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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Woodward, Mildred Irene (Tiny) (1912–1999)

by Susan Hudson

When former World War II nurse Mildred Woodward recorded her memories for the National War Museum in 1990, she signed off with the words: "I wouldn't have missed it for the world." It is a reflection of the stature of this woman that she was able to say this, despite great personal tragedy and nursing in many life-threatening situations during the war.

At the time of her death, Woodward was president of the Returned and Services Nurses Club of Victoria. She was the first club member granted life membership of the RSL (1989) and was a delegate and councillor to RSL State conferences.

Returned World War I nurses began the Nurses Club in 1926. Welfare was its main thrust but it was also a focus for social gatherings. There were reunions, card days and networking. Following World War II, there was a further influx of nurses and the club became a subbranch of the RSL in 1947. For Woodward, however, the club was to become both her passion and survival.

Her husband, Claude, a former army major who had served in New Guinea, died in 1964. Their only child, Peter, a brilliant Melbourne Grammar student who had won a live-in scholarship to Monash University, died four years later.

Woodward was inconsolable. From 1964-70 she lost seven close family members.

Yet something happened in the depths of her despair. She rallied and decided to throw all her energies into the Nurses Club.

Although many worked hard for the club, she was the one who put it on a good financial footing. She set things in place in the pantry, the year's syllabus of activities and the accounts. She devised fetes, trading tables and organised the catering for functions that would realise profits. In 1975, she became honorary treasurer and liaison officer, and continued to do the books until she died. She was secretary from 1966 to 1973 and was elected president in 1979-81 and again in 1998.

Woodward's height of only 150cm betrayed her absolute dynamism. She seemed able to make time for both the great and small details of life. Who could refuse a donation to this tiny woman, dressed in her favourite bright emerald green, as she shook a tin outside the Victoria Coffee Lounge in Little Collins Street each Anzac Day? Who hadn't been a satisfied consumer of the lamingtons she baked for members to enjoy with a cup of tea at the club? Who at Anzac House hadn't been presented with one of her Christmas ginger delights wrapped in foil and tied with bright ribbons? And who hadn't smiled contentedly at her lovely floral arrangements? The second of seven children born to James Woodward and Rose Clay, Tiny came to Australia from England when she was only 11 months old. The family settled in Maitland, where James, an electrical engineer, found work at Newcastle's coal mines. They were happy, formative years, encouraged in the discipline and the faith of the church.

Woodward's formal education was at Maitland primary and high schools, where she was an outstanding student, but with no scholarships to go to university, she chose nursing as her career. She began training at Royal Newcastle Hospital in 1930.

When World War II was declared, Woodward immediately enlisted and was relegated to sea transport duty. She served as a nurse on the Mauritania, the Queen Mary, and later on the Queen Elizabeth — huge ships that carried thousands of Australians to war.

Her religious background saw her speaking often at the church services on board and she was upgraded from lieutenant to captain during this time. After some leave in 1941, she was among the reinforcements assigned to the 2/4th Australian General Hospital in the Middle East with matron Jean Hanna in charge. She arrived in Jerusalem to witness the phenomenon of a white Christmas — where snow had not been seen for 25 years.

By 1943, the 2/4th was heading back to Australia when it was diverted to Colombo, where nurses worked in tin hats because of the frequent bombing raids. Continuing to serve with the 2/4th, she was at Redbank in Queensland as sister in charge of the plastic surgery unit when war ended. During her wartime service, Woodward witnessed radical new developments in plastic surgery and saw "miracle" recoveries in patients as the wonder drug penicillin was introduced.

Last New Year's Eve, Woodward made several phone calls — one to her only sister, Evelyn Sansom, in Waratah, NSW — and she was found dead on January 2 after neighbours became concerned. RSL president Bruce Ruxton and Brigadier Keith Rossi were among the 200 who attended the funeral at All Saints Anglican Church East Malvern in early January.

Woodward is survived by her sister.

* Susan Hudson is a Melbourne journalist

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Susan Hudson, 'Woodward, Mildred Irene (Tiny) (1912–1999)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/woodward-mildred-irene-tiny-31832/text39295, accessed 1 July 2022.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2022

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Clay, Mildred Irene
Birth

10 July, 1912
Biddulph, Staffordshire, England

Death

1 January, 1999 (aged 86)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation
Military Service
Key Organisations