100 years ago, during WWI, the Battle of Vimy Ridge took place. This was a significant moment of the war, when Canadian soldiers fought the Germans to take control of Vimy Ridge.
During the battle, Canada lost 3600 soldiers and had over 7,000 injured during the three-days.
Not far away from the battle two young nurses from Melbourne, Sister Isabella (Bella) Jobson and Sister Leah Rosenthal who had trained at the Alfred hospital and together ran their own private hospital before deciding to enlist in 1915, worked to provide nursing support to soldiers in France.
Exactly what happened in the medical tents in the area surrounding the Battle of Vimy is unknown to us, but what we do know is that hundreds of Australian nurses worked providing medical support. We know the infection and death rate of nursing staff was substantial due to the conditions, infections, lack of medications and equipment. Yet still, the nursing staff remained and provided whatever medical attention they could.
Sister Jobson and Sister Rosenthal later received The Royal Red Cross, a military decoration awarded by the UK and Commonwealth countries for exceptional services in military nursing. Sister Rosenthal was the first Australian Jewish nurse to receive this medal.
Both Sister Jobson and Rosenthal returned to Melbourne after the war and they didn’t take long to start providing medical care again. In 1920 they took on what was at the time, St Luke’s Private Hospital at 25 Queens Road, however they renamed the building Vimy House. We can only speculate that they named the new hospital in honour of those they cared for at the Battle of Vimy in 1917.
Sister Rosenthal died in 1930 and Sister Jobson continued as matron of Vimy House until her death in 1943.
Around 1949 Vimy House was purchased by the Tramway Mutual Benefit Society, and it continued operating at 25 Queens Road.
In 1975, the Tramway Mutual Benefit Society moved their private hospital to Kew, to what was the previous home of consultant physician and pathologist Dr Henry Boyd Penfold (who passed away in 1971). While they moved to a new building in a new suburb, they took the name of Vimy House with them, where it remained until the hospital was sold.
St Vincent’s Health Australia purchased the hospital in June 2008 and renamed it St Vincent’s Private Hospital Kew.
This year on Anzac Day, I’d like to reflect on the work, dedication and sacrifice that so many nurses and doctors provided in all of our wars. Every week in our hospital we provide care and support to veterans, and thanks to those who have gone before us, we are able to provide this care in a peaceful country, with outstanding equipment and modern medicine, significantly more than Sister Jobson and Rosenthal had 100 years ago this month.
Lest we Forget.
With special thanks to the team at Melbourne Tram Museum for assisting us to collate this information about the history of Vimy House and the founding Sisters – Sister Isabella Jobson and Sister Leah Rosenthal.