Nurse Eliza (Leila) Catherine Bell
Eliza (Leila) Catherine Bell was born in Braidwood, NSW, in 1888, the second daughter of George Nugent and Eliza Bell (née Bourke).
Leila enlisted as a staff nurse in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) in Sydney on 9 September 1916. She was 28 years old and single, and was described as being 5 feet 7 ½ inches tall with a fair complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair.
Three months after enlistment, on 9 December 1916, Leila embarked on the Kaiser-I- Hind from Sydney. She disembarked in Suez, Egypt, on 10 January 1917 and was transferred to the 14th Australian General Hospital, based in Egyptian Army barracks at Abbassia, on the outskirts of Cairo. The hospital treated soldiers who had been wounded during the campaigns in Sinai and Palestine, and also those suffering a range of diseases including dysentery, malaria and pneumonia.
In December 1917, Leila was temporarily promoted to Sister and transferred to the hospital’s annex on the canal at Port Said. Like her fellow nurses, Leila faced a harrowing task, working long hours treating badly wounded and seriously ill soldiers, with a lack of medical supplies and at great personal risk to her own health.
In July 1918, Leila was transferred to ESO Suez for embarkation on the ship Port Darwin back to Australia. The ship sailed on 12th July. For the duration of the journey, Leila continued her nursing duties on board, and her rank reverted back to Staff Nurse.
Travelling on the same ship home was her future husband, Captain James Iver McIver Chirnside M.C. He had also been attached to the 14th Australian General Hospital during 1918, and in fact in December 1917 he had been treated there himself for malaria, whilst serving as Medical Officer on the front line with the 4th Light Horse Regiment. Leila disembarked back in Australia on 17th August 1918 and was discharged on the 1st of September 1918.
On 8 October 1919, Leila married Dr James Iver McIver Chirnside at St Philip’s, Church Hill, Sydney. The couple settled at Mount Rothwell, a grazing property in Little River formerly owned by James’s brother Robert. There they raised their two sons, Robert Forbes, born 1923 and Ronald Bell, born 1925.
James, who was active in local politics and had served as President of the Corio Shire Council on several occasions, died in 1940. Leila and her boys continued to live on at Mount Rothwell.
Weekly Times, 18 December 1946, p.3.
She was still recorded as living there in 1972, aged 84.
Three years later, on 16 September 1975, Leila died at Grace McKellar House in Geelong, aged 87. She was privately interred at Geelong Eastern Cemetery on 18 September 1975.
Medals and Entitlements:
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal