zealand) and NSW’s Port Macquarie for former nurse and servicewoman Nancy Wake and for WWI nurse Elizabeth McGregor in the NSW town of Condobolin.
Mr Miles said he and his group’s motivations for highlighting Australia’s service people’s efforts were straightforward.
“We do not like people to fall through the cracks and have their life or their service to this nation… swept aside, forgotten or even ignored,” he said.